Even if the pursuit of a minimalist lifestyle holds no interest for you, there’s something to be said for pausing to reevaluate our approach to clothing. The slow fashion movement is gaining steam and it’s worth considering the spiritual implications of our shopping habits. If you’re wondering how to stop buying clothes as frequently, Peyton H. Roberts’ tale of her journey from fast fashion fan to selective shopper is a must-read.
In my early adult years, I was driven by the confidence boost that came with putting on a new outfit. I spent evenings after work combing clearance racks and online sales for inexpensive grabs. My closet in our tiny California apartment was overflowing, but that didn’t stop me. The thrill of cute new tops and dresses for work, church, and parties—and the subsequent admiration and barrage of compliments I received—lured me in and fueled my impulse to keep buying more.
My compulsive shopping habits continued until a military transfer took us halfway around the world to Guam, a small tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Living in the tropics made it easy to stop buying new clothes. Year-round temperatures were so warm, I spent each day sweating through the same old athletic wear. Island adventures required clothing to be sturdy and practical, not fashionable or trendy. Even for church on Sundays, I dressed for rugged jungle adventures or a walk along the sandy shore.
On the few occasions I shopped for new clothes, choices were lousy. Any available clothing was marketed to tourists and priced accordingly. Online shopping was unreliable, and shipping was expensive. It was easier to repurpose what we already owned. If something tore, we used sewing supplies to mend it. With access to consumer goods including clothing being so complicated, I formed a new awareness of supply chains and how far individual items—from tank tops to tabletops—had to travel to reach us.
I grew to love our simple life on Guam, as well as the rustic adventures and exotic travel opportunities it afforded us. No part of me was ready to leave when my husband’s orders sent us back to the United States.
THE HARDEST MOVE
I’ve heard it said the most challenging move you’ll ever make is the return to your home country. That proved true for me. Our transition to the East Coast that fall was rough. We arrived in Virginia just as the first cold fronts brought dark gray clouds and chilly afternoons to our new neighborhood. Having to wait weeks for our belongings to arrive, I had no clue what to wear to stay warm—or to fit in.
Unlike in Guam—where I didn’t think much about fashion—in Virginia I felt unspoken pressure to look put together. At dinner parties and church services, the women around me wore the latest trends, which I was now clueless about. Eyeliner and mascara were applied daily. Everyone seemed to own the perfect pair of boots to match every outfit. Thoughtful friends invited me to new places to meet new people, but I never felt dressed quite right.
When I finally unpacked my fall and winter clothes, my previously stylish pants and sweaters looked dated. Confounding the clothing dilemma, I was newly pregnant with our first child. Nothing fit. I had no idea my relationship with clothing was about to become even more complicated.
THE TRUE COST REVEALED
During the busy Thanksgiving shopping weekend, international news outlets reported a tragic headline: The day after Black Friday, 112 workers died in Dhaka, Bangladesh in a garment factory fire. Five months later and well into my third trimester, tragedy struck again. This time, an eight-story building full of garment factories collapsed into rubble, killing and injuring more than 3,600 workers.
Reading these headlines, it seemed unconscionable that anyone could lose their life behind a sewing machine. These workers died sewing our neighborhood stores’ bargain finds—the same deals I used to brag about. Their families were left grieving while the Western world’s search for fast fashion carried on.
At that time, I felt haunted by the senseless shopping habits of my past. It also bothered me how little traction these tragedies gained in domestic news and in my own social circles. I’m certain that if we hadn’t just lived and traveled around Asia, I wouldn’t have noticed either. I didn’t personally go to Dhaka, but that part of the world still felt strangely close. From then on, the clothes in my closet hung alongside a new sadness, further complicating the notion of choosing ‘the right’ outfit.
As I struggled each day to figure out what to wear, I felt the Lord whispering in my ear to look at clothing in a new way. Growing up in the church, I was long familiar with Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” I’d read these verses countless times before, but now they struck me differently.
The body is so much more than clothing. The human body God created is a sanctuary for heart, soul, and life. I witnessed this firsthand as our daughter grew and formed inside of me. Ultrasounds revealed her limber spine, wiggly fingers and toes, and four glorious heart chambers. I saw with new eyes how each of us are indeed, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
In rediscovering myself as the Lord’s creation, my desire to please others with my appearance naturally waned. I no longer drew a sense of purpose from the clothes I put on. I also could no longer look away from the human element of clothing production. The hardworking men and women making our clothes half a world away are also the Lord’s unique creation. I knew in my heart that my family’s shopping habits needed to change to align with this truth.
Convicted by Scripture and this fresh insight, I made numerous intentional changes to the way I consume clothing. I educated myself on the most harmful brands and stopped shopping at high volume retailers. I started shopping secondhand to keep perfectly good clothes out of the landfill, happily accepted offers for hand-me-downs, and supported locally owned resale stores. When I bought something new, I researched and supported brands with sustainable, ethical supply chains. I committed to owning only the styles I really loved, and wore my favorite looks on repeat.
SEEKING SUSTAINABILITY AND PEACE
But for the most part, out of an abundance of faith, I simply stopped buying clothes. I unsubscribed from the emails tempting me with discount codes for my favorite brands. I skipped the convenient clothing racks in warehouses where I bought groceries. As I learned to do in Guam, I held onto garments until they wore out and could no longer be mended. I joined in with conscious fashion advocacy groups like Remake to learn how my voice and actions could help garment workers across the globe.
No longer combing stores and websites for deals, I noticed I had more time to read for fun and invest in other interests. Spending next to nothing on clothes left more money for family travel and our kids’ enrichment activities. I felt like I had less anxiety, more capacity, and a greater sense of peace. I funneled these resources into my newfound calling to make a difference.
Most eye-opening of all, not one of my relationships changed when my wardrobe did. Just like in Guam, no one in my life really cared what I wore. They cared about our friendship and our journey through life together. They cared about our daughter, and later, our son. They cared about my ideas and our conversations. They cared about my fears and my dreams for the future. My friendships reached new depths. My focus centered more easily on Kingdom work.
It turns out that when I stopped worrying about what to wear, I discovered what I had been looking for all along—confidence in myself, freedom from social pressures, and contentment to show up as the person God made me to be.
Sometimes that means showing up in jeans with blown-out knees or shirts with patched up seams, but that no longer bothers me. After all, the Proverbs 31 woman is “clothed with strength and dignity” (Proverbs 31:25, NIV). As I strive to be more like her, I rest in Jesus’ words not to worry about what to wear. After all, the body—formed by the very breath of God—is so much more than clothing.
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