The Great American Apparel Diet: A Support Group for People Who Mindlessly Buy Too Many Clothes

Lots of people rail against the excesses of American consumerism, but no one seems to actually DO anything about it. The Great American Apparel Diet wants to change that. TGAAD, as the website calls itself, is a self-help group of mostly women and a few men who have decided to completely stop buying new clothes for a entire year. The “diet” started on September 1 and continues until August 31, 2011 – although people can join the effort at any time. The diet is now in its second cycle.

An apparel diet is an inspired idea for trying to re-engineer peer pressure to fight compulsive consumerism. Instead of spending more than they can afford on clothes that they don’t really need, the participants – who blog about their experiences throughout the year – make do with what they already have. Radical! The diet makes an exception for footwear, accessories and underwear – which, I suppose, for some people, could be a problematic exception.

In this land of hyper-consumption, there is something daring about voluntarily not buying any new clothes for a full year. For many, of course, it’s a way to make a virtue out of necessity. Still, there is much to be said for forcing a richer interior dialogue about why we buy. It’s often difficult to home in on the many stupid, quixotic emotional impulses that impel us to buy gratuitous things we don’t need and can’t afford.

TGAAD entices new dieters with this come-on: “Devour your closet until you are satisfied, not stuffed. Chomp through your drawers until you are brimming not bloated. Within days you will feel lighter, brighter and more confident. In one small year (that’s 365 days, 8760 hours) you will be satiated without the unwanted weight of debt, overstuffed closets and apparel hangovers.”

TGAAD describes itself as a cohort of 300 members who are “a creative, curious, sometimes hilarious and educated lot. We range in age from 18 to 73. Many of us are self employed, business owners, creative thinkers, writers, producers, executives, lawyers, PhD’s, mothers, wives, stepmothers, recessionistas, fashionistas, snowboarders, yogis, students, grandmothers, knitters, sewers and social mavens. Some of us have recently lost our jobs while others are looking to change careers. Our shared interest? We are all collectively reevaluating our habits- shopping habits in particular…..Bottom line….this is a remarkable group of people who have come together to make a change.“

The group has members from 17 states as well as from Denmark, Italy, Germany, Croatia, Serbia, Qatar, Portugal, Canada and the UK. It has profiles of reformed shoppers, and advice about “conscious shopping.” The original group of dieters went off their diet on September 1, 2010. To help them from reverting to their former habits, the website offered a number of tips. Among them:

• Shop slower- before you take the plunge to buy that dress that looks oh-so fabulous on you, take a second in the mirror and ask, “Do I really need this? Where can I wear this to?”

• If your closet is reverting back to its overflowing chaos, you might not be in love with all the purchases you’ve made. Make the distinction if it is love you feel with that piece of clothing in the dressing room or fleeting emotions of lust.

• If said item could be a love potential, leave it and walk away. Get a change of scenery, take a breather from the fluorescent lights in the stores. If you are still thinking about it an hour later, it will be worth the trip back to the store to buy it.

In our society, abstinence from buying is an invitation to ridicule. Non-consumption makes one a social pariah. It deprives a person of the social markers needed to belong and conform. And the mainstream (commercial) media are not too eager to offend their advertisers — and reduce their own revenues — by giving such radical ideas greater visibility. It’s no mystery why the organizers of “Buy Nothing Day” (the day after Thanksgiving) have trouble getting serious consideration.

For all these reasons, the Great American Apparel Diet deserves kudos – and more participants. Government economists and retailers may quarrel with the anti-Keynesian effects of reduced consumption during a deep recession. That may be true as far as it goes, but I say it’s time to stop trying to solve our problems through bottomless consumption. It’s a very nasty fantasy.


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