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Experts say that one sure way to save money is to shop your closet; most people own more trendy clothes than they realize, and old favorites often come back in style. That's what Rebecca Smithers realized when she rediscovered an old favorite buried in the back of her closet.
It was a handmade cable-knit sweater that she hadn't worn in years. Her mother had made it about 16 years before, and wearing it felt like meeting up with "an old and very special friend."
That sweater, and the reappearance of other old favorites, inspired Smithers to see if she could spend an entire year without buying new clothes. A consumer affairs correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian, she decided to document her fashion-free New Year's resolution.
Read on to see if Rebecca has been able to resist the urge to shop.
"I will even resist the temptation to buy secondhand from charity shops — including my favorite on London's Marylebone High Street," she wrote in The Guardian. "It will remain nameless here, dear readers, as it is far too good a secret to share. Even "swishing parties" — or organized clothes swaps — are out, as the idea is not to accumulate any more."
It was a decision she did not take lightly. Clothes have always played an important role in Smithers's life. Her mother was a fashion historian, and Smithers points out, "Fashion is not a trivial, fluffy thing — it is about who we are and the statements we want to make." When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, she wore bright clothes to combat dark thoughts.
"I didn't have a choice about having cancer, but I could choose how I dealt with it and being cheerful and careful about my appearance was part of my coping strategy," she told The Daily Mail. "I wanted to stand out, not fade away. When I went for treatment, there was a great bunch of nurses who would comment on what I was wearing and that made me feel like I wasn't just a cancer person — I was still me underneath."
Still, the sheer amount of clothing she already owned made the challenge of going without seem easier. She upped the ante by putting shoes, boots, underwear, and even pantyhose on her do-not-buy list, opting instead to mend holes and wear what she already had until it wore out. She inventoried her wardrobe, sorting through items stuffed in boxes, bags, and closets.
"More than 50 pairs of shoes, eight pairs of boots, 26 coats — to my embarrassment, I gave up after that," she wrote in The Guardian. "I seem to have the equivalent of a Tardis full of little black coats."
Her fashion-forward friends were horrified about her plans to stay out of stores.
"One told me that I am completely mad and cheerfully predicted that, given my love of a bit of retail therapy, I would not last out the month," she wrote.
She quickly noticed that her style has stayed the same over the years, and while her closets aren't bursting with expensive designer labels, she does have plenty of well-made, "high street" items. And not buying new clothes allowed her to focus on keeping the ones she already has in top condition.
Ten months later, she still hasn't broke her resolution.
"Friends are astonished that I am taking the trouble to mend tights laboriously (admittedly opaques rather than sheer) but it strikes me as wasteful to throw out a pair just because they have sprung a hole in the toe or heel," she noted. "So far, so good, on that front."
It turned out that Summer was the easiest time to stick with the clothes she already owned. Pulling out her Winter wardrobe forced her to do quite a bit mending — in the past, if moths had snacked on a sweater or two, she would simply go out and buy new ones, but now, she has to rely on skills she learned long ago.
"Fortunately my mother taught me how to darn and mend tights and socks, which I have gotten used to doing," she wrote.
One of the biggest challenges in her nonbuying spree is finding new ways to accessorize. "I've got my eye on the luminous orange chunky scarf my daughter started knitting last year," she confessed. "It is only a square at the moment but I am an eternal optimist."
She is determined to make it through the year without giving in to the latest style temptations.
"I am heading into the last lap of what has been a life-changing exercise, and one which has definitely helped my bank balance," she wrote on Thursday. "Though I'm not looking forward to the racks of party dresses and eveningwear that will be wheeled out in the run-up to Christmas."
— Lylah M. Alphonse
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