The thing about sustainable shopping is that shopping necessitates consumption. The problem with consumption is that as we’ve learned more about sustainability a theory has developed that consumption—all of it—is Bad. And yeah, definitely, some of that’s true—the commerce cycle will not be sustainable until brands figure out how make more money without also having to make more stuff. But back to the part about all buying being bad: I’m not so black and white. I prefer to clothe myself in the varying and nuanced shades of gray. I also prefer not to judge the habits or behavior of others (compulsive shopping, for instance) until I’ve exhausted the possible reasons such behaviors exist. TL;DR: I don’t think consumption has to be so dirty if we’re more thoughtful about it and hold ourselves accountable for making! smarter! choices!
I bring all this up because we’re on the precipice of consumption season—that time of year when all the stores and all the brands and all the websites rely on us to buy shit-loads of shit for both ourselves and our people, which is almost always when I, personally, start to feel a hole burning through my pocket. That hankering for something new. On my mind now are inconvenient mini skirts, festive sweaters, and teeny, tiny trinkets to soup up the rest of me. Do I need any of that? No. That’s a hard no. Do I want some of it? Yeah!
Any time I act on that burning hole feeling, I regret it. I realize I don’t actually like the thing, or that I have a better version, or that a better version exists elsewhere and then I’m stuck inside my own shame spiral thinking maybe I should be more black and white. That perhaps there is no gray: Sustainable shopping means not shopping at all!
I don’t think I really mean that. There’s got to be another way. I don’t actually know what the way is, but an effort to figure it out has led me to develop a handy list of questions to ask myself before I shop. The basic premise of this list, for which you should be able to run any fashion item through, is that a) the garment in question is one you think you really want, b) it’s not necessarily for a special occasion (just rent that!) and c) it will last.
The list should be able to lead me to a wardrobe for which I want nothing new at all, but can feel confident (even good about!) updating occasionally when I’m itching for the fashion equivalent of a software update. Here it is—go ahead and give it a screenshot to have it handy next time you’re about to extract a card from your wallet:
In the time since I’ve developed the list (credit where credit is due: number five came from a commenter named Cristin on this story), I’ve run at least 9 items through it. Only once have I been able to answer the questions in a way that has been satisfactory enough for me to pull the trigger. Unsurprisingly, it was neither a festive sweater nor an inconvenient skirt. Not even a little trinket to soup me up (though dammit this one is cute)—it was a pair of sensible suede boots, extremely expensive but worthwhile, for me at least, because:
- Do I already own something that serves the same purpose? Nope! But I have been looking for a pair of boots that aren’t flat, or too high, which I could wear all the time, particularly with jeans.
- Is this one so much better that I would feel compelled to donate not one, but three things in its place, including the sum of question 1? I do have a couple pairs of beige boots, both of which are flat. I’m going to donate them both.
- Will it make getting dressed in the morning easier? Hard yes—my issue when the weather gets cold is always footwear. I am a frequent wearer of mostly of skinny or straight varietals of jeans and have long maintained that boots look too, I don’t know, obvious? expected? with them.
- What do I have to give up to get it? (Or rather, can I actually afford it?) Well! I have an unused gift card, so they will net out closer to $250, which makes pulling the trigger even easier.
- If it were more expensive, would I still feel the need to try to figure out how to buy it? Glad this question is here, almost went into it in #4 . Yes. I’d have sold instead of donated the other two pairs of boots, assuming they landed me a combined $500, that would mean these cost another $500 out of pocket, which is still steep, but I spend $10 every day on coffee. If I didn’t do that for two weeks, I’d earn another $100 back (do I really need the afternoon one anyway?). So that’s $400 out of pocket and some homemade coffee which is probably better. I can afford that comfortably but if I couldn’t, I’d ask myself whether I was willing to skip holiday party plans—drinks, meals, the works—in order to save up more. If the answer were no, I’d hold da fuq off.
- (If you’re looking for a software update) Will it enhance the experience of getting dressed in the morning, i.e. elevate the other staples of my wardrobe? Jeans and sweaters look less sloppy, check.
- (If you’re looking for a software update) If I ran into someone I really admire, or were at a place where I feel compelled to turn! it! on!, would I feel good to be in it? Trick question, and we should all have the same answer: Who the fuck cares!
Go on, give it a try. If you are compelled, I wouldn’t mind you running an item you have on your mind in the comments below to see where you net out. And then we can try this exercise with a piece that fails the test, too.
Graphics by Coco Lashar