In this season of shopping, Becca Tucker offers a new way to think about old clothes.
It’s been over a year now since I uttered some fateful words. My head was deep in a bag of clothes from a Goodwill in Colorado Springs. I had just scored gray wool slacks, pink striped disco pants, two sweaters, a long paisley skirt and pea green corduroys for under $20.
“I’m never buying new clothes again,” I proclaimed, rifling through my booty. It took a few seconds for the words to sink in. Then there they hung, irretrievable.
Life is long. Two of my great-grandmothers lived to 103. The next three quarters of a century would see me progress through increasingly threadbare states, deteriorating eventually into skin and bones wrapped in a potato sack.
I started tacking on asterisks. I could still buy *shoes. *Socks. *Underwear. *Team gear (I play ultimate Frisbee, and need to wear my team jersey and shorts). *Other people could buy clothes for me (the holidays were coming up and I didn’t want to be a scrooge). *I could buy clothes for other people (ditto on the rationale).
It wasn’t as if husband Joe, the only witness to my proclamation, was paying any attention. I could have kept gabbing and no one would have been the wiser.
Except I couldn’t. This was before Dirt – the green living magazine I edit – was born, before buying coffee in a throwaway cup cast a shadow over my morning, but I was beginning to feel queasy about certain things. Those clothes from H&M and Forever 21, for instance, were too cheap. There was something amiss about going on a shopping binge on a whim, tossing the clothes when the seams gave way six months later, and doing it again.
I had double dog dared myself, and I couldn’t back down. It felt not only doable, but necessary.
I’m not going to pretend life after new clothes has been all peaches and puppies. There have been mornings since that day when I’ve torn my drawers apart, looking for something to wear to work, making a mess and making myself late and hating every piece of clothing I own. There have been days I’ve felt like a schlub, or like I’m Amish, or 15 years old, or 70, or egregiously out of synch with the place and time in a way I couldn’t quite pin down. Then again, there were days like that before I stopped buying new clothes, too. Fashion has never been my forte.
But I haven’t slipped up yet. There are the obvious benefits of the no new clothes rule, like a few hundred dollars saved per year, feeling a little less like a slave to the man, and not having to spend time in shopping centers, which kind of depress me.
Ironically, I may also be better dressed now. I take it all, hand-me-ups, -downs and -overs, and people are starting to know that. When my friend and her shopaholic little sister were moving out of their Brooklyn apartment, I went over for a farewell hangout session. What should I find but bags upon garbage bags filled with designer clothes, intended for the Salvation Army? On any given day there’s a 50/50 shot I’m wearing some item from those sisters (sorry Salvation Army). When people compliment my outfit, I give credit where it’s due, and my reputation as a clothes bin grows.
When another friend was moving from Sleepy Hollow to Brooklyn, she dumped all the clothes she couldn’t take – dresses, cozy hooded long-sleeves, Captain Morgan PJ pants, a knee brace? – at my house.
To get rid of the excess that didn’t fit, either on my body or in my drawers, I organized a clothing swap. Five friends brought their old clothes to trade, we pranced around, and I emerged with a new wardrobe.
I’m partial to my wardrobe, partly because it’s an eclectic mishmash of styles that is in itself a sort of style, but mostly because on any given day I can look down and, starting at my shoes and working my way up, tick off a list of friends, cousins, and thrift stores I’ve visited on various travels. Some of those friends I see all the time. Some are long gone. One moved to California and had a baby girl. I think about her whenever I wear her African skirt with the hole in the right pocket.
Becca Tucker, a Bedford native and graduate of Fox Lane High School and Yale University, edits a new green living magazine called dirt covering the fertile Hudson Valley region. She is the daughter of Carll Tucker, Founder and Chairman of Main Street Connect.