Overcoming Fashion FOMO

Overcoming Fashion FOMO

This guest post was written by Melissa Watt. Mel is a freelance fashion journalist and the author behind the Not What It Seams newsletter.

Mel started her newsletter as she knew how difficult it can be to navigate the language of sustainability when the movement’s rising popularity has introduced a lot of new, confusing terms. She created this newsletter, and writes in her day to day to "delve deeper into the headlines, demystify the language of sustainability and properly hold brands to account."

I have a confession: I used to be addicted to fast fashion. It all started when I went to university. Having a student loan at my dispersal and attending frequent parties obviously translated into weekly Missguided orders. 

Like most girls my age, I found myself swept up in the frenzy. I made impulsive purchases as a reward, as therapy, as a “just because”. I even felt ashamed uploading the same outfit more than once to the ‘gram. 

At the heart of this all was some serious fashion FOMO. Fashion FOMO - or the fear of missing out - is the anxious, exhausting need to keep up with the ever-changing fashion trends.

Fashion FOMO is the itching desire to buy a new ensemble for every date night or wedding. It's the panic and anticipation before every collection launch. It's that sinking feeling when it's out of stock, the regret for waiting too long to buy it in your size. It's the midnight binge of the latest LFW coverage or the daily browse of ASOS new arrivals. It's the constant, envious scrolling through influencer’s feeds. Fashion FOMO is a withdrawal symptom, a craving for that fleeting dopamine hit after every purchase you make. 

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. After a confronting self-diagnosis, I realised that hopping off this hamster wheel of trends was the only antidote. Us humans (more so living in capitalist societies!) have an insatiable appetite for newness and a belonging to fit in. In fact, an item of clothing is worn an average of 7 times before being discarded for something new.

So, today, I’m sharing my tips for overcoming fashion FOMO. Not only does it make it easier to get dressed in the mornings – no Cher Horowitz meltdowns here – but I feel relieved of the intolerable pressure to wear what everybody else is. 

I used to frequent shopping malls, ogling the mannequins and stroking all the pretty fabrics. But after vowing to quit the high street, I went cold turkey overnight. I stopped putting myself in vulnerable positions by avoiding the stores at all cost – an environment that, by design, fosters unnecessary purchases.

Just as you shouldn't go grocery shopping when you're hungry, I shouldn't have gone clothes shopping when I was on my period, when I had time to kill or when I was wearing something that didn't make me feel great – but I did! And 9 times out of 10 I left with a new dress in my hands.  

The one time I slipped up on my fast fashion ban was when I unexpectedly found myself in Primark with my mum. Here, I found a satiny, leopard print midi skirt which was all the rage back then. Alas, I couldn’t resist and fell victim to the tempting lure of fast fashion. While I’ve relieved some of the guilt by re-wearing it two years later, it could have easily been chucked away as quickly as that trend vanished. 

Fast fashion harnesses the feeling of FOMO to drive customer sales. Whether it's the IKEA maze effect or Zara's 'once it's gone, it's gone' mantra, fast fashion uses every trick in the book to keep us wanting more.

In times of temptation, I like to remind myself of just how stressful shopping can be. I imagine the frustration of joining a long queue for the unflatteringly lit changing rooms; the determination needed to safely navigate around the likes of Primark; or the terrifying scramble in the Boxing Day sales. It's a very overwhelming setting and one I now firmly avoid. 

Fast fashion is everywhere. It's in the magazines, on the billboards and, now, it's on our phones. With 21 Buttons and the Instagram swipe up feature, it's never been easier to replicate the style of your fashion icons in a few simple clicks. 

When I recently spoke to fashion psychologist, researcher and practitioner, Dr Dion Terrelonge, her words really resonated with me. Not only has social media taken away our ability to ponder and reason over our purchases – we see a sponsored ad and our immediate response is to “swipe up, buy it now” – but it’s also affecting our self-esteem. Too often we base our “idealised self on a social media influencer who changes their outfit 3 times a day, is airbrushed to the gods and is always on holiday. The reality is that social media star is being sent clothes and being sent on holiday, so you’re left trying to compare your real self to an unrealistic but idealised standard”, argues Dr Terrelonge. And the mental health implications can be staggering – which is one of the many reasons we should re-evaluate our virtual boundaries and behaviour. 

I started by blocking targeted ads by fast fashion brands to slowly change my Facebook algorithm. I then unfollowed those influencers who didn't make me feel good in what I already owned and followed those that championed garment workers’ rights and sustainability. I also unsubscribed from every fast fashion email newsletter or notification (you know, the ones that kindly reserve your basket for you with an added discount for goods made on poverty wages).

If the temptation is too much, I would recommend blocking the likes of Pretty Little Thing from your browser. They were one of the first to master a sense of urgency on their website - think the constant promo codes, the free next day delivery or those annoying alerts that tell you 12 people are also currently viewing that skirt. 

So, I cleansed my phone and avoided the shops but I still felt the compulsive need to buy, buy, buy creeping up on me. Here is where the mindset change needs to kick in. It's all about rediscovering what's already hanging up in your wardrobe, wearing the shit out of it, and thinking about what you already have that could compliment any new sustainable purchases. It's about rewiring your brain to stop thinking you need to buy new outfits for every upcoming event. There’s a lot of power and satisfaction in putting your middle finger up to fast fashion brands by becoming a serial outfit repeater. Just think of how much money, time and energy you'll save! 

Sure, this is easier said than done but when you remember how the fast fashion industry operates – through fragmented, exploitative supply chains, through mass-producing temporarily trendy clothes and through decimating the environment in the process – you realise that the issue is so much bigger than yourself. We take for granted the luxury to be able to afford so many new clothes and throw them away after just a few wears. This privilege isn’t often available to those countries who produce our garments or are burdened with our cast-offs. The pressure to constantly showcase new outfits seems pretty trivial in comparison.

It's admittedly unrealistic to switch off our materialistic tendencies overnight and vow to never purchase an item of clothing again - nobody here is advocating for the end of fashion. That’s why I support ethical, sustainable brands that put their hearts and soul into creating timeless pieces.

Birdsong are, of course, one of my favourites because they design with intention, market themselves thoughtfully and encourage mindful purchases. And when you buy slowly, you truly cherish every garment and re-wear it until the end of time. 

Opting for secondhand is not only great for the planet and your bank balance; it feels great too. There’s no better feeling than finding a steal in a charity shop and later bragging about it to your friends. I’m personally a huge fan of swapping which is the easiest way to get that new clothes feeling for free. Like renting, it helps you to rotate and refresh your wardrobe sustainably while participating in general trends. 

Renting is exceptionally brilliant for those one-off formal events. Instead of buying that new year's sequin dress that will soon collect dust at the back of my wardrobe, I use apps like HURR and By Rotation to rent outfits for a limited time period.

Resale apps are too doctor-approved for soothing bouts of fashion FOMO. With Depop and Vinted, you can still buy stylish pieces without directly funding the fast fashion industry. It is, however, easy to be sucked in and scroll for hours (I’m talking from experience here).

That’s why it’s good to mull over every potential purchase and only buy clothes that will live a lifetime in your wardrobe. For more tips, check out Birdsong’s Slow Shopping Guide.

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