By Barbara Sibbald

Summer sales beckoned. I spotted the “50% off” sign in my favourite women’s clothing shop. It couldn’t hurt to just look. But do I need the temptation? What about my clothes-free resolution? Casting aside the lure of saving some dough, I tried to recall previous end-of-season bargain purchases. The three that immediately sprang to mind had subsequently been given away: those French dress pants that fit perfectly but were an appalling shade of beige that showed every mark; that brightly hued sleeveless tank that was impossibly garish in the sunlight; that asymmetrical, slightly snug skirt that seemed so au courant, but turned out to be a tummy-enhancing reminder of my failure of will power. They all went out to St. Vincent de Paul where I’m sure they found a good home. When I thought about it, I realized that nearly all the clothes I’d recently given away were bought on sale.

The lure is obvious. Saving money warms the cockles of the wee Scottish heart. But it also lowers my purchasing threshold. The pieces were close to what I wanted, but not close enough: they simply didn’t look good on me. Friends would ask, “Is that a new top?” They weren’t admiring it, just stating the obvious and I’d say, proudly, “oh, I got this on sale,” half price or whatever, as if I’d duped the system. In fact the system had once again duped me into buying something I probably didn’t need and that certainly didn’t suit me, and was destined for the charity box.

I walked by the sales sign. Another lesson learned.

Or so I thought.

The true temptation came a few weeks later. A dear friend in dire financial straits has to sell her condo and needs to downsize her wardrobe. She heard I was coming to town and scheduled a rummage sale/tea for a few select friends. Here’s the thing. She is my size and I love her style: simple colours, loosely flowing, elegant clothes. This was the wardrobe I aspired to own. And here was my chance to acquire some of that style at a fraction of the usual price. But what about my clothes-free year? I considered my options and finally talked myself into a compromise: I would buy, but I wouldn’t wear a thing until January 1, 2017, when my year-long experiment ends. I knew it wasn’t exactly kosher, after all I would be buying in 2016, but I was desperate to get in on the loot. Okay, it was a lame plan, but it was all I had. I went to the sale with a loaded wallet and a relatively clear conscience.

My friend had dutifully sorted her sale items: a table of slacks and capris; another with skirts; jackets over there; shoes and bags neatly stowed in wire baskets; hats, gloves and belts on another table… you get the picture. Every horizontal surface was filled. There were hundreds of items. And the pièce de résistance: a selection of designer pieces hung on closet handles.

It quickly emerged that these crammed tables were only a fraction of what she owned. The closets, some twenty-five feet of them across her bedroom wall, were still crammed. She was selling the obvious first cull: things that were (way) too small or big; things she already had multiples of; things she wasn’t wearing for one reason or another (boots pinch, blouse the wrong colour). In other words, the type of things I’d already eliminated from my closet.

Still, the frenzy was on. With so much on offer, there might be something perfect for me. I started with the designer items and tried on a loosely flowing black top from Kaliyana: beautiful fabric, but I looked like a bear. I put on pants and more pants and more: one linen pair sort of fit, though they were a bit loose around the hips (a miraculous feat given my hip size). A pair of brown capris had a charming bow at calf level, but they were polyester. A square-neck black top scrunched a bit under the arms but I loved the neckline. I put these things in a maybe pile and continued my perusal. There was nothing else, truly nothing. I didn’t really want the three things I’d put aside, but I wanted to help my friend. I paid $70 for them. I consider it a donation. When I got home, I carefully folded the clothes into my overflowing St. Vinnie’s bag.

It seems I have learned another lesson in this clothes-free year: Don’t buy things just because they’re cheap, buy them because you love the way they look on you.

Look for the final instalment of “A clothes-free year” in December.

See part one and part two here