For the last few years I’ve used some of my downtime during the holidays to assess my shopping habits over the past year. Then I write about it on the blog: how much I’ve been shopping in the past year and how many purchases I made, whether or not I’ve made any progress to slow down my fashion habit and justify my exhortations about slow fashion, and whether or not I’ve become a more ethical shopper. This time round I’ve been reading a lot about the changing habits of consumers during the pandemic. Or maybe I should say I’ve been reading what the experts say about the possibly changing habits of shoppers, what shoppers are saying about their consumption during the pandemic, and the professed realignment of ideas about shopping itself. This article in Forbes dubbed the change in spending habits wrought by the pandemic “the new frugality.”
But what does that phrase even mean? And why does it not instill in me excitement and hope for a brand new year?
Welcome to 2022, my friends. A new year. So why doesn’t it feel new? Why does it feel like the same old, same old? Could it be because we are once again in a modified lock-down here in Ontario? As the Covid Omicron variant surges, and people scramble to get their booster shot, or rant about government measures and refuse to get vaccinated. All my friends and family are hunkering down and trying to be careful. Trying to figure out what they can do to make living through another year of Covid more bearable.
And in the face of all that, I find I want to be anything BUT careful and frugal. I want some excitement. I want to be able to look forward to something. Anything. So, I’ve been polishing up my rose-coloured spectacles like there’s no tomorrow. And I think I’ve hit upon a solution for myself. A way to continue to be a careful shopper, to embrace the slow fashion movement, and yet still have fun with fashion. I’m calling it Sue’s “New Frugality.”
But before I get into the future, let’s look back at 2021.
Experts say that overall shopping habits changed during the pandemic. Many people had to cut back their spending because of job and income insecurity, even though some of the pandemic financial pain was alleviated by government assistance programs. On the other hand, Forbes magazine says that many people who weren’t necessarily hurting financially were beefing up their savings with the money they normally spent on entertainment, travel, and dining out. Others looked around their home and closets and realized that they had quite enough “stuff” and spent the weeks of lockdown focusing on simple pleasures.
According to a Charles Schwab survey, lots of consumers are planning to splurge some of that “pent-up” money they saved during lockdowns. Not that splurging is necessarily bad. But one wonders if this “new frugality” and the new-found appreciation for the simpler pleasures (like home-baking, board-games, and family walks) discovered during lock-down will survive in a post-Covid world.
Certainly we all know that on-line spending surged since the beginning of the pandemic. According to this article on the Price-Waterhouse-Coopers website, many shoppers say they will continue shopping online in a post-pandemic world, citing “price, convenience, and health and safety concerns.” Several articles I read agreed that in the past two years consumers seem to have a “heightened awareness of environmental and social issues.” PwC predicts that more consumers will, going forward, be looking for companies whose values align with their own. And that shoppers will be willing to spend more on brands with ethical practices. So hopefully when that “pent-up demand” to shop, as the article puts it, “comes roaring back” ethical and sustainable brands will benefit.
Last year when I started my slow fashion review for 2020, I was convinced that I had purchased next to nothing over the year. Ha. Turned out that, over the course of 2020, I purchased 20 new pieces, the exact same number of items as in 2019. And because of the long spring lock-down in 2020, I spent more than normal on new sweat pants and tee shirts. Beefing up my stay-at-home wardrobe, as it were. You can read last year’s analysis here, if you’re interested.
So let’s see how I did with my shopping in 2021.
In the summer I shelled out for three tank tops. The same style as a red one I bought in 2020 and loved. Everlane had a special on so I bought three: black, white, and navy and white striped. All three were hero pieces for me last summer. Along with these cream cargo pants which I love.
For fall I bought a green, collared polo-style sweater from Everlane, Levi’s 511 jeans, and a bag from Fossil.
After I discovered that my old leather pants had finally bit the dust, I bought a new pair from Aritzia. I shelled out for a new down coat, also from Aritzia, a black turtleneck from Vince, and knee-high boots from Brown’s Shoes. I seem to be wearing more and more black these days.
All told, that’s 17 new pieces. 2 pairs of jeans/casual pants. 2 pairs of dressier pants. 3 sweaters. 4 tank tops/light turtlenecks. 1 pair of boots. 1 pair of sandals. 2 coats. 1 belt. 1 bag. That’s 3 fewer pieces than in 2020.
