2020 fashion shopping review

LogoOnce again, I kept a list of all the clothing purchases that I made over the past year so that I could analyze my shopping habits and establish goals for the following year. I do this in part because I want to be a more ethical shopper, but also because I want to be intentional about wardrobe development. Little did I know when the year began, however, what was lurking just around the corner! If there’s one good thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has done for me, it’s been the fact that it sent me deep into my closets and storage spaces for things to wear instead of to the mall. As I look at my list of purchases, it’s much shorter than previous years and it tells me once again what a strange year 2020 was!

Before we look at what I did buy, let’s take a look at my goals for 2020 and see how I did. 

  • I will continue tracking my purchases for at least one more year so that I can review and evaluate my shopping habits again a year from now.  Done!
  • I will continue to buy things that I need and items I love that work well with what I already have.  Done!
  • I will strive to buy less and experiment with new ways to wear what I already have.  Thanks to Covid-19 and the fact that I seldom purchase clothing online, this was a major success! 
  • I will continue to buy quality pieces and not waste money on fast fashion.  Done!
  • When considering a purchase that was made in China, I will attempt to find a suitable alternative made elsewhere.  Quite successful. I only bought a couple of new items that were made in China. More about that later in the post. 
  • When adding to my closet, I will consider five adjectives that begin with C… classy, confident, comfortable, casual, and creative.  Done!  
  • I will continue to write a Fashion Friday post each week.  Done!

It’s estimated that in a normal non-pandemic year most women purchase an average of approximately 70 items of clothing spending somewhere between $150 and $400 a month or approximately $1800 to $4800 annually. As a frugal fashionista, I never come close to that. For example, in 2019 I bought 43 items and spent $1071.74 CAD or approximately $89 a month. In 2020, however, I spent only $402.33 or approximately $33.50 a month! With that, I bought 24 items including clothing, accessories, and footwear. Exactly half of them were new and the other half were thrifted. I paid full price for only 8 items. 

While the thrift store purchases were largely impulse buys, most of them were items that I loved and that fit into my existing wardrobe well. More than ever in past years, the new items that I bought were intentional, planned purchases that filled identified gaps in my wardrobe. Those included underwear and pyjamas to replace ones that were worn out, the running shoes that I bought to use on the treadmill, and two pairs of chinos purchased at the beginning of summer to fill a need for pants that would be warmer than my shorts and capris, but cooler than jeans.

One of the ways that I attempt to be an ethical shopper is to avoid purchasing new items that were made in China. I did buy several garments that were made in third world countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing if they were manufactured in factories that are socially and environmentally responsible or sweatshops where workers are exploited and forced to work in unsafe conditions. Having lived in China, however, I do know that the conditions for many factory workers there are abhorrent and that human rights in that country are being increasingly eroded. In addition, China continues to hold two Canadians in prison in what is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou and I believe that China is a threat to Canada in other ways. These are all good reasons to avoid purchasing items made in that country. I did slip up a couple of times this year. I failed to find out where the sneakers that wanted to be mine were made before I ordered them and while I made most of our face masks, I did buy one package that were made in China. 

Since this was such an unusual year and I did so little clothes shopping, rather than coming up with a whole new list of fashion shopping goals for 2021, I’m going to keep the same ones for another year and hope that I actually get to do some real shopping. With that in mind, however, I will make one change. The third goal will change from “I will strive to buy less and experiment with new ways to wear what I already have.” to “I will continue to experiment with new ways to wear what I already have.” I can’t imagine buying less than I did this year! I yearn for the day when I can browse the stores, feel the fabric, try things on, and even take a few of them home with me!   

In the meantime, here’s a sample of my favourite purchases of 2020. You’ve seen many of them on the blog before. 

Three tops, all thrifted. The Goddess Blouse from cabi’s Fall 2018 Collection, shown on the left, is one of the only two cabi pieces that I bought in 2020. The other was also second-hand. As I look at the photo on the right, I’m reminded of an unwritten fashion goal that I’ve had for the past couple of years; to gradually transition from black, especially close to my face, to navy and other neutrals that are more flattering to my complexion. I would not have bought this top if the background had been black.  

These are the only shoes I bought in 2020. On the left, the Asics GT2000 6 running shoes that were purchased specifically for walking on the treadmill. I’ve put plenty of miles on them since buying them last January. On sale at 40% off their regular price, they continue to be comfortable and supportive and were definitely a very good buy. On the right, the sneakers from Mark’s that I bought simply because I love them! They were also on sale. 

