I used to walk past high street shops and fill to the brim with excitement. There is no doubt that the feeling got my adrenaline pumping. As a British girl living on the continent, my options for shopping were limited in my eyes. I took trips to London just to go to the Oxford Street Primark. My friends and I would go mad in that shop, buying all the latest bright-coloured trendy tops.
Although Primark was my favourite store, as a thirteen-year old I could easily be dragged into any famous high street shop. The whole experience was thrilling to me. A shopping trip never ended in disappointment. I was heading into shops that were dirt cheap and stocked all the latest trendy clothes. More importantly, they all catered almost exclusively to my skinny/ tall-girl body type.
Hundreds of moments were spent walking into a shop and instantly liking everything I saw. My eyes would drift to ten things I liked, and my mind went into overdrive, repeating in my head: ‘want, want, want’.
It’s fair to say that a lot of this need for clothes came from pop culture. I read more teen magazines than I care to admit now, and I was obsessed with Niall from One Direction. I had no idea how to look good and occasionally wore concealer that was way too bright for me but matched my yellow Primark t-shirts. This time of my life is laughable now but I had no clue the damage my shopping habits were having on the environment and people’s lives.
For the short happiness they gave me, it was never, ever worth it. Moving away from this shopping addiction has been a huge part of my growing up. With time, I have learnt and reflected on what clothes really mean to me. It is a work in progress but as a twenty-year old now I am confident I’m heading on the right path.
I have realised that the main reason I wanted all these clothes is because I was being sold a dream. I wanted more than anything to feel pretty and cool and to be admired by my peers. Granted, a lot of that is not my fault. Advertising works particularly well on young impressionable minds and I was no exception. Walking into a high street shop was like seeing all the girls I could be. And the trendier my clothes were, the more popular I might become.
As you can probably tell by now, this mentality was dangerous. Not only for its impact on the world but on my self-worth. And although it is common at all ages, it is much more noticeable in a teenager.
With time I learned, as many of us do, that trying desperately to fit in is a pretty big waste of time.
As an adult (just about) I value people’s uniqueness and authenticity a lot more than the silly traits I valued at school. Consequently, I have tried to search for a clothing style that reflects who I think I am, or at least one that gives me wiggle room to discover myself. I started searching for pieces that could help me express who I am as an individual. Instead of changing who I am to fit the clothes, I have to change the clothes to fit who I am.
Uniqueness was one criterion for my new shopping finds but longevity was also super important to me. This included being of good quality, being pieces that match many others, or being staple pieces I felt happy and comfortable in. Instead of thinking, ‘I need to shop more ethically right now’, I thought, ‘second-hand/sustainable clothes have often been made better and make me feel more comfortable than Primark ones’.
Charity shops excel at being special because there is one of each item and how more unique than that can you be? You won’t stand over a rack of twenty t-shirts thinking, ‘I am one of the many girls who would buy this’. Instead, you find a piece that perhaps hasn’t been looked at or touched all day and you might think, ‘Well that’s a piece of me then’.
Changing your shopping habits takes time and is an inner process as much as an outer one. Instead of just forcing yourself to take the tube to the charity shops rather than the high street, take time to think about how and why you shop. Who do you want to be, what values do you want to stick to and how can you have fun? Fun is always an added bonus.