Could you buy just five things in a year? Tiffanie Darke took up the challenge – her choices may surprise you
Tiffanie Darke took up the challenge – her choices may surprise you (yes, there were gold trousers!)
Imagine if you had been allowed to buy only five things for your wardrobe this year. Sit with that for a second. How many have you bought – can you even remember them all? Were they worth it? How many times have you worn each since?
This has been my challenge for 2023, and it has radically altered the way I enjoy fashion. I’ve learnt the arts of renting, altering and mending. I’ve held some hilarious swapping parties, bought some wonderful (and useful) things and made some horrible mistakes. And I’ve learnt quite a bit about myself in the process, too.
Full disclosure: as a fashion editor I have binged on clothes most of my life. But the twin worries of climate change and the cost of living have made me cut back. Last year I thought I had been very abstemious, but when I counted what I had bought I was shocked: it came to more than 20 new items.
A report had just come out from the think tank The Hot or Cool Institute (which looks at society and sustainability) that found if fashion really wanted to meet its global warming targets by 2030, then no amounts of regenerative materials, organic cottons or recycled fabrics are going to do it. We simply must buy less. And in the UK, that means no more than five items per person per year. This begins, I thought, with me.
If you have just five purchases a year, you make them count. They need to be good quality, long lasting and work hard in your wardrobe. They should also be mendable, resilient and beautiful. You will cherish them, care for them, love them. Suddenly they become rather valuable.
Much fun came from plotting these five purchases – what I was missing, what a functioning wardrobe for my lifestyle needs (office workwear, mum on the run, yoga gear, date night, parties). I had always lusted after something bespoke and the money I saved by not ‘popping into Zara’ became a fund for something special. I found joy in digging up things that hadn’t been worn for years and reimagining them: I turned an inappropriate Prada minidress into a long-sleeved peplum top.
I discovered rental was not just for special occasions but for winter coats (two fabulous ones cheered up a dull February) and handbags, too (a Celine Trapèze for a job interview). I gathered friends for swapping parties, giving away things I knew I would never wear again and gaining an Isabel Marant shirt, a Marc Jacobs dress and a pair of Lululemon yoga pants. I embraced vintage (not too much) and found a wonderful local tailor.
Tiffanie wears her sensible shirt – and the impulse-buy gold cargos
But – and here’s the but – I discovered that shopping was at the heart of so much of my ‘self-care’. When I needed a boost, I went shopping. Buying clothes marked my progress in the world: to celebrate the start of spring, or back to school or another year around the sun. If I needed armour or a different face to the world, then hello net-a-porter.com. And the sales! I used to enjoy them so much. I would stalk the discounts, filling up my basket then get to the checkout and see the total in dismay. Sometimes I’d just punch in my card details anyway. When I launched this Rule of Five campaign on social media, hundreds of women joined me, but their overwhelming reason was not to do with climate concerns – it was to stop themselves buying so much. They felt sickened by it.
I set up a Substack page where I laid out the science and the intention – you can subscribe to it for free and follow regular mailshots throughout the year. It is now full of resources, ideas and the emotional rollercoaster of our triumphs and failures. We also meet on Instagram (@tiffdarke) for lively discussions around mending, new purchases, vintage fairs and clothes-swapping parties.
Together, over the year, we have learnt to live with less. Fashion dieting is hard, but the results have given us a reset. I know my wardrobe well now; I value each item very much. I know my style and make fewer silly mistakes. I have saved money and spent more time thinking about fashion than ever before, which I have loved. Because you know what? I really love clothes.
WHAT MADE THE CUT AND WHY
1 February: full marks for being sensible
Shirt, £95, withnothingunderneath.com
It started well with my clothes audit revealing that I was inexplicably missing that ultimate wardrobe staple, the white cotton shirt. After six weeks of meticulous research, trying on many different versions, I was led to my perfect purchase: the cotton-poplin boyfriend shirt from WNU. Oversized but with a perfect fit around the shoulders, I can layer it under knits, wear it open like a jacket and unbutton it deep at the top and bottom to zhoosh up any pair of trousers.
2 May: hooray, fashion lives again!
Trousers, £320, aperfectnomad.com
By now I was getting itchy fingers. Plotting my next move (a useful summer dress? A new spring coat?), I felt somehow paralysed, like I couldn’t buy anything, and ended up making a totally unplanned impulse buy: a pair of silk hemp gold cargo pants from A Perfect Nomad. Not exactly everyday wear or even that versatile, but the joy! And sometimes fashion is just for that.
3 August: a forced error
Jute sandals, £150, oforigin.ooo
This was not a happy stretch. I was abroad for much of it, limited to what I had packed (which bored me within a week) and my teenage daughter left my sandals on the beach. In Ibiza everyone wears biodegradable jute and rubber sandals by Of Origin, which are fine in that climate but last five minutes on the rainy London pavements. Also, whatever marks they get for local, handmade and sustainable materials they lose in longevity: inevitably they last just one season.
4 October: a serious staple
Poloneck, £80, hardlyeverwornit.com
Layering a close-fitting polo knit under dresses, shirts and sweaters gives your autumn and spring clothes a much longer shelf life, and it’s a styling trick many fashionistas employ. I chose a brown colour that works with most things in my wardrobe from Toteme, an on-trend brand everyone loves, which also allows me to layer up my necklaces for different looks. I bought it from hardlyeverwornit.com, a second-hand site where most of the products have never been worn. It arrived with the tag still on and was reduced from £350 to £80.
Does this purchase sound a bit mad? Maybe it is, but I’ve been wanting one for years. I realised during the pandemic that a beautiful housecoat was a staple of every chic woman’s wardrobe, and if it was elevated enough, could be made to behave in any number of ways: as a glamorous cardigan, a Joan Collins-style dressing gown, an evening opera coat – I could even throw it over jeans for lunch. Alice Temperley wears hers all the time and has a team of skilled embroiderers who will work on mine. I’ve picked a black one with gold and green embroidery and it will include emblems, family and personal insignia that I have chosen to make it truly mine – think Camilla’s coronation gown (although I’m not including my dog). The embroiderers are due to start on it soon. Alice has just had a big order from another client, so I must wait a little longer. I don’t mind, though – the anticipation is everything!
★ Lingerie (but don’t go mad).
★ Hosiery/socks (as above).
★ Renting, borrowing and swapping.
★ Alterations and mending.
What’s not allowed?
★ Gifts from others (I am afraid they count towards your five items).
★ Too much second hand. We need to reduce the amount of clothes in circulation, and there is no proof that the rise in second-hand buying is slowing the sales of new clothes – in fact, it may be fuelling it. So be moderate – I allow myself four preloved purchases on top of my five buys.
★ Cheating – stick to no more than five new items per year.