And finally, a pair of thrifted capris and one of my most recent purchases, a navy sweater dress from Reitmans.

Why is it so hard?

As I’ve seen the news about pastors, like Rev. Tony Spell in Louisiana, who are insisting on their “right” to hold Easter services in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have to ask why is it so hard to obey stay-at-home orders that have been put in place to protect the lives of the vulnerable; the very people that churches profess to care about? Why is it so hard?

I fully understand people wanting to be with family and to take part in their traditional Easter celebrations. I’d love to be with my kids and grandkids too, but I’ve been pondering why we do what we do and why we think we need to. Nowhere in scripture are we commanded to gather together for Easter (other than the instruction not to give up meeting together in Hebrews 10:25 which, thankfully, we’re able to do virtually) or given any instructions about how to celebrate the resurrection. These are manmade traditions. Perhaps a quiet, at home Easter without all those extras is not a bad thing. Perhaps it’s a time for us to reflect in a more intentional way on the real meaning of the event which is not bunnies, eggs, and chocolate. It isn’t even necessarily going to church!

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the ways we usually celebrate Easter, but just this once, it’s okay to do things differently. In fact, we need to do things differently! As the church, we need to be obedient to the Word of God which tells us in several places to obey those in positions of authority over us. Romans 13:1 tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Regardless of what people like Rev. Spell proclaim, we are called to obey those who put the current social distancing regulations in place! Why is that so hard?

I’m reminded of the two Easters that we spent in non Christian countries. In Japan, we did attend a Christian church and celebrated Easter there, but outside the walls of the church, there was no recognition of Easter at all. In China, where we weren’t part of any Christian organization, I’ll always remember that we went out for dinner with a couple of our college students on Easter Sunday and ate roast duck and bullfrog! Not frog’s legs, the whole frog! It was delicious, but I digress! At the end of that day, I wrote this and I think it applies as well to our current situation as it did then.

“Easter isn’t really about what we eat or who we spend the day with. Whether we’re with family around a table laden with ham and all the trimmings or in a shopping mall in China eating bullfrog, as Christians, Easter is at the centre of who we are and what we believe.”

 

The Good Women of China

Do you ever finish reading a book and think that perhaps you should start over and read it again; that there was simply too much to absorb the first time through? The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices was such a book for me, not because it was enjoyable or entertaining, but because it was moving and at the same time very disturbing.

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From 1989 to 1997, the author, Xinran, hosted a radio call-in show, “Words on the Night Breeze” during which she invited Chinese women to speak about their lives. Broadcast every evening, the show became famous throughout the country for its unflinching portrayal of what it meant to be a woman in China. From the hundreds of women who phoned in to share their stories of forced marriages, Communist Party indoctrination, persecution and imprisonment, extreme poverty, shocking cruelty, and incredible endurance, Xinran chose fifteen, including her own, to share in the book which was only written after she left China. “At that time in China, I might have gone to prison for writing a book like this.” she wrote in the closing paragraph.

When we lived in China for a short time a few years ago, I remember how shocked some of my college age students were to learn how old I was. They told me that Chinese women my age looked much older. Knowing that life in China had been hard, I wasn’t completely surprised, but I started looking at the elderly women on the street and in the market more closely. I wondered how much older than me they actually were and what their lives had been like. Until I read The Good Women of China, however, could not have imagined what many them probably endured.

Xinran is six years younger than I am. Many of the women she writes about are my contemporaries. Their stories are powerful, gripping, and anguished accounts of inhumane treatment, sexual exploitation, torture, rape, hunger, and death often at the hands of Chairman Mao’s Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976. All the while, I was going to school, starting my career, getting married, and enjoying a life of freedom completely oblivious to what was going on half a world away.

