I love clothes. And shopping. And shopping for clothes. As a kid from the ‘burbs, basically nothing feels more comforting than a little wander through the mall. However, in 2019 when a friend resolved to shop only second hand, vintage or handmade for a whole year, it seemed like a no-brainer: the environmental side effects of fast fashion had become increasingly hard to ignore, plus I already adored vintage. When she told me about her plan, I quickly said, “I’ll do it too!” Fast fashion is fun and convenient, but there was rarely any enduring quality to the pieces I got; after a couple of wears either the fabric or the fashion had ceased to look so appealing. Taking a break from fast fashion seemed like a good move.

Let’s be clear: I am no environmental activist. I define myself a lot by what I wear so, rather embarrassingly, I was not interested in any paradigm shift that would compromise my image for the sake of the environment. I love fashion. Like, I LOVE it. I love the drama of what’s in and what’s out, watching how runway trends land in the popular market and how clothes can show the world who you are. That said, I was determined to at least try to reach a better balance between style and substance.

At first it was energizing! Finally a legitimate reason to buy the beautiful vintage things I would lust after but dismiss as impractical. Now, rather than go shopping in search of inspiration, the new me would instead keep a running list of things I wanted and then meticulously hunt them down. Thrifting is basically a sport for me anyway, so this upped the stakes during my weekly visits. Some pieces I’d seen in store I was able to track down on Ebay or Depop to purchase second hand, like the sequin J. Crew skirt I knew I couldn’t live without. For other items, like a pair of orange leather pants I became obsessed with, I scoured Etsy until I found something markedly similar (although not leather the colour was perfect). It was working!

As months went on, I surprised myself by how well I was able to adhere to my resolution! I’m not a volume shopper but if I love something, I want it immediately and I need it immediately. This was a good exercise in “Pause and Consider”. Still, it felt like I was losing my joy of fashion. Instead of walking the racks and getting excited or inspired by what I saw, I felt depressed and constricted. Like it was too much of a compromise of my new found ethics to even consider looking too closely. I wanted to do this right. 

It was about this time I read a quote from Zero Waste Chef Anne Marie Bonneau that changed the way I viewed my goals: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” What sweet relief.

So what did my year long experiment yield? Well, a lot of vintage gems to be honest! Although I do my absolute utmost to source vintage or second hand clothes in colours and styles that fit my current style obsession, if I see a sweater at H&M or some boots at Zara that give me life, I don’t let it weigh me down. I don’t want an environmental conscience that strips me of my love of fashion. What’s important, I hope, is that I am doing my best, even if it’s ever so tiny, and I’m moving toward a better version of me and of the world, one trendy piece of old clothing at a time.

Author Leah Gust, pictured in photos above, wearing items from her closet that she loves. 
Photo 1: Blue coat/orange pants/pink sweater – all vintage
Photo 2: All plaid – everything vintage. 
Photo 3: Red coat/blue pants – vintage. Sweater H&M. Boots in all from Zara F/W 2018
Follow Leah on Instagram: @leahgust