Empress without new clothes

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I am halfway through a pledge not to buy any more clothing for twelve months. And through it, I am learning to appreciate what I have.

moving day



I still remember 8 January like it was yesterday. It was uplift day, when a removalist company helped us uproot out stuff from Taipei to Canberra. A moving consultant came to visit us at 8.00am, providing ‘do not pack’ stickers. He chatted for a bit about what would stay, then ten minutes later, five of his colleagues arrived and the six of them proceeded to shove anything without the ‘do not pack’ stickers into boxes with ruthless methodicism. By 5pm everything had been dismantled, boxed, checked off, ferried down the lift and out into three waiting trucks.

As a lead-up to the move, I had to fill out the dreaded inventory form. This is required for insurance purpose, and on it I needed to write down a guestimate value of everything that would be moved. Everything. Including the value of clothing.

I looked at my coats (more than ten, including ones meant for arctic temperatures), shoes (lost count), cardigans, jumpers, dresses and evening wear. I allocated a conservative value based on what it would cost to replace our things at full value, just in case everything got lost. It can happen — my boss told me that a former colleague lost his entire shipment because it happened to be transhipped via Kobe, and during the 1995 earthquake all his possessions were sucked into the seabed.  I was shocked that our family’s costumes came to $30,000. That was a lower-end value.

Most of our clothes were given to us, bought on sale, at the wet markets or at op shops. We seemed to have a lot of stuff — or at least I did. But could it be normal for women to have so many clothes? Wanting a second opinion, I went to our lovely carer, “M” for a second opinion.

“Do I have a lot of clothes,” I asked.

She laughed nervously, then confidently looked me in the face and answered “yes, ma’am, you have a LOT of clothes”.

So then and there, I stopped buying new clothes — except if really needed, such as cold weather or a special event. I vowed to use and appreciate what I had for twelve months before buying anything else.  It has been hard at times to avoid sales and fantastic op shop bargains such at Another Chance. But mostly I have done well, with the following exceptions:

  • I accepted with gratitude some clothing from my wonderful sister.  We are about the same  height, and regularly swap clothes.  Well, often I am more of a receiver than giver.  I am particiularly grateful for the pair of comfortable black 3/4 length pants, the only thing I was thinking of actually buying.
  • I also found a black pashmina, discarded by somebody at my long-negled work station in my new position.  Like the black pants, I had planned to buy one and then it turned up …
  • I bought new undies — only to find they were too small!  Diet on the way to curb my posterior.  But having read an advertisement for  a couples retreat that suggested your marriage was in trouble “if you no longer wear sexy underwear”, I am thinking this might be an essential item.
  • I bought a warm scarf, beanie and gloves from a Salvos op shop.  I classed this in the ‘cold weather emergency’ category.  But to be honest, I do already have several scarves so I did bend my pledge a little.
  • I bought an aqua-marine blue silk scarf and lots of (op-shop) jewellery.  I didn’t include jewellery in my ‘do not buy’ list, but no excuse for the scarf.  I just liked it, and have worn it several times since.

There have been times when I have felt dowdry.  As a 101 Local Human I have met several pretty cool fashionistas, including dedicated fashion bloggers.  And my work colleagues are always so impeccably dressed. In comparison, I feel like I have a dull and staid wardrobe.  At times I wonder if perhaps my confidence would be augmented if I wore something new.  And reduced weight by 15kg.

But I think the important thing is not new clothes, but how you wear them.  It is all about attitude.  A little signature brooch here, dangly earrings there, an elegant scarf (not always tied so elegantly, but I am trying), and a hold-yourself-up-and-be-proud approach.  I am learning to affirm out loud every day that “I love and approve of myself”.  Because I have found that even if you have lots of new and expensive clothes, it does not necessarily translate into enhanced self worth.

Perhaps I worry too much about my appearance.  Perhaps most women (and some men) also do, which is why many of us have such large wardrobes full of more clothes than we could ever possibly wear.  Through this process, I have been learning to appreciate what I have.  I am finding new things in my wardrobe, and experimenting with new combinations.  During my first month back to work, I tried never to wear the same outfit twice: and I almost succeeded.  But even if I do wear repeat outfits, who cares?  As one of my friends said to me when I told her of this project, “we haven’t seen you for three and a half years, so to us all of your clothes are new anyway.”  I knew there was a reason I liked her!



  1. That was a really interesting post. I rarely buy clothes, and they’re always at least 50% off when I do, but I still buy a few things now and then when I feel the need for cheering up. I couldn’t go 12 months without buying clothes, you’re a stronger chick than I!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t sure if I could do this at first. Busy a busy working mum helps in that I don’t really get much time for leisurely clothes shopping anyway: But seriously, it is amazing how many things you have in your wardrobe that you never wear. And yet, there are always a small number of clothes that you wear over and over and over again.

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