Later, during the 1990s and early 2000s, I had the privilege of being ESL tutor to an elderly Chinese gentleman. Ling Cong Xin, better known as Sunny Ling to his Canadian friends, came to Canada with his wife in 1987 to live with their daughter and her family. After we had been meeting together for quite some time, I tried to convince him that he ought to record his memories and experiences. At first, he was very reluctant to do so, but eventually he asked if I would help and so began one of the most exciting projects that I have ever had the privilege to be involved in. I recall Sunny speaking with contempt about the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army forcing women and girls in occupied territories including China to be their sex slaves or “comfort women” before and during World War II, but he never spoke of Chinese girls being repeatedly raped by their own countrymen during the Cultural Revolution. Sunny was a highly educated man who had at one time been an official in the Nationalist government. During the Cultural Revolution, many of China’s intellectuals were imprisoned or, like Sunny, forced to leave the cities and take menial jobs in the countryside. When we reached this point in his story he began to claim that his memory was failing him and our project came to an end. I believe that reliving the memories simply became more than he could bear. Like Xinran, he also expressed a genuine fear that if some of the things he told me about were ever published, the Chinese government might make life difficult for his relatives who still lived in that country. After reading The Good Women of China, I can’t help wishing that Sunny’s wife had spoken English and that I’d also had the opportunity to hear her story.

“These are stories that must be read. The lives of these anonymous women are so moving that when I finished reading their stories I felt my soul had been altered.”    Amy Tan

“Mao said ‘Women hold up half of heaven.’ Sadly, this remarkable book demonstrates that he was wrong. Women in China actually hold up half of hell. Xinran has written the first realistic portrayal of women in China. Read it, and weep.”   Jan Wong

2019 fashion shopping review

LogoFor the second year in a row, I kept a list of all the clothing purchases that I made over the past year so that I could analyse my shopping habits and establish goals for the following year. I started doing this at the beginning of 2018 in part because I wanted to be a more ethical shopper. I was also interested in finding out more about my spending habits and I wanted to be more intentional about wardrobe development. 

Based on what I learned in 2018, I came up with the following goals for 2019. Let’s see how I did.

  • I will continue tracking my purchases for the coming year so that I can review and evaluate my shopping habits again a year from now. Done!
  • I would like to buy less and spend less. Partial success. I actually purchased more items, but I spent less. 
  • I intend to buy basics that I need and items I love that work well with what I already have. Mostly successful. I did buy two thrifted items, a tank top and a necklace, that didn’t fit into my wardrobe very well. Both have already been returned to be enjoyed by someone else. 
  • I will resist the pressure of friends to buy pieces that they like, but that aren’t right for me. Complete success! 
  • I will continue to buy quality pieces, not wasting money on fast fashion items that are poorly made and end up in the landfill after only a few wearings. Success!
  • I will continue to write a weekly fashion post! Done!

It’s difficult to find accurate information on women’s shopping habits and it clearly varies from place to place, but it appears that on average most women purchase approximately 70 items of clothing a year and spend somewhere between $150 and $400  a month or approximately $1800 to $4800 annually. Personally, I can’t imagine buying or spending anywhere near that much! Over the past year, I spent a total of $1071.74 CAD or approximately $89 a month. With that, I purchased 43 items including clothing, accessories, and footwear. The biggest change from the previous year was the number of accessories I bought which included two hats, two purses, one belt, one scarf, and several pieces of jewelry. Accessories take up very little space and don’t have to be expensive, but they are the finishing touches that add interest, individuality, and detail to an outfit.

Another difference from the previous year was the number of thrifted items that I added to my wardrobe. I bought only 5 second-hand pieces in 2018, but 14 in 2019 and some of those are amongst my favourite purchases. I paid full price for only 9 items over the past year. The majority of the brand new garments that I bought were on sale. I also added several cabi pieces to my wardrobe at half price by hosting a party in my home in September. The most expensive item that I bought all year cost $99. I have no idea what the total value of my purchases was because I don’t know the original prices of the thrifted items, but I do know that if I’d paid full price for all the brand new items, those pieces alone would have cost me $1609.80. All in all, I’m very satisfied with my wardrobe spending over the past year.

When it comes to shopping ethically, however, I wouldn’t consider myself particularly successful. Finding accurate information in order to make wise choices is extremely difficult. In late June I wrote this post outlining my concerns about purchasing items made in China. I thought seriously about refusing to buy anything else that was produced in that country and for awhile I tried. I read labels and even walked away from a few items, but I soon found myself caving in. In spite of my increased concern, I did only marginally better than the previous year. Some of my thrifted purchases were missing their labels so I don’t know where they were made, but I knowingly bought 18 made in China items in 2019 compared to 20 the year before. Many of the others were made in third world countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. I have no way of knowing if they were manufactured in factories that are socially and environmentally responsible or sweatshops where workers are exploited and forced to work in unsafe conditions, but at least those countries are not the threat to Canada that I believe China to be.

