My Shopping Habits – Part 2

I’m back with the next instalment of my relationship to shopping, and how it developed over time (you might want to check out part 1 for this post to make sense). This is the narrative overview before we get into the “why” of the choices I’d made, which will be part 3.

For me, clothing falls somewhere along the spectrum of “utilitarian” and “literal art, but on my body,” with most of what I own falling in the middle, which we’ll call “I’m choosing to wear this.” I define “utilitarian” clothing based on the purpose that they serve in covering my body: warm clothing in the winter, lighter fabrics in sweltering heat, and rain boots for any terrain that is not completely dry. The “I’m choosing to wear this” clothing is what I reach for for everything else, whether that’s running errands, holiday/themed events, lounging about, fancy dress, or work. If the item can be cute while serving its purpose, splendid, but I’m not too worried about the panache and pizzazz of a knee-length puffer coat when the hair escaping from my hat instantly freezes from the humidity of my breath. I do, however, worry about what’s under that coat when I arrive to my destination and what I wear is a reflection of who I am.

I’ve lived most of my life in Montréal, which has its own mix of high fashion, streetwear, chic, trendy, and classic looks. Throughout high school, we had a strict uniform to follow, so the clothing I chose to wear was trendy late-aughts/early-’10s teen fashion – wordy neon graphic tees, layered tank tops with lace trim, and imitation Roots sweatpants (why buy the real thing when you can get the same from Garage and three v-necks for the same price?). My first semester of CEGEP/2-year college, I was dressed a mess while figuring out what I would wear every day, despite the purpose for being there was my academics. 17-year-old me knew that what I wore casually as a 15-year-old was not going to cut it (according to whom? I still don’t know). During the break between first and second semester, I went all out at the Boxing Day sale at Urban Planet, the spiritual older cousin of Shein. Spending not much more than $300, I came home with a haul of patterned leggings, sheer button shirts, bodycon skirts and dresses, and a slew of basics to balance out the zany monstrosities I dared to call pants. This was at the height of peplums, skater skirts, and galaxy print everything, in case you needed a refresher on why this was normal school clothing. I was known at school for being the leggings girl (someone for real asked me if I owned any “normal” pants halfway through the semester), which was fun until I had to mentally keep track of 30 pairs to avoid having repeats too soon after each other.

University was a whole other ball of wax in diving head first into a theme to latch onto and dictate what I would wear. Anything that was related to the school colours, I would wear it – not to mention the veritable windfall I was for the bookstore and student design shop after snatching up anything I could fit into my teeny, tiny budget. All in the name of school spirit, and I would wear purple like I knew of no other colour. This slowed a bit by my third and fourth years (limiting my shopping to only the cute stuff, and not one of everything), and other colours re-entered my wardrobe as I continued to shop sales at stores off campus.

Graduating and starting work at my first real job resulted in just as ferocious a shopping spree as 2013 Urban Planet, but now in the name of professionalism. Blazers, pencil skirts, flowy blouses, trousers, and some sensible shoes – not that I was starting from scratch, mind you, I just wanted to have options. Once I started making money, I turned to online shopping for clothing in my free time. Old Navy was a favourite, since they had a “tall” section available online, and I was in need of pants that didn’t look like they were borrowed from my 12-year-old cousin. Well, “in need” of more options, but I told myself it would be good to have more options for the days when I’m running behind on laundry and need something to wear (as opposed to, you know, just doing the laundry??). In between these hauls were the various warehouse and outlet sales that I’d go to, and I started to run out of space in my closets, so I bought storage bins and hoped that would do the trick. I had gotten to the point of such rapid consumption that there were items that would be squished and hidden between two other items in the closet that I would forget they were there, but still order more.

The beginning of 2020 did not see this slow down all that much, as I had orders coming in roughly every other week – some were necessary cookware now that I needed to actually feed myself without the cafeteria at work as an option, while I indeed still had the audacity to purchase more clothing like I was leaving my apartment any time soon (I did a total of zero Zoom Happy Hours, so it wasn’t even for that). Things slowed down more over the summer, and then my bank account got another workout once Le Château announced that they would be closing – which ended by summer 2021. I was still strategic (hmmm) about waiting for the right time in the sales once I figured out what the pattern was for additional percent off versus total percent off based on category – since that’s what normal people do to buy clothing, no?

Luckily, I didn’t go into debt over this spending habit. My need for bargain hunting outweighed any desire for an item that was full-priced, and I never got into designer or luxury clothing (thankfully). The potency of bargain hunting did a number on me, and I remember buying two evening gowns at a store-closing sale for under $15 apiece (91% off, for anyone interested). Luckily, I did have an annual event to wear them to, but at the same time, how many gowns does a 22-year-old need?

With this personal history on the books, I’ll leave the topic here for now. Catch you later this week with my thoughts why small changes are a more sustainable approach to me. Thanks for reading!

