How To Unlearn What Society Told Us About Outfit Repeating

·5-min read

Somewhere in between learning how to dress without our parents’ help, and having to dress for several occasions and versions of ourselves as adults, we were made to believe that it’s taboo to wear the same outfit more than a few times. If you’re a woman, that belief was magnified thanks to society’s emphasis on women’s appearances and the impossible-to-meet pressure to maintain a constantly changing look.

From TV characters like Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw to Emily In Paris’s titular character, we are constantly confronted with this unattainable image of the successful (or, in other words: impossibly wealthy) woman who is rarely ever seen in the same outfit twice. Isabelle Landicho, a London-based stylist and fashion director of The Earth Issue, references the graduation scene from The Lizzie McGuire Movie that’s been etched into her mind since she was a teen. In the scene, Lizzie is ridiculed for wearing a dress she’d previously worn before underneath her graduation gown. “Things like that perpetuate this negative construct around rewearing,” Landicho tells Refinery29. “And it always stuck with me, because, it’s like, what is wrong with us? It was such a nice dress.”

While it’s a privileged mindset that almost nobody can keep up with, and a stigma that practically doesn’t exist outside of Western culture, the pressures still exist. Even when it comes to public figures who do have the money to wear a new outfit everyday but choose not to, others are quick to judge – take Michelle Obama for example, who has famously been criticised for wearing repeat looks. The notion that a steady stream of new clothing equates status and attractiveness is both unattainable and unrelenting. Amplified by the ways we use social media, we’re being told to make way for newness 365 days of the year.

In reality, our contempt towards outfit repeating is one of the biggest lies capitalism has sold us. In a survey held by StitchFix in July, shared with Refinery29 exclusively – which included 517 of their customers – 3 in 5 people said they tend to buy new clothes when they grow tired of a piece of clothing. For 44% of those surveyed, that fatigue comes after just six wears.

This behaviour isn’t just normalised in our society, it’s encouraged across every single thing we consume – although a rising number of fashion content creators are now working to dismantle that mindset. In 2022, as we navigate a cost of living crisis in Britain, a climate crisis and constant overconsumption, it’s essential for us to start unlearning this wasteful attitude towards our clothing. The first step in doing so is understanding why we are so quick to ditch the clothes to begin with.

According to fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell, our clothes usually fall into three categories of usage: “continuing identity,” which are clothes that reflect who we are currently; “transitional identity,” which are clothes that are a bridge between who you are and who you want to be; and “discontinued identity,” which are clothes that you don’t feel represent you anymore. So, that pencil skirt that you bought for your office job that you no longer have, or your skinny jeans that haven’t seen the light of day since 2020.

“One of the main reasons that people get tired of their wardrobe is because they can no longer reconcile their current or aspirational identity with those clothes and as a result, they no longer make them feel good,” Forbes-Bell tells Refinery29. She also acknowledges the shifts in trends that (falsely) deem certain clothes unwearable, plus the high we get from all sorts of novelty.

From TikTok hauls and an unhealthy closeness to celebrity culture, to fashion’s “52 micro seasons,” the modern living has ingrained in us the idea that more is more, Landicho points out. “The capitalist agenda has affected our cultural and societal mindset. It’s made us think that it’s not appropriate to wear the same thing again and again,” she says.
Landicho works to create projects that combat this mindset, like a recent high fashion editorial she art directed and styled, celebrating Secondhand September with solely vintage and secondhand garments. On her personal social media, she shouts about conscious fashion choices any chance she gets, which includes not buying anything new, unless she absolutely needs it.

If you’re looking for ways to live out your most conscious wardrobe, both Landicho and Forbes-Bell have tips for getting there.

Only buy what you need – and shop secondhand first

If you do absolutely need an item, whether that’s a hoodie you know you’ll wear at least 30 times, or a dress that you can style for both formal and casual occasions, try to get that item secondhand. If you’ve absolutely exhausted all of your options, don’t fret: buying new is still an option. Landicho is careful to note that this can include brands that aren’t typically sustainable, too. “Not everyone has a price point to buy consciously. It’s not sustainable for everyone,” Landicho says. “I never want to vilify anyone who isn’t comfortable buying consciously in that way.”

Clear out what you don’t wear

Before you decide to buy something new, give your wardrobe an audit. Figure out what makes you feel good, what you feel most confident in, what you need more of, and what you are lacking, Landicho suggests. Whatever doesn’t fit into that category, donate or recycle, and that clarity will help you on those mornings when you just can’t find anything to wear.

Consume fashion mindfully

Forbes-Bell says that consuming mindfully is key to getting the most out of your wardrobe. We often end up with a wardrobe full of clothes we don’t like because we’re making thoughtless purchases,” she says. Some other useful tips from the both of them: get creative with styling and use your hangers to visually signify clothes you don’t wear often (just turn them around!).

“I think the disapproval of outfit repeating is ludicrous,” Forbes-Bell says. “If you’re passionate about your clothes and you understand how they make you feel, use that knowledge to lean into or boost your mood. Relish the opportunity to wear them again and again.”

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