A Year of No Shopping. Could you? Would you?
I enjoy buying new clothes. I like paging through fashion magazines and swiping through instagram shots of the latest street styles. I’m inspired by new looks and fresh designs. I dream about the potential for radical transformation through fashion. I get that “frisson” of excitement, that little rush of dopamine when I walk into a new store or search and finally find that one special thing I’ve been craving. Nothing compulsive or dangerous here, but I do like to shop.
So, imagine my surprise, horror and awe when my sister-in-law Judy told me she was going to stop buying clothes for a full year. Now, let me tell you, Judy is one very stylish woman. As Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families, one of the nation’s largest non-profits helping survivors of domestic violence, she is frequently in the public eye, giving interviews and leading press conferences, and she meets daily with donors to raise funds for the organization. Prior to joining Sanctuary, Judy served for 25 years as a judge in New York State, most recently as Chief of Policy and Planning for the court system - she is Bad Ass.
I couldn’t fathom the whys and hows of going on a year-long fashion moratorium, and Mara started to get very intrigued to try it herself. So, as Judy’s year of non-shopping comes to a close, we sat down with her to learn more.
Why, oh why, did you stop buying clothes for a year? The idea started after I read an article in the NY Times by the author Ann Patchett. She decides to give up buying anything for a year and she writes about the difference between what we want and what we need. I thought that sounded interesting. At around the same time, I was shopping and picked up a Missoni sweater at Century 21 and it was around $89, not the normal $500 price. I bought it, but I really didn’t need it. I got home and was like, the sweater was fine, but nothing special. I had just read Ann Patchett’s article and I said, I’m going to see if I can do this, because I actually don’t need anything.
How did you do it? Was it hard to break the habit? I enjoy nice clothes and I like new things like all of us, but I’m not one of those people who shop compulsively. And, I’m a pretty disciplined person. Once I decided to do this, I just stayed out of the stores. What helps is that I’m not a big internet shopper – I like to try things on and the appeal of buying several sizes and returning, it’s not for me.
Did you have enough to wear? (I should add in here that Judy has always had a classic modern style and she is as slim and youthful as when I met her over 30 years ago).
I have a pretty deep closet. I have a lot of clothes that I’ve bought on sale over the years from designers with classic tailoring – like Max Mara, Akris Punto, and Carolina Herrera, cashmere sweaters from TSE and some special things from Jason Wu.
I discovered a lot of things in my closet that I haven’t worn in a long time, but looked like I bought yesterday. For example, I found a really pretty black leather skirt – and I’ve probably worn it 5 times this fall. It’s by Akris Punto and I bought it for my son’s bar mitzvah. He’s 25 now.
Of course, I also found some things that felt out of date that I didn’t end up wearing. Even classic style changes, a little bit. I pulled out a Carolina Herrera jacket that I had bought at a sample sale and I had never got rid of it because it was such a good buy. But I put it on and it just felt outdated – the shoulders, other things - but it is so well made that I still can’t give it away.
Did you feel less confident wearing “old” clothes? I am in a highly visible job, I’m in the public eye and I am meeting with donors, so what I wear is important. When I know I’m going to be very public, speaking at a press conference, I’ll always wear something bright - you stand out that way, so I’ll do that. I like to wear things I feel good in. But, my self-confidence doesn’t come from my clothing. My confidence doesn’t come from a new dress.
What you’re wearing today is gorgeous, stylish and looks like you just got it. These Prada boots are 12 years old, I’ve had them re-soled twice and have also replaced the heels. This Calvin Klein dress I’ve had for several years. I got it on sale at Five Story at 80% off, a beautiful small boutique on East 69th street that’s owned by one of my best friend’s daughters. Five Story is a very well edited store, and they have good sales.
Did anyone notice that you hadn’t gotten anything new? I do have a lot of clothes, so no one noticed. I didn’t necessarily publicize it, but I did talk to people about it because I did find it to be an interesting experience, and I would send them the article if they wanted to know more. Some people were surprised and some people thought it was a little silly, like why are you doing this?
What did you do when the seasons changed, didn’t you want something new? I like new things, but I buy them on sale. So the end-of-season sales were harder than the start of the season.
What did you do with all your extra time? Not buying things is a huge time saver. I used to take some time on Sunday afternoons and go into Bloomingdales, roam around and see what’s there. I haven’t had any trouble filling my time. I’m a little more relaxed now and I have two grandsons that I try to see Sunday afternoon and do something with them.
Did you have any rules for yourself over the year? Ann Patchett doesn’t buy anything at all. That was too extreme for me, I just didn’t buy clothes. Personal items – like pantyhose, I bought them when I ran out. The only item I bought before I started the year of no-shopping was a Jason Wu dress (at a major discount) for the annual Sanctuary Benefit. I’m projected onto huge screens in front of a thousand guests and I like to wear something new. The Jason Wu dress was spectacular and special and I wore it at other events over the summer, so it isn’t just a one-time dress.
You must have missed something? In the summer, I usually buy a few white t-shirts. I didn’t this year and maybe my shirts weren’t quite as fresh, but no one noticed except for me.
Wait – so did you buy ANYTHING all year? I bought one thing. Sanctuary had an event at Barneys New York – they offered a 10% discount if a shopper mentioned Sanctuary, and Barney’s gave 10% of all of the sales to Sanctuary. It was a first time event and thanks to the team at Barney’s, it was a significant fundraiser for us. We had a big opening event, and I felt, as the Executive Director, that I should buy something – that it was the right thing to do. I was very careful, I went in the Sunday before the party and looked around the store and picked out something really special – a fitted leather jacket from L’Agence. I’ve already worn it a few times and I’ll wear it forever
Has this experience changed the way you will shop moving forward? Yes, in the future I will only buy something that I’m sure is very special. That Missoni sweater for $89 was a very good buy – but moving forward, I really want to just buy things I really love. I won’t just buy the random odd thing that looks good and is a good price.
Are you tempted to do it again? Probably not. Even though it wasn’t as hard as I might have expected, I learned enough. I don’t think I’d do it again. I would recommend it to others, though - I think it’s a great exercise in realizing how much we have and how little we need.
Wow!!! After hearing about Judy’s experiences over the past year, I am happy to report that Mara is all in. She’s decided to try a year of no shopping. Between us, I think she is already so super minimal, I’m not sure what exactly she is going to be wearing in a few months if she can only “shop her closet”. (More on this in the new year.)
Sanctuary for Families is an incredible organization. They provide survivors of gender violence a range of direct services to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of abuse. There are many ways to help these families in need over the holidays, click here to learn more.
XoXo Pam and Mara