So what are my goals for 2020? Many are the same as last year, but I’ve revised some a bit and added a couple of new ones.

  • I will continue tracking my purchases for at least one more year so that I can review and evaluate my shopping habits again a year from now.
  • I will continue to buy things that I need and items I love that work well with what I already have.
  • I will strive to buy less and experiment with new ways to wear what I already have.
  • I will continue to buy quality pieces and not waste money on fast fashion.
  • When considering a purchase that was made in China, I will attempt to find a suitable alternative made elsewhere.
  • When adding to my closet, I will consider five adjectives that begin with C… classy, confident, comfortable, casual, and creative. These words all describe what I’d like my wardrobe to say about me. Thank you, Pam Lutrell, for inspiring this one!
  • I will continue to write a Fashion Friday post each week.

As I look at my list of purchases from 2019, it’s difficult to choose just a few favourites to share with you here because I truly love so many of them! You’ve seen most of them on the blog before, but here’s a small sample:

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This is what I wore on New Year’s Eve for an evening of fine dining and dancing with my hubby. The little black jacket was my first purchase of 2019 and has been worth it’s weight in gold. It has appeared on the blog several times throughout the past year as it can be worn with so many things in my closet. The Dream Dress from cabi was bought half price at the end of the Spring/Summer season and I picked up the vintage evening purse at our local thrift store for just $3!

 

 

 

The Airwalk Speed Vitesse sneakers that I purchased at a Payless closing out sale were absolutely perfect for walking the streets of Europe in May and have continued to serve me well ever since. They were amongst several items that were bought specifically for traveling in 2019.

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In this photo, taken in beautiful Bruges, Belgium, I’m wearing a favourite thrifted top and carrying the anti-theft crossbody bag that kept my valuables safe while we traveled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I can hardly wait for summer to return so that I can wear my DIY frayed white jeans again! They were also thrifted and cost just $2 plus a few minutes work to let down the hems and fray the edges.

 

 

 

 

 

Here I am on a hiking trail wearing two more favourite purchases from 2019, a lightweight thrifted hoodie and my Uniqlo ultra light down vest. Both have proved to be great travel companions!

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And finally, here’s my zebra print top from cabi.

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The China conundrum

LogoIf I was to empty my closet of every item that was made in China, there wouldn’t be much left. 70% of the clothing, shoes, and accessories that I’ve purchased in the last year and a half (since I started keeping track) were made in China. None were made here in Canada. Why is this a problem, or is it?

As I’ve mentioned before, I want to be an ethical shopper, but it isn’t easy. Until now, my concern with purchasing items that were made in China has been the fact that it’s very difficult, often impossible, to determine whether or not they were manufactured in factories that are socially and environmentally responsible or sweatshops where workers are exploited and forced to work in unsafe conditions. Quite a few of my clothes are purchased through direct sales as opposed to retail environments. In those cases, the stylists or vendors have assured me that they sell only ethically produced garments. I hope they’re right, but I haven’t found any way to verify that and having lived in China for a short while, I know that you can’t always believe what they tell the rest of the world.

Now I have another concern. Following Augustine isn’t meant to be a political blog, but Canada is increasingly at odds with China and I have to ask myself, should that affect my spending habits? Should I avoid purchasing more items that are made in China?

For those of you who are not Canadian or who haven’t been following the news, here’s a bit of background information. On December 1, Meng Wanzhou, an executive with the giant tech company, Huawei, was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities who want to try her on fraud charges. She’s currently under house arrest in one of her mansions in Vancouver awaiting extradition to the U.S. China immediately warned of repercussions and there have been a number of those. Days after Meng’s arrest China responded by detaining two Canadians and sentencing another to death. The men have not been allowed access to family members or lawyers while in custody. Since then, China has placed trade bans on key Canadian products including canola. On Tuesday of this week, the country announced that it would halt all meat exports from Canada. Our country is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers and our farmers depend on exports. Needless to say they are hit hard by these developments and some are urging Canadians to stop purchasing Chinese goods.

So, back to fashion. Obviously, I’m not going to stop wearing the items that I already have, but should I refuse to buy anything else that’s made in China? I’m sure that I, one lone Canadian, won’t make any difference in the big political picture, but should I support a country like China with my clothing dollars? That’s a very tough question!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinion.