The seven questions to ask yourself before buying something new in the sales

On average, British consumers buy 28 items  every year
On average, British consumers buy 28 items every year - Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

It was all going so well. According to ourselves, at least, we’ve all started shopping less and thinking more about the planet. Yet climate action group Wrap’s annual progress report has found that, while improvements have been made to reduce the environmental impact of our clothes, they’re being cancelled out by our ongoing addiction to buying new ones. Brits buy more clothes than any other nation in Europe – to the tune of an average 28 items every year.

It’s time to change that tune. While textiles and fashion are responsible for up to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, we can all do our part to help bring this number down. By asking ourselves a few simple questions before we “add to basket”, we might well find that we can make do with what we already have. The planet will thank us – and so will our wallets.

Do I already own it?

Unless you possess the organisational skills of Marie Kondo, over time, it’s incredibly easy – and common – to lose track of what your wardrobe holds. A 2022 survey by StitchFix found that the average person has more than £200 worth of outfits in their wardrobe that are unworn. If you’re a hoarder who doesn’t regularly give lesser worn items to charity, it’s worth doing a thorough excavation of your wardrobe, drawers and under-bed storage. When I did this last week, I was embarrassed to find a navy funnel-neck jumper whose double I’d been about to buy. Granted, it had seen better days, but with some judicious bobble-busting it looked fine.

Or maybe my daughter/mother/friend does?

Salma Hayek, Trinny Woodall and Me+Em founder Clare Hornby admit to sharing clothes with their daughters, a cost-effective exercise that’s savvy as well as green. Teenagers are fickle, so when I discovered an old Zara bomber jacket of mine on the back of my elder daughter’s bedroom door, she was more amused than vexed. “I wouldn’t be seen dead in it now,” she said cheerfully. “Can I borrow your Converse?” Dads beware: with oversized clothes being in fashion, your daughters may well be coming for your jumpers. Or even your boxer shorts. Friends, too, can be tapped up for a reciprocal lending session: most will be flattered to be asked.

Trinny Woodall with her daughter Lyla Elichaoff at the V&A 2023 Summer Party
Trinny Woodall with her daughter Lyla Elichaoff at the V&A 2023 Summer Party - Jeff Spicer /Getty images

Can I make do and mend?

Extending the life of a garment by just nine months decreases its carbon, waste and water footprints by 20-30 per cent each, according to Wrap – so however bad the damage, it’s always worth trying to repair rather than replace. Layla Sargent, founder of The Seam, firmly believes that everything can be mended. “When the damage is in the centre of the fabric – moth holes, burns, rips – customers assume that the repair will be highly visible. Many of our makers specialise in invisible repairs. One recently mended some Miu Miu trousers which had a large rip in the knee, reworking the side seams and centre pleats to disguise it.” The same is true for leather handbags and footwear. “People often think deep scuffs mean permanent damage, but our makers can erase these, along with cracked piping and discolouration. When we receive knitwear too moth-eaten for our invisible mending techniques, we typically offer embroidery or embellishment to disguise it instead.”

Can I rent it instead?

We all need wardrobe staples, those trusty cornerstones that suit our lifestyle and can always be relied upon. Whether we need a red velvet maxi dress or a pair of silver sequinned trousers is another matter. During the festive season, most of us would admit to being particularly prone to buying things on impulse that we could have rented. With a little forward planning, UK rental sites such as Hurr, Hirestreet, By Rotation and My Wardrobe HQ can take both the environmental and financial sting out of party season. Pregnant but reluctant to fork out for a third trimester party look? Try For The Creators, which is dedicated to maternity wear.

Can I style it differently?

Before buying something new, it’s always worth trying to style your existing garments in a different way. The Vogue stylist and “queen of thrift” Bay Garnett, whose new book, Style And Substance, is full of tips on the subject, has three suggestions on how to breathe new life into a beloved sweater. “A wide belt will add a seventies silhouette that can really change its look, giving it a bohemian slant in keeping with current catwalk trends. Or layer a man’s shirt underneath, allowing the collar and cuffs to be visible, giving you an instant prim, preppy look. For a third option, wear the sweater as is but add a statement necklace. Any necklace you add will change your look instantly, as will a bold earring. Sometimes, you don’t need to refresh your wardrobe – only your accessories.”

Bay Garnett recommends jazzing up an old sweater by adding layers or accessories
Bay Garnett recommends jazzing up an old sweater by adding layers or accessories - Dave Benett/Getty Images for Selfridges

Could I buy it second-hand?

According to Oxfam, 13 million items of used clothing end up in UK landfills every week, a shocking statistic that we can all do our bit to offset. Scour local charity shops and vintage boutiques for items on your wish list: you may be amazed at what you find. Or search online: those on a budget may find Vinted in particular an excellent resource, with the bulk of items underpriced for a quick sale. With more high street brands than ever operating take-back schemes and resale options, it’s also worth looking on the pre-owned sections of Zara, H&M and Asos’s websites, too. Even if you don’t like “retro” looks, it’s worth remembering that second-hand doesn’t have to mean “from the 1990s”: it can mean as recently as earlier this season.

What’s the likely cost per wear?

Whether those customers who forked out £1,500 for a cream jumper from Phoebe Philo’s new collection worked out the cost per wear first is anyone’s guess – but here in the real world, it’s a far more important number than the one on the price tag. A winter coat might be pricey, but if you’re wearing it five days a week between now and March, it will soon recoup its value – more so if it’s a classic that can be reworn for many winters to come. As a rule of thumb, the faddier or more trend-led the garment, the higher the likely cost per wear. A £39.99 neon pink cocktail dress may seem affordable, but won’t be if you only wear it once.

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