My Shopping Habits

Living somewhere with four distinct seasons means you need to dress for different temperatures. Living somewhere with four distinct seasons means you have many “opportunities” to shop throughout the year to “update” your wardrobe, whether by season, sales, or more frequently through the fast-fashion trend cycle. I would only shop sales (self-proclaimed bargain-hunter here!), which would result in more items coming in – even if I’m spending the same amount of money. Shopping online, I’d comb through each page of the website looking for hidden deals, seeing if there’s anything that I could add either to reach my free-shipping minimum or to treat myself. In person, I could spend a whole day at the mall, circling the same displays, trying clothes on, and walking out with an armload of bags. This would happen once a month, on average. I wouldn’t plan what I was buying, and when I did, I would leave the store or online transaction with at least twice as much in hand. My biggest trap was getting every variation of something, so I could have a “complete” selection to take from to dress myself – whether that’s eight pairs of shorts that are the same length but different colours, or wanting to get all the prints and solids of a dress. Especially when ordering online, I wasn’t paying attention to the quality of the items I was buying – whether the stitching was in an odd place for my body, things weren’t a great fit, or the garment would hang funny on my frame. I’m not yet well-versed in spotting quality garment-making, but I know what I don’t like and what I’m unwilling to tolerate being on my body.

I wasn’t consciously focusing on avoiding repeating an outfit, though I know from experience that I could go from August to early November without the same outfit being worn twice, since 2018. The definition of “outfit” has changed since 2020, where previously it meant I had enough clothing to wear something different for 100 days or so, with only accessories and shoes being repeated. Now, however, that would be more about the combination of what I’m wearing: maybe I’ve worn this top with these shorts a few weeks ago, but now the top is paired with a skirt and a cardigan as the fall weather sets in. The volume of clothing and accessories that I have – both per season and in total – means that I can likely go a full year without wearing the exact outfit twice. I don’t need to be able to do that; I don’t have any desire to be consumed by thoughts of whether this turtleneck and skirt combo has been done with these boots and earrings.

“these were next to each other, so I got them both,”

In December’s digital declutter, I rewatched my old haul vlogs that still live on my laptop. I realised that nothing from those videos is still in my closet. Well, I do still have the same bedding and towels (mostly) that I bought to move on campus as a first year, but nothing else is in my possession. 19-year-old me and 27-year-old me don’t have the same taste (nor the same body), and much of what was purchased was in my university colours, which aren’t in my wardrobe in any significant way now. Having sat with this for a bit, and after another rewatch, what stood out to me now was the language that I was using to talk about the purchases: “these were next to each other, so I got them both,” “this matches everything else in my closet, so of course, I had to get it,” “I think this will look good in case I need a backup,” and probably most relatable, “it was cute, so I needed it.” I’ll be honest and say that some of the basics (tank tops, in this case) have been forgotten to time, though everything else that was purchased was well loved – some pieces even staying in rotation all four years of my degree and even after I’d finished university – so it wasn’t as though they were bought and then dumped a month later, at the very least.

It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve really scaled back my shopping for clothing, but there are shopping patterns that creep back in when I’m not being intentional. I still get a rush from getting a discount percent-point that would look great on a report card, and when I was looking for turtlenecks while thrifting last fall, I felt the urge to get them in every colour available. For about two weeks, thrifting caught my attention – the combination of inexpensive prices, a wide variety to browse (the men’s section had looser fits for turtlenecks), and the unpredictable nature of whether I’d find what I’m looking for. I thought this would be better for me, after all, since it’s not adding to the demand for new clothing, it’s extending the life of an existing garment, and I’m helping the local economy by shopping in-store (as opposed to going through apps). However, while walking from one thrift store chain to another – out to purchase only the specifics on my list – I caught myself thinking, “well, if I don’t find a houndstooth skirt today, I can always come back in a few weeks, and maybe see if they have a few more colours of turtlenecks as well.” At that moment, I had five turtleneck shirts that I’d thrifted across three shops, and another on the way as a birthday gift (please note, I’m using the turtleneck throughout as an example of how pervasive the desire can be for me about a specific item or style of clothing).

I took some time over the rest of the week to comb through my following list and unfollow any accounts that were more aspirational than inspirational

What was equally concerning was that I’d moved the target of my behaviour – shopping for sets or varieties of things – to a different location with lower price points, meaning that I would still be bringing in more “new” rather than making do what what I had already. Part of this came from learning about capsule wardrobe accounts on Instagram, and frequently seeing neutrals and basics all over my feed and explore page meant that I felt like I couldn’t replicate these looks and be just as fancy/classy/put together as the women – or sometimes just clothes! – in the posts. I was using them less for inspiration to use what I already had, and more saw it as a checklist for my next thrift hunt. I took some time over the rest of the week to comb through my following list and unfollow any accounts that were more aspirational than inspirational, and anything that I wanted for clothing or shoes, I left on a wishlist for my birthday. Full honesty, I forgot about what precise pair of shoes I’d added to the wishlist (but knew they’d been purchased), which was a lesson in the difference between a need and a want. If I had to go shoeless in the interim, I’d definitely have those shoes in mind – but I was fine choosing from the 10 other pairs that I could comfortably wear for work in the weeks that passed. I don’t regret now having the shoes – they add a touch of polish to my workwear without having to wear heels – but I certainly could have gone without to no consequence.

I clearly have a lot of thoughts about my relationship to shopping, so I’ll pause this here for now, but I will absolutely be coming back to this topic in the future.