I’ve been working in fashion for more than 15 years and along the way, I’ve collected my shiny prizes. But having lots of pretty things has never helped me get dressed. At one point, I had close to 250 dresses in my closet, layered three to a hanger and stuffed so tightly together, you risked a hernia removing them. And yet, I was sure I had nothing to wear.
So I decided to use my professional skills to edit myself for a change. I started by trying on everything I owned. It took about five hours to zip, button and shimmy my way through my wardrobe. I soon realised that I really didn’t like a lot of it. Sure, I loved the stories behind how I’d inveigled each item— the bag I bought with my first pay cheque, the shoes I unearthed at an outlet. But actually wearing some of them again? No chance.
Rather than simply keep the pieces that spark joy à la Marie Kondo, I attempted to take my emotions out of the picture (after all, they’re what landed me in this mess in the first place). Versatility was of paramount concern. Which pieces had I worn at least 30 times, the number of wears deemed to be sustainable? Which ones worked with every sweater or shirt, and could see me through breakfast, lunch and cocktails? I got tactical and tried to forget how much I’d spent on each item. Anything dull, over-the-top or just-not-entirely-me was nixed. Ever conscious of the environmental impact of discarding clothing (the National Environment Agency reported that Singaporeans threw out almost 206,000 tons of textile and leather products in 2018 alone), I made a pledge never to put a single piece of fabric in the garbage and came up with a system of piles.
Which pieces had I worn more than 30 times, the number of wears deemed to be sustainable?
First, I put together a stash of the good stuff for a swapping party. There has to be an agreement that it’s about finding treasures in other people’s “trash” rather than attempting to swap like-for-like price. I bartered an oversize Jacquemus blazer for a perfectly sheer Chloé dress, and a roomy Mulberry tote for an immaculate Loewe mini bag. Everything that wasn’t swapped I sent to a resale site.
I also made a pile for repairs and found an incredible service to restore beloved high-end pieces, including my brutally scuffed Chanel pumps. The cost was steep (we’re talking half the full price), but it made sense to recondition them rather than double the fashion footprint. My litmus test was whether the loss would create a true hole in my day-to-day dressing options: Would I miss the item so much that I’d wind up buying it again?
From lower-cost items that didn’t (a) fit, (b) flatter or (c) feel fundamental to any outfit, I made the largest pile. But instead of just dumping them at the nearest charity store, I got in touch with ethical and eco-friendly donation centres; Dress For Success is a great option. The final pile, which was for anything torn or stained, went along with old towels and sheets to a fabric recycling service (you can check out Greensquare).
I’m not going to lie and say that I felt immediately amazing at the end of all this because I didn’t. I actually felt a deep sense of regret. I started to worry that I was going to look drab and samey in so few outfits. How would I ever cope with only one-third of my old wardrobe left?
Luckily, the stats gave me some perspective. Experts in the recycling industry have noted that we buy five times as much clothing as we did 40 years ago. In America in 1950, approximately 12 percent of a family’s monthly budget was spent on fashion. Today, it’s closer to 3 percent, so we buy more, but not better. What’s more, it’s been estimated that we wear 20 percent of what we own 80 percent of the time, leading to a situation where many of us feel overwhelmed by the choices our overstuffed closets present us with on a daily basis. In my search for sustainability, I didn’t lose great pieces that defined my style— I just lost the ones that were holding me back.