Settle in, guys. This is going to be a long one.
Last week, I posted a photo on my Instagram account with this caption:
Yes, I wore this shirt two days in a row. Yes, I wear these pants at least twice a week. Yes, I sometimes wish I had more clothes, but I’m also pretty content with where my wardrobe is at right now. If you look through my feed and wonder if I’m just wearing the same five outfits over and over again, well, yeah, I totally am. I’m a chronic outfit repeater. I’m most comfortable in my personal uniforms.
Sometimes I feel left out as a blogger because I can’t afford to keep up. I watch the people around me unboxing this and that, every day a new try-on in stories, and I am filled with envy. Where is that money even coming from? Ethical fashion is not cheap, and I see some people bringing home a new garment (or more!) every week. How much does that cost? It’s not polite to talk about money, but I’ve found that’s only true if you’re talking to someone who grew up with it. People who didn’t grow up with money talk about money all the time. So I wonder about other people’s money. I wonder if I should be swiping my credit card more often so that I can keep up (sometimes I do but I’m not proud of those moments). And then I have to put my phone down and remember what’s actually important in my life.
My wardrobe is important, but it’s not the most important. I will buy and acquire new things, but slowly, very slowly. This slowness is the unglamorous side of slow fashion. The excruciating slowness of watching everyone else around you get what you want. So I’m going to be restricting my time on social media from now on, giving my petty jealous lizard brain a break. I’ll still be around, but only in measured, scheduled intervals of the day. I’ll catch you kids later this evening.
This hit home for so many of you. I’ve never had a conversation explode so quickly in the comments. It was, and continues to be, an amazing discussion. A lot of you agreed with me that Instagram gives us unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our wardrobes, and lots of you pointed out that the influencers who do most of the posting I describe above are often gifted the products that they’re showing off. You called out the fake minimalists from the real minimalists. You admitted that your own relationship with clothing and money needs some repairing. It was fascinating, and I really wanted to give it some space on the blog to explore a little more.
Obviously I can’t cover everything to do with money and consumption and ethical fashion and influencer marketing, but I can give you a little slice of how I experience it, and I invite you to share your own perspective in the comments below.
Okay. Ready? Here we go.
Why I Advocate for Expensive Clothing
This might seem like a weird place to start this post. Was I not just talking about how watching people spend tons of money on new clothes all the time makes me feel bad? I was, and it does, but it’s also important to point out that the price of the individual garments is not the problem, and that in general, our clothing should cost a lot more than we’re used to. I used to be the kind of person who bragged about the low, low price of something whenever someone complimented me. To “cute shoes!” I always responded with “Thanks! They were only four dollars at Gap!” or whatever I paid for them on clearance at whatever big name retailer. Sound familiar? I was so confident at that time in my life that the most moral thing I could do was be frugal. Buying clothing as cheaply as I possibly could was a source of personal pride, and I announced it whenever I got the chance.
I cringe now when I think about that time, and I flinch a little internally when I hear other people do it. Until I got into ethical fashion, I didn’t realize the true cost of those cheap clothes: human rights and the planet. If you buy cheap clothing, it was cheap because the person who made it didn’t make a living wage, probably didn’t even get a bathroom break, and maybe was even a child or a person trafficked into forced labor. Maybe the chemical runoff from the garment factory pollutes their only source of drinking water. Is that nine dollar dress from Amazon really worth it once you know that?
The shirt I was wearing in that Instagram post costs $140. Old me would have laughed at that price, bought the H&M version instead for $15, and been proud of herself for getting such a bargain. New me knows that $140 is a fair price to pay for a garment that uses high quality materials, is beautifully constructed, and was made by a person who was paid fairly for their work.
How I Budget for Clothes
Lot’s of you asked me about this, and I have a disappointing answer: I don’t really budget for clothes. This isn’t a clothing specific problem. We don’t budget particularly well at all. It’s one of those things that we used to do, and then it got away from us, and now we just sort of eyeball the bank account and hope for the best. What, did you actually think I had this all figured out?
