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Choice and identity

Wartime Wardrobe Challenge

We’re over halfway through the year so an update on my second year of the Wardrobe Wartime Challenge is long overdue. In the last five months there has been some making from scratch, some making do, a bout of rigorous moth control and, yes, even a few new purchases. All have been focussed on maintenance and replenishment and all have reinforced my views about the modern obsession with choice, or rather the fallacy of choice.

Readers of this blog may have realised that I talk about clothes and wardrobe but never fashion. There is a reason for this. Fashion has a lot to do with economics and a little to do with our desire for identity but nothing to do with keeping ourselves clothed and even less with us feeling truly good about how we look.

The fashion industry, like so much of our growth-based economy, is driven by the need to keep the consumer engine turning, whether we need new products or not. Every season, or nowadays every few weeks, retailers churn out another garment only slightly different from previous ones to induce us to keep buying. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid at minor variations on a theme being heralded as the latest must-have products. Questioning this is almost heresy in an age of supposedly endless consumer choice!

Self-imposed rationing, however, highlights how little choice we actually have or rather where our real choices lie.

The only way wardrobe rationing works over a prolonged period is by knowing your style, building a capsule wardrobe around quality products and satisfying the occasional whim by making your own or trawling through second hand shops. All of this involves choices but not the type that retailers claim we have.

On the one hand, it very soon becomes obvious that for all the frocks, trousers or shoes on offer, what I’m really looking for is not actually available as it is not ‘on trend’ this particular season. On the other hand, I have the choice to ignore the ephemeral styles that will not work with my capsule wardrobe, avoid poor quality products made in questionable conditions and decide where to spend my money. I have this luxury not because of my budget – currently very limited – but because I know what works for me and how to meet my needs and wants in other ways.

In the last few months, despite retailers offering endless lines of new clothes, I chose to buy quality yarn to knit my own ‘warm(ish) weather’ cardigan, this being the only way to replace a worn-out staple with something that works for me and meets my ethical and environmental criteria. Similarly, I chose not to buy a new pair of sensible city shoes. Instead I gave my custom to an independent cobbler so he could extend the life of my black lace-ups with a new heel and sole. And I chose to ignore cute transients styles and prints and instead bought a simple black jersey wrap dress to replace the one I’d worn to shreds, confident that this staple will create various outfits for many years.

As it takes me month to wear shoes in, re-shodding them makes more than environmental sense!

As it takes my feet months to wear shoes in, re-shodding them makes sense all round!

At no point has ignoring the endless onslaught of products felt like deprivation. Neither do I feel that my identity is undermined by not having the latest ‘en vogue’ or must-have garment.

Instead I enjoy not wasting my money on poorly constructed clothes and take delight in every moment that I don’t spend tramping around shops, picking over clothes rails or wondering what to wear in the morning. Of course, I have to devote some time (and money) to maintaining a smaller wardrobe but avoiding the fashion treadmill means I have time and pennies to invest in me and my real identity. In my case, that of a wife, gardener, cook, runner, tinkerer and maker of things, perpetual student and, of course, writer,… which brings me to some exciting news.

This summer my interest in writing and sustainable wardrobes resulted in my clothes rationing experiment being featured in Pretty Nostalgic. As the magazine’s motto is “spend wisely, waste less, appreciate more”, I am delighted that the editor of Pretty Nostalgic decided to feature the Wartime Wardrobe Challenge, and in the Goodwood Special Edition* in particular. It feels like this clothes rationing experiment has been given the perfect platform from which to inspire many others!

Wartime Wardrobe Challenge in Pretty Nostalgic IMG_0779


Coupon update

Apart from the wrap dress (7 coupons) and a handmade cardigan (2.5 coupons), I also invested in a new pair of winter boots (5 coupons) and some underwear and hoisery (7 coupons). I nearly didn’t buy the tights due to poor customer service and ended up going to another, more helpful branch.

In the summer I replaced old sandals with a pair of clogs, which in line with wartime practice are coupon free. Repairing my autumn/smart shoes avoided a new pair (5 coupons) as did unravelling a cardigan that had never really worked for me and re-using the yarn to knit a sweater (2.5 coupons). I also shortened the threadbare sleeves of an old nightie so it will last a few more years, avoiding the need for a new one (6 coupons).

Total coupons spent in 2014: 42.5 of 66
Total coupons saved by making do, mending and being a little bit ‘bloody minded’: 13.5

* Pretty Nostalgic is available online (as a subscription or as a single issue) or from selected independent bookshops in the UK.


  • jackiemania September 15, 2014, 11:18 am

    Fantastic news about being featured in Pretty Nostalgic! I will get a copy online – splendid!!!!

    I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said about fallicy of choice. I spent a little time with Marx’s Capital over the summer and a lightbulb went off big time. Manufactured wants so that we consume surplus manufactured goods. Completely backwards as to the way that I wish to be in the world!

  • jackiemania September 15, 2014, 5:19 pm

    Here it is hours later and I’m still so excited about your publication. I just purchased the issue — now I have to wait for it to arrive! Yay Meg!

    • Meg and Gosia September 15, 2014, 7:38 pm

      How very sweet of you! I hope you enjoy the issue of the magazine. It contains some fascinating articles. I feel really honoured to have the Wartime Wardrobe Challenge included amongst these.

  • Lindsay (treadingmyownpath) September 16, 2014, 8:13 am

    Loved this, and super exciting news about your article in the magazine! Congratulations. I haven’t heard of it before but I’m enjoying their website and have signed up to the newsletter : )

    I love the wardrobe couponing idea – I may have to steal it! I’m just reading through the other blog post you wrote about it but I’m definitely adding it to the to-do list!

    • Meg and Gosia September 16, 2014, 10:57 am

      Thank you and glad to hear it has caught your imagination too. The wartime coupon approach is just one of many ways to temper unnecessary consumption. I like it because in WW2 rationing was very much based on resource constraint, which has great parallels for today, plus it allows for flexibility in respect of tastes, climate, practical life..

  • KerryCan September 16, 2014, 9:22 am

    Fascinating choices you’re making–very inspirational! And congratulations on having your good work acknowledged by the publication!

  • The Zero-Waste Chef September 16, 2014, 2:22 pm

    Congratulations on the publication of your article! It looks like a beautiful (ad-free!) magazine. Bravo on your challenge as well. I don’t buy many clothes (I mostly work from home, so I don’t need an extensive wardrobe) but I certainly did when I was younger. Like everything, shopping presents so many ethical dilemmas, I have difficulty finding anything that meets my standards. My shoes have worn out, so I’ll try to find a pair that can be repaired. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Meg and Gosia September 16, 2014, 3:09 pm

      Thank you! If you are anything like me, you love wearing something until it is so worn out and patched up and re-patched that you have to finally admit that it has done good service and let it go, maybe turning it into kitchen rags to give it one last life. It is so satisfying and so contrary to the quick churn of the fast fashion scene… 😉

  • Franca September 22, 2014, 8:51 pm

    It’s been really interesting watching you continue this. I fell out of the way of recording my purchases when the studying got too much, but I know I’ll be able to catch up, because it wasn’t much. I don’t miss shopping, even charity shopping at all, and in a way i’m glad i’m only starting out on my dressmaking journey so i can’t whip up a dress just like that, i have to plan it properly. Though I do wish i could knit faster. I am about three quarters of the way through a jumper and it’s not enjoyable any more. I bought yarn for a cardigan but I’m not sure i can face more big knits!

    Congrats on the magazine feature!


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