• Fashion

How a year without buying clothes changed me forever

Abstaining from clothes shopping for a year had some very unusual after-effects 

By Emma Vidgen

When I decided to quit clothes shopping for a year, I never really thought about what would happen once the 12 months was up. To be honest, all I was thinking about was getting through the next month or two at the start, but as time went on, I found it easier and easier to abstain.

I didn’t even notice when the calendar ticked over on 9 February 2020 and my year was complete. I had grown so used to #notbuyingit that it wasn’t even on my radar. Then March 2020 happened and well, shopping was the last thing on my mind.

Then sometime after the first lockdown in May or June 2020, the idea came to me that a morning spent browsing vintage stores on King St, Newtown was just about the most exotic outing imaginable. Lockdown made shopping seem seriously sexy again. So I decided to take the plunge.

When I clapped eyes on a counterfeit Bartman knit in one vintage store window, I fell in love instantly. I went in and tried it on and umm-ed and ahh-ed. I walked away. I had lunch. But I just couldn’t get it out of my head. Would this be the piece to break my drought? Yes. This felt right. 

Emma Vidgen
Emma Vidgen's first purchase after a year of not shopping was this vintage knit

The actual purchase itself was like a bacon sarnie after years of vegetarianism. Buying clothing felt illicit, indulgent and outrageously wrong. The physical high was SO noticeable. But I didn’t regret it. It was vintage and it was truly unique. To this day, it remains one of my most treasured pieces. It’s weird and colourful and silly and it makes me smile and always gets comments – my ideal wardrobe staple.

After that, I began to pick up the odd thing here and there. Bras, knickers, socks (I found this impossible to do vintage) I bought new. But there have been some other intriguing after-effects that my year without shopping had on my consumption. Here are a few of the ways it’s changed me forever


I’ve slowly let myself unmute some of my favourite brands on Instagram (I’m a sucker for All That Remains, Kinga Csilla and Ganni) and signed up for a few EDMs, but now when I see something I like, I immediately check Depop, Vestiaire Collective, Facebook marketplace and eBay to see if I can find it second hand. I hadn’t looked at eBay in years but it is actually really great for collectible brands like Spell.


Another weird way I have reduced my fashion footprint has been to increase the amount of clothes I share with my husband. I know, this is definitely not for everyone, but he is pretty brave when it comes to fashion so it’s not uncommon for us to find a great t-shirt or sweater and agree that between us, the purchase is justified. Recent shared purchases include a B-52s t-shirt by TCSS and a Rowing Blazers sweater.

Emma Vidgen in B52s t shirt
Emma in her B52s t-shirt she shares with her husband


I was a Zara fiend pre-experiment but I have really tried not to fall back into that habit of buying up big in chain stores and then chucking it out six or 12 months later. I know if I spend money on something, I’m more likely to hold onto it and take good care of it. I don’t have bottomless pockets by any stretch, but if I do have to buy something new, especially If I’m buying a staple (think: boring black pants or jeans), I really try to invest in the best quality I can afford. I recently started back in an office and needed some sensible shoes and found Everlane was a pretty good, transparent option.


Before I quit shopping, I used to think nothing of going into DJs on my lunch break and grabbing an armful of stuff (usually when I was having a bad day). Now I don’t think I have bought anything without agonising over it for at least a day, usually longer. I think REALLY hard about why I feel compelled to buy it, what gap it’s filling in my wardrobe, whether it has the potential to last years, where it was made, by who, and when the time comes, how I will dispose of it. As a result I have been more attracted to vintage and really fallen in love with the thrill of the hunt again.


Of course I’m human, and I have had a couple of slip-ups. Usually it’s because some ridiculous print has caught my eye (Gorman, I’m looking at you). I definitely feel bad after the purchase but I try not to be too hard on myself. When I was researching the Mindful Fashion Experiment, a sustainability expert told me you can mitigate some of the environmental damage of fast fashion by holding onto things for a long time. The question arose when I showed her a Portman’s t-shirt I’ve had since high school (20+ years ago). It was decreed that I had cheated the system to an extent, as the garment had never been intended to be cared for or kept that long. I’d like to think the couple of things I have bought at cheap shops are so outlandish and fun I’ll hang onto for a long time to come. 


Some people do chocolate, before the experiment, I did retail therapy. I was an emotional shopper of the highest order before the experiment but since it ended I’m relieved to find that when the going gets tough, I no longer go shopping (or even think to go shopping). I can’t really put it down to anything other than forcing myself to abstain for a year and truly break the habit, but I definitely don’t feel the urge to numb out my feelings by buying clothes when I have had a rough day. 


Emma is a writer, astrologer and meditation teacher. Follow her on @emma_vee or @thewayward.co 


RELATED: Could you quit buying fashion for the year?

RELATED: These are the questions my friends ask me about fast fashion 


The Green + Simple Newsletter

Sign up for the best of sustainability each week