It typically goes something like this: I either identify a gap in my current wardrobe or I see something online that I absolutely love. Usually, for me to begin to pursue a purchase, those two things need to happen together. Once I’ve got my sights set on a specific item, I obsessively research reviews of it and try to imagine it with every other item in my closet. I try to sit with that wanting feeling for a few weeks, if I can. If I still want it after that much time, I consult the bank account, consult the husband (because we keep ALL of our money together, and thus, all financial decisions are joint decisions), and then buy it. The more expensive something is, the more time I spend agonizing over whether or not to buy it, and the more money builds up in my bank account to pay for it.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “well, that’s stupid.” YOU ARE RIGHT. I know this is less like budgeting and more like an extended anxiety spiral that occasionally ends with me buying a new shirt. It’s not perfect. But it does keep me buying things fairly infrequently (I probably get one new item once every month to month-and-a-half) and it keeps me from racking up debt. We don’t have a lot of money, so that’s the pace I’m working with to create a wardrobe that I love with pieces that are made ethically.
But I Am Still A Petty Lizard Person
It’s good that my salary and other expenses keep me consuming at a slow pace, because honestly, if I won the lottery today, I’d go on an ethical fashion shopping spree in a second. I want all the beautiful things that all the other Instagrammers have. I want to keep up, to feel like I’m a part of this thing, and to finally feel happy with my wardrobe. It pains me to look at those beautiful wardrobes and know that mine will take years to get to the same place. As much as my blog is about minimalism and ethical consumption, it is primarily about my being so fucking fed up with hating my clothes that I set out on a determined mission to get better ones.
It is about me buying things.
I buy things slowly because I think slow consumption is an important part of ethical fashion, but I also buy things slowly because I am broke and have no other choice. If I had a lot more money all of a sudden, I honestly can’t tell you if I’d have the will power to continue to live my values this way. It takes work to want not.
Alright. The elephant in the room. I don’t always have to buy all my ethical fashion pieces. Sometimes, I get things for free. That $140 shirt from the picture? I didn’t pay for it. It was gifted to me by the company that made it with the expectation that I would wear it in photos that I post to my growing and engaged social media following. I accepted the gift. I posted the photos. I used the requisite hashtags.
And you know what? I feel so awesome about it. It feels incredible that my hard work is starting to pay off. The hours that I spend writing and editing and giving such big parts of myself to this blog and to Instagram are finally earning the gains I always hoped they would. Of course this is a fun hobby, but it was always meant to be more than that. I wanted a side hustle that brought me joy, and I found one.
It also feels incredible to get such a beautiful new garment for what feels like free. It’s obviously not free – I didn’t pay for it with money, but money is not my only resource nor the only thing of value that I have to offer. I’m learning that my work is worth something, and that relationships with brands that I love can be symbiotic. I can help connect them with their ideal audience, and in return, I get an additional vehicle for building the wardrobe that I want.
Lastly, and most importantly, it feels incredible to connect women with brands that speak to their values. Influencing can feel like icky business. We get paid to convince people to buy stuff, to convince them that they can be as cool/beautiful/fun/whatever as we are if they just buy this thing we are laughing over in a well-lit professional photograph. Most of the time, that is pretty icky, but there’s something special happening in the ethical fashion space that isn’t happening in other influencer markets. Women are turning away from fast fashion and using their dollars to support small, sustainable businesses instead.
If it wasn’t for influencers, I never would have discovered all the wonderful brands that are working hard to change the way fashion is produced and the way we consume it. I never would have heard of Everlane (the “gateway” ethical brand, as I like to think of it), Nisolo, Vetta, Tradlands, Elizabeth Suzann, Sevilla Smith, Bill & Jay, GLDN, and so many others that are producing clothes, shoes, and jewelry in ways that honor people and the planet, and should be the norm. I am so grateful to those women, those influencers, who helped me learn that I don’t have to get dressed by an endless, exhausting, and unsatisfying cycle of fast fashion. If part of my role in this space is that I get to do that for other women, then I’m at peace with treading into influencer waters.
So in the coming weeks, you’ll be seeing more posts here and on Instagram where I’ve decided to collaborate with a brand. I want you to know that I only partner with brands that I truly love and believe in, and when you hear me gushing endlessly about this shirt or that coat, it’s because I really, really mean it. I rarely say bad things about clothes that are given to me for free because I am very choosy about what I accept in the first place. I reject more offers for collaboration than I accept, and in several cases, I reached out to the brand first because I was so crazy about them. I want to use this space to connect women with brands that help them achieve a happier, healthier relationship with their wardrobes, just like other influencers did for me. I’m not asking anyone to buy anything they don’t need, but if it helps you, and it helps a small maker, I hope you’ll consider supporting me.
I know that this was a lot of stuff, and I’m really interested to hear your thoughts. Let me know what you think in the comments below!