Frank is one of the shopping sabbatical survivalists, who fought through the year wearing a different outfit every day. We met up a month ago to talk about his experiences, the subjectivity of fashion, overflow of black sweaters and the conservative generation Y.
How did you become part of the challenge?
Actually, the challenge was my idea. I got it during a lecture from Kate Fletcher, and then it took shape in my head. I emailed about it with Kate, and she liked it as well. So I was in from the start.
What did you find the most difficult?
Nothing, actually. I thought it was surprisingly easy. Maybe that was the most difficult thing, to realize that I didn’t miss shopping at all. Some little things were of course annoying, like pockets falling apart. I also have this jacket, and the zipper of it broke. I went to a repair shop and asked how much it would be to fix it, and it was about 50 euros. And then I saw almost a similar jacket at H&M, being sold for 29,95 euros. So, being sustainable is…kind of expensive. It shows how messed up the system is, though. I find that difficult, pondering whether you’re going to follow your principles or not. Of course the quality of the cheaper jacket will be less, but on the other hand, the zipper of my expensive jacket didn’t last for more than two years either. So, if the more expensive fashion wants to survive, then they really need to improve on quality. If you can’t guarantee good quality, the big audience will never change and will continue buying cheap fashion.
Did you learn something about fashion or your relationship with it?
I had my personal challenge of wearing a different outfit every day, so I have become extremely aware of my clothing behaviour and how I had been completely detached from fashion. After photographing my first 30 sets, my most worn item was the exact same pair of jeans. So, I’ve become more back in touch with fashion by not shopping, which is sort of a paradox.
You did an Xtra Challenge, for which you wore a different outfit every day and had fashion professionals grade the fashion level of your looks. What was the most surprising thing you ran across during this challenge?
What is highly fashionable to one fashion professional can actually be very unfashionable to another. You could explain that by saying that they work for different target groups, but that happened even when they were working at similar magazines, like an editor working for Cosmo and another for Glamour. Their opinions were still completely different at some parts. People outside fashion often think there is one shared opinion on what is fashion, but even within fashion there is not. Makes you wonder who determines what fashion really is, what’s fashion and what’s not.
What’s the most striking thing that you discovered on your own style?
That I was a very boring dresser. (laughs) Now I think about it more, and I’ve made all these little discoveries. Like this sock thing: you always loose socks, so I bought these really special ones with colours, and I haven’t lost a sock all year ‘cos they are easy to pair up. I also discovered that I hardly have any colour in my wardrobe, and seeing all the photos of my outfits you clearly see there is a serious need for some colour. Although I wear quite a lot of black, some of my pullovers got worn only once and so I learned that you really don’t need ten black sweaters…
In the beginning I thought it would be a huge task to wear a different outfit every day, but that was really easy. Think: if you have 10 pairs of shoes you can combine them with 5 trousers already in 50 different ways, and combined with 5 shirts, then you’re at 250 sets.
What were the biggest changes the challenge bought to your life?
I was honestly thinking of going on for another year, but I’ve decided not to. The aim was to proof that fashion is not about shopping, but about creativity. One year was enough. Besides that I’m done being so self-obsessed with my outfits on a daily base. I’m pretty sure though that my buying pattern will be completely different now!
What kind of reactions have you gotten from people?
In general, you get a lot of “wow, I could never do that”. It’s funny how attached people are to shopping and buying new clothes, but that’s of course the fun of fashion as well. But I’ve discovered that the fun can be in shopping in your own wardrobe as well. I’ve been wearing things that I hadn’t worn in ages and now I wear them a lot again.
Have people told you that your shopping sabbatical has influenced their way of shopping?
Not really. It makes people wonder and you talk about it, and I hope it makes them think. But I can honestly tell everyone to do it – maybe not for a year but for a 3 or 6 months, because I have noticed it has really changed my consumption pattern. Even in the supermarket when I start throwing things in the basket, I tend to take them out in the end, thinking that I still have some vegetables left which I otherwise would have to throw out. I also started disliking IKEA, ‘cos they’re like fast fashion of interior.
You’re a teacher at Amsterdam Fashion Institute. Has this challenge affected the way you teach your students about fashion?
Well, I use my own experiences to talk about it. What I’ve also noticed from the students is that when it comes to style, the younger generation can actually be quite conservative. In the 80s, people were a lot more creative, because there was no fast fashion: if you wanted to look like Boy George or Adam Ant, you had to DIY your clothes. Nowadays you would just buy the whole outfit. Today’s teenagers and people in their twenties (often the trendsetters in fashion) all grew up in a very affluent society, and buying often is very natural to them. But it doesn’t mean that they are innovative. On contrary! On a few occasions I asked students during a class to grade my outfit. If I was wearing a conservative look they would always grade me higher than the professional, while a more daring or outspoken look was always graded much lower.
One day, I wore two different shoes to school: I thought why should we always wear the same shoes – you can just put insoles in so that the shoes will feel the same. The professional judge loved it, but the students were really shocked, giving me comments like “you can’t do that, you can’t wear different shoes”. That was quite cute…in a way. (laughs)
Have you come up with some rules for your future shopping?
I think I won’t be buying on an impulse ever again. I used to think “this is a beautiful black sweater I want it” and now I know I already have ten… I had stopped shopping for fast fashion already before the challenge because of the poor quality, so I’m just going to continue with that. I never cared about trends that much, and this year confirmed that you can have no clue about trends and still look fashionable!