Repeating Outfits

If Michelle Obama can wear the same dress for her important meetings, so can I.

Once upon a time, in the limelight of the fashion and creative industry, I used to think one cannot be caught wearing the same dress twice! Says who? It was a standard I set for my vanity, at the cost of the planet, as well as my pocket. Although I used to have a walk-in wardrobe filled with beautiful clothes collected from all over the world, I often caught myself staring at it, thinking: “I have nothing to wear.” I’m sure most of my sisters out there can relate to that! When we have too many choices, we end up not knowing what to wear or even slightly embarrassed when we wear the same piece again. Hence, creating this false sense of lack and the need to buy more because “I have nothing to wear” and since I’ve worn most of it already.

Feature of my home and walk-in wardrobe by L’officiel in November 2009

Interestingly, whenever I pack for a trip, strictly one luggage only, after a horrendous experience in Paris (which I am happy to share if you want to hear more about it. Leave a comment below!), I always have more than enough to wear! Maybe it’s because I tend to pack my favorite pieces, items that can be worn in several ways, and basics that are good for mixing and matching during traveling.

Hmm… something is not quite right with the equation:

Wardrobe full of clothes = Nothing to wear

One luggage full of clothes = Plenty to wear

This is when I finally understood the term ‘Less is more’.

When I have less, I get more creative too.

My fashion retail business folded at the end of 2013. I was left with nothing but a lot of time and clothes. Staring at my years of fashion collection, I questioned: “Has my life been about the accumulation of stuff up till this point?” Working hard and spending harder to buy stuff I don’t even use. Surely life is more than that! I used to associate my identity with clothes, what I could afford, what I own, what I wear, how I wear it. The clothes represent me, my taste, my style. I felt like a total failure when I could not sustain my 5 years of business. I’ve disappointed many, including myself. So what if I’m wearing Masion Martin Margiela boots, Acne dress, Fifth Avenue Shoes Repair hat, and carry a Mulberry Bayswater bag? I felt like a loser deep down.

Gradually, I detached from years of hoarding these possessions and sold them one by one for survival. From a walk-in wardrobe, I managed to downsize to a single rack. Thanks to a job opportunity that required me to move to Malaysia by the end of 2015.

My wardrobe in Malaysia

However, old habits die hard. My wardrobe exploded within months as I got excited about shopping again, thanks to the currency exchange rate – 1 SGD : 3 MYR. It didn’t help when my work was fashion-related, and I always found myself checking on styles and price points in retail stores. And it definitely didn’t help when I moved to Malaysia during the festive season – 50% off, 70% off, clearance sales, wherever I went! Well, new life, new beginning, new wardrobe, right? So here we go again. Soon, I see myself having to spring clean my wardrobe and sell my stuff through flea markets, home garage sales, and apps. This was all too familiar. I was sucked right back into the vicious cycle I just got out of! Something needs to change.

Imagine a bathroom sink, the tap is running non-stop, and water is overflowing. It’s flooding the bathroom. What would you do?

Turn off the tap!

The sink is my wardrobe. Water is the clothes. Tap = shopping. I need to stop shopping.

That’s what happened in 2018. I committed to zero shopping on new fashion items, especially fast fashion items, as I embarked on my zero waste journey after meeting a zero waste group in Malaysia at the end of 2017. Once I stop adding things to my wardrobe, I start seeing results as I downsize my life = wardrobe. I felt lighter as I had less, which encouraged me to simplify my life more. Shopping was my addiction. Having less has become my new obsession.

When I stopped buying new (in fact, I stopped buying anything!), I started wearing and using what I already have, and I always have something to wear! I have less but all of what I need. Also, mainly because I stop caring about what others think of me and what I wear, even if it’s the same piece I’ve worn over and over again. How liberating!

Besides applying the 5R + 1R principles to aim for zero waste daily, the ‘Buyerarchy of Needs’ chart also helps me stay on track to reduce the need to buy new. If I must buy in the end, I will buy second hand first, buy quality, buy well made, buy local, buy ethical, buy less, buy better.

Illustrated by Sarah Lazarovic
Start from the bottom and move upward, step by step

No shopping? Life must be such a bore having to wear the same few pieces over and over again. Not if you:

  • Get creative and wear fashion pieces differently. Eg: Gathered skirt can also be worn as a tube top or tube dress, depending on the length. Scarfs can be worn in so many ways.
  • Accessorize. A belt, or a scarf, can change a look totally.
  • Mix and match till even the mismatch matches. Think Gucci.
  • Free-cycle. I score some lovely fashion items from FB groups like ‘Buy Nothing Project’. Free of charge. I took this opportunity to travel and explore places too.
  • Swap!
Clothes swap in Malaysia
Posted my swap experiences at my Instagram @jsmntuan

I was first introduced to the idea of swapping in Malaysia. I’ve attended two clothes swap organized by The Swap Project, and an eco-warrior friend, within a week! I swap twice at the Swapaholic events in Singapore and later on, sporadically at The Fashion Pulpit, my go-to before returning to Singapore. I’m sold. Swapping is my new shopping. There’s no turning back.

Swap from the Fashion Pulpit
Fashion items swapped from The Fashion Pulpit on November 2019

The only downside to swapping is: I often end up with more clothes! I’ll go with 5-8 items and bring home 10 or more. It’s not helping me downsize at all! After practicing some form of self-control, I managed to swap in 10 items and went home with just one.

I have no qualms repeating outfits anymore. In fact, I am still wearing some apparel from 20 years ago. When I stop wearing certain pieces, I’ll bring them to swap for new styles that I would wear, amongst friends, at a swap event or swap shop. Presently, I co-founded Cloop and organized Fashion Swap! pop up in Singapore. I can now enjoy fashion without contributing more harm to the planet, the people, and my pocket. This totally sparks a whole new level of joy in my life.

Most women do not wear 80% of their wardrobe 20% of the time. Wear it again. If not, pass it on to your family or friends, sell them, or swap them! Donation is not the solution to our overconsumption. ‘Close the tap’, less is more, and be mindful of your next purchase. Join the Fashion Revolution – Ask your favorite brands #whomademyclothes. Because wearing clothes made by children and the suffering of garment workers is not fashionable at all. Wear your value.

What do you think about repeating outfits, not buying new, and swapping clothes? Leave a reply below.

Published by jsmntuan

A self-confessed shopaholic, hoarder, collector and a well organized one, Jasmine Tuan, a designer, a creative brand consultant, co-owned and ran a fashion concept store in Singapore featuring the best of Asia designers, went from having a walk-in wardrobe, downsized to a rack full, to zero shopping on new fashion items in 2018. She also began her zero waste journey the same year, by applying the 5Rs principles in this order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot daily. She added 'Rethink' in front of the 5Rs as she believes everything begins from the head.

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