/ Shopping, Sustainability

Clothes shopping habits: time to change?

A few years ago I decided to change the way I buy new clothes. Could we all be more sustainable with our shopping habits? Here’s what I decided to do.

With a number of changes in size thanks to having a child, I had a bulging wardrobe and seemed to be constantly shopping for new stuff! It was time to set myself a challenge.

I decided to break the cycle of clothes shopping by attempting a whole year without purchasing anything new.Β 

But there was one exception; if something urgently needed replacing, I’d head to the nearest charity shop.

Over the course of the year, I estimate I saved hundreds of pounds on buying clothes. Money-saving is obviously a great benefit, but even more important to me personally was the sustainable side of buying from a charity shop and re-using items.

Sustainable buying choices are important to me, and I was pleased to see Mike Briggs, our Head of Product Research, discussing sustainability in the April issue of our magazine.

My tips for charity clothes shopping

I think it’s important to be open-minded. Shops tend to cut sizes differently, so always consider trying one size above or below your usual. And would you consider a colour you wouldn’t usually go for? You can often find a gem in a colour you may not have considered before.

You may also be surprised at what a difference some basic sewing skills can make. If you’re between sizes or just a bit of a perfectionist then it’s great to pick up an item cheaply, then alter it yourself.

And another tip before you do hit the shops – make sure you clear your wardrobe out first! I’ve bought things in the past only for something to turn up in my wardrobe later on that I’d completely forgotten about.

I’ve also found that location makes a difference when it comes to charity shops. For example, if you’re after books, shops with universities nearby will be well-stocked.

Could you change your habits?

I have to admit, I didn’t quite make it a year without buying anything new. I did buy a couple of pairs of leggings, which is something you can’t really find in charity shops, and are difficult to make.

So if you do attempt a whole year, don’t worry about making exceptions. The little challenge I set myself helped me stop buying things I didn’t need, rather than those that I really did. Walking into a shop and not feeling like I wanted anything was really freeing.

So that’s my story, what about you? Do you think you buy too many new clothes? Could you make more sustainable choices?

And what about shopping tips – do you have any you can add to my list? Let me know in the comments.


As a typical male -well maybe not that typical, – but like some males, I buy what I need when I need it. So, a pair of black trousers for concerts, some socks and underwear and that’s about it this year. Two years ago I bought some warm tops for winter and these are still wearing well. I have darned holes in things and replaced buttons. My school has a “rags to riches” scheme and anything that looks disreputable enough goes there. Having built a good collection over the years I find most things last and I need to wear out what I have before buying more. I enjoy clothes shopping, but it’s a treat rather than a ‘habit’.

I agree with VynorHill in that I buy clothes only when I need them.

The only exception is Levi’s jeans, which I buy in the United States for $26.40 (Β£16.50 at the GBP/USD rate I got), whereas an identical pair costs a whopping Β£85 or Β£90 at John Lewis. So I tend to stock up on Levi’s every 3 or 4 years in the knowledge that I’ll need them in future.

When I was working I dressed reasonably smartly but now I’m retired I wear more casual clothes and don’t go shopping for clothes more than a few times a year. Old clothes tend to get well used for gardening and DIY and are unfit to go to a charity shop when I’m finished with them.

Thanks Abby. I have found a bag of shirts that I intended to take to a charity shop a couple of years ago. They are in good condition but too small for me. They must have shrunk. πŸ™‚ They will go to a charity shop.

A friend who is moving home found somewhere (not a charity shop) that was delighted to take a bundle of vintage fabrics including parachute silk.

Clothes shrinkage is usually because I haven’t checked the cleaning instructions, and the item should have been washed on a lower temperature, not put in the tumble dryer or only sent to a dry cleaner. I try to avoid clothes that need dry cleaning only although quite a few items e.g. jackets, have survived hand washing.

There are not many places you can buy fabric these days, and it seems overly-expensive if you can find any, so making your own clothes is a dying skill.

I’ve had problems with cotton fitted sheets shrinking with washing, so I’m ready for an argument for anyone who suggests a fitness tracker. πŸ™‚ I think I would lose the argument, though.

Did you know that the temperature setting on washing machines is rather meaningless these days? Which? discovered that one machine reached a peak temperature of 43Β°C on the 60 setting. This was highlighted in a magazine article and is mentioned in this Convo: https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/washing-machines-60-degrees-kill-bugs-detergent/

Modern washing machines typically use longer programmes to achieve the same washing performance as the older machines operating at lower temperature, which means less shrinkage, but it’s essential to do a regular maintenance wash at high temperature to prevent the insides of the machine from becoming coated with a layer of bacterial slime.

Although I’m keen at DIY I would not know what to do with a sewing needle. I have a friend who is happy to sew on buttons and sort out stitching that has come undone, whereas I’m happy to help fix the lawnmower in return.

Wavechange, I don’t know if you remember a conversation we had last year:

I will no longer put good clothes in recycling banks as our noble intentions are exploited into money making opportunities for too many people. Local people in the destination countries are losing their jobs and incomes as their textile industries close down, while the middle men get rich from our free donations.

Recycling companies put a charity name on their bins giving the impression you are supporting that charity, when in reality the give a very small donation to those charities in exchange for their endorsement.

I can’t find the article now, but I think it was women in India who were under the impression we only wore our clothes a couple of times because we couldn’t afford the water to wash them and that is how they could buy them nearly new.

I would like to see ethical clothes recycling that is not exploited.

I do, and this has been exposed a few times. I have not used a recycling bank for years.

When I took large bags of my mother’s clothes, including plenty of new items, to British Heart Foundation I was told to ‘put them down there’. Not a word of thanks.

I agree on ethical recycling, but would like to see all businesses behave ethically.

Unfortunately, a few years ago, my sewing machine got stored in a place that turned out to be damp so got rusty and ruined. Having non-standard window sizes, I did make curtains, but it is quite a long time since I made my own clothes. I still make repairs when required though.

I was rather upset when I found out. It is a Bernina 730 Record that I bought second hand for Β£25 in the late 1980s and was probably over 20 years old then.

socks says:
1 May 2019

Abby, what you’ve written is missing something important

I don’t see anything about textile recycling. It’s all very well and good to buy used clothes in a charity shop, but what happens to the clothes we hand in at our local recycling centre or put in our blue bin? Why aren’t those being turned into new clothes sold by retailers?

Hi socks, you have posted while I was writing and you bring up a very good point. I would like to see more of our unwanted textiles recycled in this country and not exploited abroad. My post above has a link to where we discussed this last year.

Our local Council, Norwich City, collects textiles in alternate weeks if they are put out in a carrier bag alongside the recycling bin, I don’t know what happens to them though. Perhaps they go to a rag merchant and get shredded for industrial use. My last contribution contained twenty pairs of blue socks but they were all mixed up and finding matching pairs would have taken for ever.