How to shop for clothes consciously

We worked fashion restyling advocate and capsule wardrobe queen @yasmine_asare to come up with a quiz that will help you get the most value out of your clothing purchases. In this blog, she goes into detail of each of the five crucial questions to ask, and explains what you can do to shop more consciously

I’m a fashion content creator, so I of course love fashion. This can mean it’s easy to be tempted into buying lots of clothes to keep up with the latest trends or feel part of the ‘fashion’ conversation. One in three women feel that their clothes are outdated after less than three wears! (source: Once worn, thrice shy – British women’s wardrobe habits exposed!’ 2015).

We’re spending substantial amounts on things we don’t really want or use, which is having a significant impact on our finances as well as the environment. Around 350,000 tonnes of still wearable clothing go into landfill in the UK every year; that’s worth around £140 million. However since Covid-19 hit, many of us are thinking more critically about the pieces we buy, whether we truly need them and how much value are we really getting out of them. By evaluating our purchases based on their value we’re more likely to get more out of those pieces and be more sustainable too.

The conscious shopping quiz

The concept of shopping more consciously is an idea I have grown more and more passionate about and I’ve teamed up with Zopa to create a conscious shopping quiz to help you investigate whether your next purchase will give you long term value.

What’s great about this tool is it’s super simple and applies for any budget. Our series of questions encourage you to think critically and enable you to get the most value out of items in your wardrobe. The tool follows five simple principles – asking you key questions to help you think through a purchase.

1. What is the motivation to purchase?

I always ask myself this question before I buy anything; why am I really buying this? This helps me figure out how often I’m likely to wear it. A trend-led piece I may wear once or twice is probably something I’ll get little value out of (and there is also an argument of whether it’s worth buying at all).

Trend-led pieces tend to be those items that become huge in one season and then quickly go away and are never to be seen on anyone again (think neon leg warmers from the 80s!). If I’ve seen a certain cut, colour or print feature in blogs or the pages of Vogue over multiple seasons (animal print, tailored cuts, straight fit denim) then I know this is a trend that is more likely to stand the test of time so I’m more willing to add a piece like this to my wardrobe. This season I’ll be buying a couple of animal print pieces - animal print comes round every autumn and winter so I’m not worried about pieces feeling dated.

On the other hand, if it’s an item I’m replacing because I’ve worn a similar piece out, I’m probably going to invest more of my money in a better-quality item. These pieces will be staples like a beige chunky knit, black knee-high boots or a little black dress.

Key things to consider:

  • Have you seen this style/print/cut in fashion before? If you have, you’re more likely to feel proud to get it out next year or season

  • Are you buying this just because you’ve seen your favourite influencers wear it? Having your own unique style is far better than following the crowd and wearing something that doesn’t feel truly you.

  • If you’re replacing an item, consider what made it need replacing in the first place. Did it start to look worn out after a few washes, perhaps, or did it fall apart? Then perhaps the fabric isn’t durable enough or you should be looking to get a better quality version.

2. How often will you wear this garment?

This is such an important question as it gets me to consider the cost per wear. An item that cost £20 could either be great value if worn 100 times (making the cost per wear 20p!) or very expensive if worn twice (making the cost per wear £10). My big tip here is if I can’t think of 5 ways to style something, I won’t buy it.

This is a principle I use for every purchase and led to the creation of my hashtag #restylethatpiece. It’s a concept which focuses on a simple principle; restyling an item of clothing, multiple ways and multiple times. If I’m buying a piece of clothing, I want to celebrate it and be proud of wearing it in lots of different ways.

Being fashionable doesn’t mean buying new all of the time! The more I’m able to style something means I’ll wear it more often and get much better value out of it.

My blazers have to be my most worn pieces by far - I throw them on with everything and feel great every time I wear them. They work because they’re versatile, well-structured and comfortable.

Key things to consider

  • Can you #restylethatpiece a minimum of five ways?

  • How do you feel when you wear it? Does it give you that confidence boost, making you feel you can slay the day? If you feel confident, you’re more likely to wear it often. For me wearing a shirt always makes me feel ready to tackle whatever comes my way, so they’re often the piece I reach out for most

  • Is it easy to wear? Here I’m thinking about comfort. If something has made me even remotely uncomfortable, I can’t wait to take it off and I’m reluctant to style it again!

3. How many years do you expect to own and wear this garment?

The question above focused on the frequency of wear, and this question focuses on the longevity of the piece. I may wear my hot pink trousers a lot this summer, but once the trend is done, will I want to wear them in two years’ time? This is another factor that will impact the value of an item.