That’s pretty good, but not terribly laudable. I mean, I did not deprive myself. Nor did I go hog wild. Several pieces were to replace old worn out pieces: the leather pants, the down coat, and a couple of the tank tops. A couple were to fill gaps, and make my wardrobe pull together better. Like the black crew-neck cashmere, and the boots which I planned to wear with my winter dresses and skirts. Several of the pieces were meant to update my wardrobe: the long trench, the baggy dress pants, and the new jeans, for instance. As well as the new sandals. The green sweaters I bought just because I liked them.
I’m ashamed to say that I did little research into ethical brands in 2021. Which is to say I looked up the ratings for the brands I purchased, but did not venture into trying any new, pricier, but more ethical brands with which I was not familiar. I stuck to tried and true because I liked the styles of the brands, knew how they would fit for the most part, and felt comfortable with the quality of the garments. I found myself moving away from some of the pricier brands I’d shopped before. Opting for Levi’s jeans instead of my usual favourite brand. And the Fossil bag which, while not cheap, was not as pricey as some I saw and might have opted for. Having said that, I don’t believe I stinted on quality.
So I guess like many people this past year or so, my shopping has been affected by the pandemic. I bought a bit less. And I shopped less pricier brands than in the past. The reasons for that are more complex than simple attempts to be frugal. I am more cautious shopping on-line. My buddy Liz has retired from her job, so shopping at Nordstorm, where I am likely to spend more on individual pieces, is not as much fun as in the past. Even when the store was open for in-person shopping I rarely went. And the one time Liz and I shopped together, the fall offerings at Nordstrom were disappointing. Whether this is down to the pandemic, I don’t know.
And like the people who talked to the Charles Schwab researchers in that survey I mentioned above, after a year of frugality (sort of) I am itching to splurge.
So how does a girl (or even a sixty-five-and-a-half-year-old woman) stay true to her slow fashion goals and still release some of that pent up urge to run madly off to the mall and shop?
Because that’s what I am longing to do, my friends. I want to splurge. I’m tired of being careful. Tired of making the best of a bad situation. Tired of being “good.” Tired of bad news, stories about rising Covid cases, the death of democracy, and whether schools will open or close again. In the words of the inimitable Madeline Kahn in the movie Blazing Saddles… “I’m so tired.”
I want to be excited and hopeful for the new year that lies in front of us. And for the past week, as I’ve been reading articles, and counting purchases, I’ve been struggling with how I can keep my rose-coloured glasses polished up and firmly in place. And I have a plan I’m going to call Sue’s “New Frugality.”
It goes something like this. I am going to make a few calculated, well-planned splurges occasionally throughout the year. How many, or how frequently I will do this, I don’t know. I haven’t got that far yet. These splurges will be splurges because I don’t really, truly need anything at all.
In the past couple of years I’ve pretty much filled all the holes in my wardrobe. The faux-leather skirt, two sweater dresses, two coats, and the new boots purchased in the last two years took care of the items which had been on my “to buy” list for a while. I’m well supplied with jeans, ankle boots, blazers for both fall and spring, tee shirts, and sleeveless tanks. I don’t need any new sweaters. With the exception of a couple of pairs of skinny jeans, I’m still excited about wearing pieces I bought years ago. Mostly because they go so well with the newer pieces in my closet. If I look at the photos above, every outfit includes one or more pieces that are at least five years old. And several outfits have pieces that are much older than that.
I promise I won’t run rampant at the mall. These “splurges” will be planned purchases. But they will be for fun. And not because I need them. And part of the fun will be the leg work. The research. I promise to do more research into ethical brands to start with. I plan to take a turn through some of the independent stores in a couple of Ottawa neighbourhoods for inspiration. That is when the Covid numbers improve a little. The pieces I choose will be good quality, and not fast fashion. And I will choose with an intention to keep them for five years. That’s Hubby’s idea. He’s calling it my five year plan. Ha.
I won’t promise that each piece will be “frugal” when it comes to price. This is after all my definition of frugality. And I’ve never made price my main concern when I’m shopping for clothes. That’s why the plan is called Sue’s “New Frugality.”
So. After all that, I feel like I’m ready to sally forth into a new year. I feel that I will be staying true to my slow fashion convictions. And still having fun. My rose-coloured spectacles are all shined up and firmly in place. And I’m excited to get started.
Now, how about you my lovely readers… my virtual shopping buddies… how did the past year of shopping shape up for you? Did the pandemic affect your shopping habits in 2021? Are you struggling to find ways to stay positive and hopeful about 2022?
P.S. The clothing links in the post, with the exception of the links to Aritzia, are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking an affiliate link, I will earn a commission. This helps me to pay for the blog.