Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.


‘Lockdown taught me the joy of not shopping – and recent news has confirmed how important that is’

Before lockdown, fashion journalist Hayley Spencer would spend her lunch breaks scouring shops for the latest trends, but the pandemic led her to completely overhaul her approach to clothes shopping

Thursday 16 July 2020 17:46 BST
The pandemic has also put retailers’ responsibilities under a microscope
The pandemic has also put retailers’ responsibilities under a microscope (Getty/iStock)

There are many things I’ve missed during lockdown. I’ve longed to be in the midst of a sweaty crowd at a festival, beer spills and all. Pre-corona, I used to drag myself to the gym, but now I can’t wait to haul a kettlebell around a class full of people. But it wasn’t until the government allowed the final non-essential shops to reopen their doors in England this week, that I realised I haven’t missed shopping at all.

When I worked as a fashion editor and spent my weekdays curating clothes for a living, scouring the shops was my favourite lunchtime activity. When I hit the 3pm slump, scrolling through the ‘Just In’ section of my favourite online shops meant a guaranteed dopamine hit and my Instagram saves were carefully curated into categorised wish lists. I would have considered myself a strategic, selective shopper and avoided the major fast fashion brands, but once I’d decided on a purchase, I loved fervently ripping open the packages so I could wear the clothes inside at the first opportunity. Nothing could beat that feeling of ‘newness’.

Yet, as I began adjusting to life in isolation along with many people across the country, I found myself going cold turkey on buying clothes. Despite struggling with the monotony of the first few months at home, I quickly found comfort in wearing the same pieces on rotation and in re-familiarising myself with the contents of my wardrobe.

Dressing for Zoom calls and going nowhere meant that the same lounge pants, jeans and a few smart tops became my new capsule wardrobe and it has taught me that less can be more than enough. Instead of scouring for new clothes to buy, I’ve dug deep for buried winter jumpers which still had the faint, reassuring smell of the perfume I spritzed on them last time I wore them.

When missing friends, I found myself revisiting my wedding guest and birthday outfits and reliving all the great un-distanced memories they evoke. The fishtail Paloma Wool dress I wore as my best friend’s bridesmaid, the malachite earrings my friends bought for my 30th birthday and the white knit I somehow kept spotless at one of the muddiest Glastonburys on record.

As well as giving me time to review my own wardrobe, the pandemic has also put retailers’ responsibilities under a microscope. Scrolling social media at the start of lockdown, while some stores announced they would need to cease dispatching orders entirely to protect staff, others assured customers they were still operating during this risky time.

While previously splurging on myself felt like an act of self-care, the concern for the welfare of others during the pandemic has definitely made me question my shopping habits more than ever. The news that Boohoo – who reported record numbers of sales during lockdown – is facing allegations of exploitation in its supply chain has served as just the latest stark reminder to vote with your wallet when shopping and to learn as much as possible about where you choose to spend your money.

Just as 2019 was the year that we became acutely aware of the effects of fast fashion on the people and the planet, leading conscious fashion to go mainstream, 2020 and its global pandemic has given me the impetus to assess how much I really need to buy new things at all.

High fashion has long been the driving force behind our desire for newness, dictating trends seasonally, and presenting cruise and couture in between. Having worked at fashion magazines for more than seven years it would be naive to think I wasn’t sometimes a slave to trends. But with lockdown having halted the two sets of shows (men’s and couture), there’s a question mark over when the schedule will ever resume in the same way. Indeed, Gucci’s influential creative director Alessandro Michele declared the fashion week calendar obsolete in May during a virtual conference, and extolled a seasonless approach to fashion “to give clothes a longer life”.

With the rising number of resale and borrowing sites on offer to make refreshing your wardrobe more sustainable, trying out a trend without buying outright is now super feasible and circular too. Lockdown only seems to have strengthened the popularity of these services, with users of high fashion peer to peer lending app By Rotation growing by 43 per cent since March.

As lockdown lifts and more gatherings resume, I am looking forward to having the chance to re-wear old favourites from my wardrobe and vowing to continue my no new clothes mantra for as long as possible. It’s the very least I can do.

How to kick-start and sustain a no-new clothes habit

1. Remove temptation

Hannah Rochell, a writer who shares content at @enbrogue quit shopping for a year and advices an out of sight, out of mind approach. “I changed the route I walked to avoid shops, unsubscribed from newsletters and emails, and deleted brands from my Instagram feed," she explains.

2. Take stock of what you already own

“I started my shopping ban with a wardrobe sort out – it was really helpful to know exactly what I had to work with,” says Rochell. “I learnt creative ways to restyle what I already had in my wardrobe and retrained myself to love what I own and to wean myself off that somewhat addictive feeling of buying something new…”

3. Swap shopping for sharing

“Sharing and renting what you already own is a highly efficient way to enjoy “new” without shopping,” suggests Eshita Kabra-Davies, the founder of fashion rental app By Rotation. “It’s like the dress has a life of its own! Even better, you end up forging friendships with fellow style matches on the By Rotation app.”

4. Remind yourself of the impact of fast fashion

Educating yourself on the garment industry is an important part of altering your shopping habits for good. “Reading about the garment industry will take the wind out of your sails next time you’re hankering for a purchase,” says writer and stylist Aja Barber. “There is a human who makes your clothes and where you choose to spend your money alters the course of this human’s life. We have to slow down because this cycle is harming the entire planet.”

5. Find a community

“Follow Instagram accounts that focus on capsule wardrobes as they often give really handy styling tips to get more out of your clothes,” suggests Rochell. Influencers like Brittany Bathgate and Sylvie Mus are a great place to start for minimalist wardrobe inspiration, while Emma Slade Edmundson who founded Charity Fashion Love gives great tips of secondhand shopping.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in