I typically find the pieces that form part of my capsule wardrobe are the ones I’m happy to wear year after year (these may be things like denim, plain basic t-shirts, a blazer or a tailored coat ). I developed my capsule wardrobe a couple of years ago and it’s been a game changer. Capsule wardrobes are great as these are often made up of simple, classic pieces that can be worn with lots of different items within your wardrobe – ultimately a capsule wardrobe helps you do more with less, which is great for your money. I’d say 60-70% of my wardrobe is made up of capsule staples, so I get great value out of the majority of my wardrobe.

These items often end up being a lot more durable too as I choose materials like 100% cotton, linen, cashmere and wool. I can expect to have these types of pieces for 3 years plus if I take care of them. I have a wool coat I’ve owned for 8 years and I’m still obsessed with it!.

Key things to consider:

  • Will it sustain multiple washes? I’m all for being proud to wear something multiple times, but the item needs to look as fabulously fresh as it did the first day I bought it, not tired and worn out!

  • Will it still be in fashion in 6 months time?I try and steer clear of bold colours for example, as they typically won’t be as popular the following year. Instead I buy neutral tones which have a more timeless feel

  • Could the piece fit in with your capsule wardrobe,? If you’re able to style it lots of ways, it’s more likely to be a much-loved piece you’ll want to hold on to for longer

4. How expensive is the garment to maintain?

This is where hidden costs lie. I always checking the washing instructions before buying an item. Having to dry clean a shirt every time I wear it makes its cost go up. The average UK household spends around £325 on washing and dry cleaning a year!

I try to choose durable and high-quality fabrics such as cashmere, 100% wool or silk; whilst being potentially more expensive to maintain (the average cost of dry cleaning can range from £9 - £20 for a suit), they are more likely to stand the test of time and be items in my wardrobe for years to come. I’ve got wool knit jumpers I bring out year after year and I always look forward to wearing them.

Key considerations:

  • Do you have access to reasonably priced dry cleaners near you? I moved a few years ago and couldn’t believe the price difference of dry cleaning in one area to the next! Prices can vary considerably making the value of the item go down

  • When storing clothes you won’t wear until next season, pack them away in airtight containers to keep them looking fresh once you’re ready to re-wear them

5. What do you usually do with it when you stop wearing the garment?

When buy something, this question may not be top of mind, but being honest with yourself about what you’re likely to do with the piece when you’re done with it helps provide a more accurate picture of the value it will bring you.

If you’re keen to do some secondhand selling there are plenty of websites and options (e.g. Vinted, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Depop to name a few.) Although some of these sites take a small commission (varying from 5 to 10%), you can sell pieces for up to 50% of their original value. I’ve sold old items on eBay and Depop for years and the money I make from selling then goes towards new pieces I want to buy, especially if I’m saving up for a bigger purchase.

If this isn’t for you there are still ways to be a little more sustainable:

  • Lots of my friends are holding clothes swap parties. They’re pretty much what the name suggests; an opportunity to get together with friends, have fun and swap items of clothing you no longer love to help them find a new home. It’s basically FREE SHOPPING. What’s not to love?!

  • Giving clothing to charity shops is another way to help your pieces make their way to a new owner. You’d be amazed at the finds in a charity shop - a friend of mine recently found a Burberry trench in one, barely used! So not only are they a great place to donate, they’re a great place to shop too

  • As part of their drive to be more sustainable lots of high street retailers are collecting pre-loved clothing to recycle. Simply go into your local store and drop off the pieces. They then repurpose the material to make new garments! Some of them even offer vouchers for donations, so that’s a lovely additional incentive and a way to save up for your next high value purchase

If like me, you want to try and improve the value of your wardrobe, here are some final top tips:

  1. Purchase pieces that compliment your existing wardrobe – buying an item you love but doesn’t go with anything you currently own means you’ll either buy more to make that piece work, or it will sit at the bottom of your wardrobe unworn and unloved

  2. Choosing classic styles that never go out of fashion (Bretton stripes, neutral colour palettes, classic cuts) mean older pieces in your wardrobe won’t feel dated when you wear them years later

  3. Sometimes spending a little more helps your money go further; buying cheap, poorly made pieces that won’t last beyond a couple of washes means your cost per wear shoots up. I used to buy all my plain white t-shirts for under £10. Unfortunately, the reality was that they’d quickly discolour and lose shape, meaning I would have to buy new t-shirts every couple of months. I now spend around £20-25 and have had the same ones for over a year

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