How to unlearn what society told us about repeating outfits

Somewhere between learning how to dress ourselves without the help of our parents and having to dress for various occasions and versions of ourselves as adults, we were led to believe that it is taboo to wear the same outfit more than a few times. If you’re a woman, that belief has been magnified by society’s emphasis on women’s appearance and the impossible pressure to maintain an ever-changing appearance.

From TV characters like sex and the cityis Carrie Bradshaw for emily in parisIn the main character, we are constantly confronted with this unattainable image of the successful (or, in other words: incredibly rich) woman who is rarely seen in the same outfit twice. Isabelle Landicho, London-based stylist and fashion director for The Earth Issue, references the graduation scene from The Lizzie McGuire Movie that has been etched in her mind since she was a teenager. In the scene, she ridicules Lizzie for wearing a dress that she had previously worn under her graduation gown. “Things like that perpetuate this negative construct around reuse,” Landicho tells Refinery29. “And she always stayed with me, because, it’s like, what’s wrong with us? It was such a pretty dress.”

While it’s a privileged mindset that almost no one can follow and a stigma that is virtually non-existent outside of Western culture, the pressures still exist. Even when it comes to public figures who do have the money to wear a new outfit every day but choose not to, others are quick to judge, such as Michelle Obama, who has been criticized for wearing repeat looks. The notion that a constant stream of new clothes equates to status and attractiveness is unattainable and unforgiving. Amplified by the ways we use social media, we’re told to make way for newness 365 days a year.

In reality, our contempt for the repetition of garments is one of the biggest lies that capitalism has sold us. In a July StitchFix survey, shared exclusively with Refinery29, that included 517 of its customers, 3 out of 5 people said they tend to buy new clothes when they get tired of a garment. For 44% of those surveyed, that fatigue occurs after only six uses.

Not only is this behavior normalized in our society, it’s encouraged in every single thing we consume, though a growing number of trending content creators are now working to dismantle that mentality. In 2022, as we navigate a cost of living crisis in Britain, a climate crisis and constant overconsumption, it is essential that we start to unlearn this wasteful attitude towards our clothes. The first step in doing so is understanding why we get rid of clothes so quickly in the first place.

According to fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell, our clothes generally fall into three categories of use: “continuous identity,” which is clothing that reflects who we are today; “transitional identity”, which are garments that are a bridge between who you are and who you want to be; and the “discontinued identity”, which are garments that you feel no longer represent you. So, that pencil skirt you bought for your office job that you no longer have, or your skinny jeans that haven’t seen the light of day since 2020.

“One of the main reasons people get tired of their wardrobe is because they can no longer reconcile their current or aspirational identity with those clothes, and as a result, they no longer make them feel good,” Forbes-Bell tells Refinery29. She also acknowledges the changes in trends that (falsely) consider certain clothes unwearable, as well as the high we get from all sorts of novelties.

From TikTok tours and an unhealthy closeness to celebrity culture, to fashion’s “52 microseasons,” modern life has instilled in us the idea that more is more, says Landicho. “The capitalist agenda has affected our cultural and social mentality. It has made us think that it is not appropriate to wear the same thing over and over again,” he says.
Landicho works to create projects that combat this mentality, such as a recent haute couture editorial that he artistically directed and styled, celebrating Secondhand September solely with vintage and second-hand clothing. On his personal social media, he yells about making conscious fashion choices any chance he gets, which includes not buying anything new unless he absolutely needs to.

If you’re looking for ways to make your wardrobe more mindful, both Landicho and Forbes-Bell have tips on how to do just that.

Buy only what you need, and buy second-hand first

If you really need an item, whether it’s a hoodie you know you’ll wear at least 30 times, or a dress you can wear for both formal and informal occasions, try getting that item secondhand. If you’ve absolutely exhausted all your options, don’t worry: buy new ones. it is is still an option. Landicho is careful to point out that this may also include brands that are not normally sustainable. “Not everyone has a price point to buy consciously. It is not sustainable for everyone,” says Ladicho. “I never want to vilify anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable knowingly buying that way.”

Clean what you don’t use

Before you decide to buy something new, take a look at your wardrobe. Find out what makes you feel good, what you feel most confident about, what you need more of, and what you lack, suggests Landicho. Whatever doesn’t fit into that category, donate or recycle, and that clarity will help you on those mornings when you just can’t find anything to wear.

Consume fashion consciously

Forbes-Bell says that mindful consumption is key to making the most of your wardrobe. We often end up with a wardrobe full of clothes we don’t like because we’re making thoughtless purchases,” she says. Some other helpful tips from both: get creative with the style and use your hangers to visually represent clothes you don’t wear often (just flip them!).

“I think the disapproval of repeat outfits is ridiculous,” says Forbes-Bell. “If you are passionate about your clothes and understand how they make you feel, use that knowledge to support yourself or improve your mood. Enjoy the opportunity to use them over and over again.”

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