(Earth Month)

The Accidental Art Of Not Shopping

How a fashion editor stumbled into anti-consumerism.

Written by Julia Gall
Courtesy of Julia Gall
Julia Gall wearing navy turtlneck and denim with white lace maxi skirt

I don’t really shop anymore. I’m not saying this to garner praise or for this story to be a self-righteous tale of sustainable living. But, if either of those turn out to be true, so sue me.

I will admit that my circumstances are a bit unique. As a former fashion editor, I’ve made myself little rules over the years on how to shop strategically, i.e. “never buy at full-price,” “buying designer retains value for resale,” “no more sample sale panic purchases.” In this job, having had a hand in telling people what to buy for nearly a decade and a half, I hit a wall. The exposure to so much newness, and the relentless calendar dictating that we need all new wardrobes every three months started to feel less fun and simply overwhelming. I eventually bowed out of covering traditional fashion full-time in a very “it’s not you, it’s me” sort of manner, and sparked a deeper exploration with my personal consumption and attachment to things.

Four years ago, I moved out of New York City to seaside New England and began to really shed the remnants of my “fashion flex” wardrobe. Here, fashionable clothing matters a little less so I edited down to pieces that fit the context better, selling off ones that felt out of place. I said farewell to a lot of black! I also became pregnant last year which prompted me to stow away anything that would no longer fit into canvas wardrobe bags, and only leave out a handful of items in “capsules” of what was working seasonally and bump-wise. This was made up of generous or stretchy silhouettes and a sprinkle of secondhand that went back into my wardrobe cycle after birth.

Courtesy of Julia Gall

But, after giving birth, I felt ready to expand my outfit rotation. Fall and winter’s rigid “wash ‘n repeat” combination of jeans plus t-shirt to minimize laundry in the early, messy baby days have grown tiresome. I have a hard time being a uniform dresser, and even if I don’t really have anywhere to go, I feel a longing to jazz things up.

With that, the temptation to “refresh” (an innocent-sounding yet highly manipulative marketing term) my wardrobe lingers. After all, who wants to be stale? It’s natural to want to pepper in new items when the OOTD-driven content of my algorithm starts to feel like everyone’s closets have seemingly unlimited combinations. My suspicion was reinforced by the popular countermovement on Tiktok called “Hard 75 Style Challenge” where users recorded their outfit each day for 75 days using only what existed in their wardrobe. I was shocked to see very little repetition. Feeling like I’ve been doing this already, I was pleased to discover my streak seemed to last much longer than 75 days without much effort. As it turns out, around-the-clock care for a newborn pretty much eclipses any spare thought about my wardrobe.

My first and most important tactic in this resistance to shop is abstinence. As a person who worked in fashion, many of my friends ask me for outfit advice, clothing recommendations, and if I’ve “seen any shoes like this.” And my answer is no. This is because I do not look. Admittedly, it’s harder than ever not to look. With eerily specific targeted ads sliding in between every scroll and a new crop of shopping newsletters from all our favorite tastemakers, avoiding someone telling you to buy something is like trying to avoid sun exposure. It’s good for you in the long run, but also very un-fun in the moment. I do not entertain the click and I do not actively peruse a website to shop. Womp wah. But I had to find out if my cold-hearted, cold turkey approach was me being oddly severe or if it is actually effective. I had Dr. Dion Terrelonge, fashion psychologist, weigh in on this trick: “Cold turkey is the easiest and fastest way.” Ah-ha! I was onto something after all. “The brain forgets and the cravings die down faster. I wouldn’t be surprised if after two weeks, they are so minimal or weakened that you are able to reason with them.”

“...avoiding someone telling you to buy something is like trying to avoid sun exposure.”

Calling the want to shop an intrusive thought feels particularly harsh in a world where consumption is running rampant, but that’s what it’s been designed to do. Terrelonge explains, “We form these new habits because they’ve been positively reinforced.” The convenience of how much is available to us, how accessible it is and how quickly we can receive it has helped lock the addiction in. How could something so accommodating be so bad? When combined with human tendency for herd behavior we don’t even notice this behavior as wrong, since everyone else seems to be doing it too. “Changing a thought process is tricky”, she admits. So then do we have to trick ourselves?

With this, I offer my other strategy: “hide and seek.” During my pregnancy, the frustration of not being able to depend on old reliables in my wardrobe was challenging. Not a fan of adding in an elastic band or the Rihanna-esque open zipper look, I packed up my jeans for the long haul. Being able to “unsee” what was annoying me in my closet, without deciding to give it all away, helped me develop my laser focus for outfit-making and feeling comfortable when there is already so much discomfort happening in my body. Now that the seasons have shifted, revisiting the items I haven’t seen in over a year feels nearly as exciting as shopping.

But the notion of seeing is almost as important as unseeing. Enter the Indyx app. This wardrobing tool, founded by ex-corporate fashion veteran Yidi Campbell, takes shopping your closet to a literal level. “This is the first time you basically see everything that you own in a very visually beautiful way.” The app offers tutorials on how to take great pictures of your pieces and clear up the background so it mimics flat lays of clothing similar to e-commerce shopping. This way, the user and the stylists offering their services through the app can make sense of what is in the closet for outfit building, cleanouts, and more. “It’s a huge reality check. As you’re cataloging you then realize, Oh, I actually have the same ten pairs of black pants. You have the data to quantify the state of your wardrobe. The data drives behavior change.” If seeing is believing and believing is understanding what you have, then we shouldn’t ever feel like we’re lacking, right?

“...having a healthy connection to the things you own is more therapeutic than the notion of “retail therapy”.”

Harder said than done, but it’s doable. The last, but not least, important part of this puzzle is wardrobe gratitude. If we are all fortunate enough to afford shopping addictions, we can all certainly practice gratitude. Honing in on what you love in your closet helps reinforce shopping for more loveable pieces. Colton Winger, owner and CEO of Seattle-based personal styling agency CUNIFORM empowers clients to turn gratitude into constructive consumption. “Identify what it is that you really like about one thing. What about the fit, the fabric, or the construction is the thing that really nailed it for you? Then put that into your mental toolkit, compare that against something else in your wardrobe, and start to connect the dots.” This understanding sets up a client to be a savvier shopper and not just a solution-based one, which Winger aims to create. “Instead of leaning into something that solves the problem and buying ten more of them, you will have a stronger relationship to your wardrobe.” Dare I say that having a healthy connection to the things you own is more therapeutic than the notion of “retail therapy”.

Doing the work towards individual change feels like a small step for mankind, without the giant leap against combating big business. How can we reckon with a system that’s been built to play us? With the ease of Square, Shopify and your Chrome Browser, it’s possible to complete a transaction in one tap or three clicks from start to finish. I’ve actually misplaced my credit card for months now (a habit formed from my new Mom brain) and still use it remotely with transactions on my phone or computer. I quite literally am shopping without knowing where my physical card is. This ease now feels dangerous. This programming or “frictionless transactions” prompted an article from Time last month that memed its way through my Instagram feed, posters mimicking the headline and wondering why indeed are we spending so much money. The data was there: “U.S. consumers spent a record $19 trillion in December 2023, up 6% from a year prior, and 29% from February 2020.” Surely ease can’t be the only reason. My process isn’t perfect, but it helps me see outside of consuming. We are drowning in clothes. How do we collectively break free from the stuff?

Terrelonge says it plainly: “Once you have enough stuff to satisfy basic needs, you’re fine. There is no correlation with the amount and happiness levels.” Ah, I told you. You don’t need those pants.