A Social Experiment: No New Clothes


Remember this girl? Okay, so maybe I’ve never shopped high-end designers or driven a luxury car, but I can relate to Cher in so many ways. Trapped in a car while a supposed friend tries to shove his tongue down my throat? Yep. Fallen for a man who turned out to be gay? Oh, yes. (Too many times to count). Dated my stepbrother? Erm, no. Have one, but eww. 

Like Cher, and many women, I love clothes. In preparation for this blog post, I tried to figure out how much the average woman spends on clothing annually. Google returned all kinds of varying estimates, so I decided instead to survey all of you and other moms I know. I received 61 responses. I was surprised to learn more than half of you spend less than $500 a year on clothing, shoes, and accessories. Another 25 percent spend less than $1,000. While I don’t know how this relates to your overall budgets obviously, I would venture to guess some of you have no need to hear the story I am about to share. If that’s the case, continue reading, but substitute whatever your particular weakness is for mine.

My passion for fashion didn’t begin until well into adulthood. As you can see in these photos, I made questionable wardrobe (and hairstyle) decisions in high school. I got better in college, but even then I usually opted for IU t-shirts and dance pants most days. Even when I began my professional career I only had a few pairs of dress pants, a dozen or so ill-fitting shirts, and only one skirt that I remember (and wore ad nauseam).  


Then I became a fundraiser. As such, I was often at events or meeting with donors. I grew paranoid about always having the right outfit, never wearing any dress too often. During those years my annual clothing spending ranged from $1,300 to $3,700. This would be fine if I was Cher, but as my wardrobe grew exponentially, so did my debt. I was generally hesitant to use credit cards for clothing or other frivolous spending, so when we bought our house in 2006 we had no debt outside of massive student loans and a small car payment. My income was growing, but my husband was in school and underemployed, so we found ourselves using credit for unexpected or emergent expenses. In hindsight, this means I didn’t really have the discretionary income I thought I had.

After having my daughter, my habits changed dramatically. I simply didn’t have the free time I had before. And that was when I truly came to terms with my problem. I was using shopping to fill more than one void in my life. Even though our income has increased and I began sticking to a stricter budget, in 2016 I made one of my first New Year’s resolutions ever. I vowed to go an entire year without buying clothing.

Notice I only said clothing. I decided to leave out shoes. I always replace my running shoes based on mileage, and a few of my staples were falling apart. That said, I was extra attentive to sales and had my favorite black boots repaired instead of replaced. I also excluded accessories. Again, all of my purses were on their last leg, so I purchased one new one with some birthday money. I also bought a few carefully chosen pieces of jewelry which have quickly become favorites and well-worth the expense (thanks, Lee Ann Robertson and Chloe & Isabel!).

So, how did I do? I’m pretending you asked. For the first eight months, I was perfect. Then my resolve began to wane. I was bored with my wardrobe. Yes, I have many clothes, but most items are between three and ten years old. I also had two family members pass away and loads of other stressors. I was no longer skinny enough for some of my skinny jeans (I might just have a problem with comfort eating, too). My lovely mother stepped in and sent me an amazingly comfortable pair of jeggings for my birthday. My husband bought me a beautiful pair of booties that feel like butter on my feet.

Unfortunately, I cannot say I was 100 percent successful. In October we had family pictures taken. My husband had his heart set on wearing this hipster blazer which went with nothing I or my daughter own. Initially I tried to come up with an alternative, but the three of us have very different color palates. I ended up buying a cheap dress to pair with a neutral sweater. I have to say it is a decision I do not regret, as the pictures are my favorite to date.


My other two infractions were a result of weather. I traveled to a conference in Atlanta and found myself freezing so I bought a cheap knit poncho at the gift shop in my hotel. Just a few weeks ago I ended up stuck at my in-laws due to ice, so I bought a pair of pajama pants at Walmart. These three transgressions totaled well less than $100. My total spending including the aforementioned shoes and accessories was around $400.

By (almost) sticking to this goal (and a few others), I was able to pay off a credit card, build our emergency savings, and finally purchase a very used second car with cash (we have been living with just one). While our significant student loan debt remains constantly on my mind (a topic for another post), I know I am moving in the right direction.


My tips for those seeking to do their own spending freeze:

 1.    Say it out loud. It felt kind of weird, but I told everyone about it, particularly my co-workers who see me all week. It added a level of accountability.

2.    Try clothing swaps. I hosted one of my own in January and attended another. While some of the items I took didn’t work, at least three have become favorites. I also purged quite a bit.

3.    Get creative. This forced me to organize and reexamine my wardrobe to come up with fresh outfits.


Other lessons learned:

  1. Most people barely notice your attire. Those that really do love clothes might, but I still get tons of compliments on my outfits even though they aren’t the latest styles.
  2. To that point, stick to clothes that you feel good in, and ideally, you will still feel good in five years from now.
  3. Quality matters more than quantity.
  4. Value what you have. If you can’t already, learn how to sew on buttons or fix ripped seams. Pay attention to laundering instructions.


What’s next for me? I want to focus more attention on buying used items vs. new. This may be challenging. I actually used to shop second-hand and consignment shops, but it required frequent visits to find items I truly loved. I have made a list of pieces I felt I was sorely missing this year (like a plain white shirt) and I will shop for those first, then see what remains of my budget. I would really love to brush up on my sewing skills and start making clothes, but that may be overly optimistic. Most importantly, I will remember my self-worth has nothing to do with what I wear. 


Meet The Author

Contributing Writer

Joli Heavin is a professional fundraiser and grant writer who works for Children's Bureau. In her spare time, Joli enjoys running, reading, and cooking. She is a lover of all things art and was once a classically trained singer and actress, but now primarily enjoys her roles as Clare's mom and Matt's wife.

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