Over the past few months, the parameters of our work and social lives have shrunk, and so too have our wardrobe needs. Suits, going-out tops, heels, statement jewellery … they’ve all taken a back seat while sofa-friendly loungewear and comfy favourites have been promoted to high rotation.
“Socialising and going ‘out out’ have been off the cards, and my smart work dresses and blouses have been made entirely redundant,” says Amy Nguyen, a 26-year-old writer and marketing professional. Instead, Nguyen has opted for loose dresses, cotton T-shirts, and trainers. And she’s not alone. Lucy, a 25-year-old communications assistant, has stopped wearing “anything without an elasticated waistband”.
Jeans, it seems, have been one of the main victims of the big lockdown dress-down, a lack of stretch being the culprit for their sudden dip in popularity. “For me, lockdown has been all about comfort, elasticity and wearability – of which my jeans have none!” says Liz Demure, a 21-year-old history undergraduate. Despite being “notoriously denim-clad” and having more pairs of jeans in her wardrobe than anything else, Demure is now prioritising comfy co-ords and matching athleisure sets. (“I haven’t completely let myself go,” she says.)
We might not be wearing as much of our wardrobes, but that hasn’t stopped us shopping for new additions. According to research by The Devout, a clothes rental business, around 35% of those surveyed had bought clothes during lockdown that they haven’t yet worn. Across the UK as a whole this equates to billions of pounds worth of brand new clothing just hanging in our wardrobes.
While lockdown has thrust us into new sartorial territory, unloved clothes languishing on rails and tucked away in drawers is nothing new. When we still had offices to go to, as well as nights out to glam up for and weddings to attend, as much as 73% of the contents of our wardrobes would go unworn, according to a study by the relocation company Movinga. Yet we’d still shop for more, racking up around 972 items of clothing during our lifetime that we’ll never wear.
The reasons for not wearing such a huge chunk of our clothes vary wildly, but the fact that we buy for emotional reasons rather than practical ones can explain a lot. Some are bargains that were too good to resist but didn’t look quite as appealing once the retail rush subsided. Some clothes are being saved for a “best” that never happens or are deemed so precious that the fear of spills and snags keeps them on the hanger. Clothes can be aspirational purchases that don’t fit with our real lifestyle, or they can go out of style as quickly as they came in. There’s no one cause, but there is one outcome: overstuffed, unloved wardrobes.
While the Movinga research found that we can wildly underestimate how little of what we own we actually wear, lockdown may just have given us the nudge we need, as 56% of Brits are planning on getting rid of a collective 390m items of clothing once it ends. But what will they do with it?
As much as 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill every year in the UK, a terrible waste that takes its toll on the environment, so if you have decided to finally part with those too-high heels or that unworn jacket, be responsible. Set up a swap shop, re-gift or head to a TK Maxx store and donate your preloved quality pieces to its Give Up Clothes For Good campaign in partnership with Cancer Research UK for Children & Young people, which has already helped divert 1.7m bags of goods from landfill.
Although some of us may have been seized by the urge to clear out, others are looking forward to taking their favourite clothes for a spin again soon. Tolmeia Gregory, 19, an environmental activist and illustrator, is keen to wear her vintage red Versace suit at speaking events once more. “BC [Before Corona], I would wear it as it gave me an extra sense of confidence,” she says.
Lori Smith, 45, an executive assistant, meanwhile, can’t wait to don her heels again. “I miss the routine of going into central London every day for work, knowing that my outfit would be seen by hundreds of people,” she says. “I’m definitely going to go back to the way I dressed before.”
Vivienne Berryman, a 49-year-old life coach, is equally optimistic about getting dressed up in the near future. “I miss wearing my accessories and using one of my many, many handbags or clutch bags, but there will be a time to wear them again,” she says. When we spoke, Berryman was busy planning her wedding anniversary dinner outfit. “I will definitely wear a nice dress and accessories. It puts me in a good mood if I’m looking good, you know?”
After being forced to take stock of what we truly love and what we really wear, this could be an opportunity to reset and either let those unloved pieces go or wear them out, literally.
You can get involved in Give Up Clothes For Good by donating your pre-loved quality clothes, accessories and homeware at any TK Maxx store, all year round. Find out more at tkmaxx.com/uk/en/give-up-clothes-for-good