Most of the clothes Betsy and I wear we got at church fairs or thrift stores. In general, the only clothing we buy new are underwear, socks and shoes.
In 2013, we spent $572 on clothes (yes, we keep records of all our expenses), and in the first half of this year we spent $197. According to my Internet research, the average household spends 3.8 percent of their income on clothes, or about $2,000 a year.
There are other reasons besides cost to seek out used clothing. There is the justice issue, because much inexpensive new clothing was made by low-paid workers in sweatshop-like factories in the developing world.
We don’t want to support the fashion industry, whose ads encourage consumers to change the style or color of clothing on an annual basis. We think this is another form of planned obsolescence, to get people to buy more stuff when they already have functional items. That seems wasteful and ecologically unsound. So we buy good used clothes, and one can often find higher-quality items for reasonable prices. We like the motto “Use it up, wear it out, or do without.”
We like our clothes to be comfortable, presentable, clean, modest, practical and easy to care for. I don’t care much about style and don’t experience a thrill from shopping for new clothes. We don’t expect everyone to have the same taste in clothes, but these choices seem to suit us.
I think I was soured on expensive clothes early. I had to wear a tie and jacket to school from 4th through 12th grade, and hated it when my mother insisted we go to fancy department stores to buy new clothes for me. In my late teens, I even had a tuxedo that I wore to debutante parties! I guess I reacted against these early experiences. Luckily for me, I had a career in newspapers, where a certain scruffiness is tolerated or even expected.
Right now I’m wearing a t-shirt and cut-off jeans. I have a drawer full of t-shirts I’ve gotten for free as event promotions, and my jeans come from the Salvation Army store. I get much of my clothing at very low prices at the First Congregational Church of Amherst’s Cranberry Fair, which is on Nov. 22 this year. When I visit my sister on Cape Cod, we usually make a trip to a place that gives away clothing.
My biggest clothing expense is new running shoes, on which I spend over $100 a year. I’ve figured out that they last longer if you have two pairs and alternate them. When a pair wears out, they become outdoor shoes, and when they wear out some more, they become garden shoes.
During the last year or two before I retired, I wore black shoes I had bought for a dollar at the Cranberry Fair. Only after I retired did I notice that the two shoes didn’t match each other! It got me wondering if there was someone out there who was in the same situation!