Real Life

My year spending ZERO on clothes

Stylist Lesley Crawford is crazy about fashion and set herself a task to spend almost nothing on clothes for a year and record her 365 days of outfits.

When Lesley Crawford walks in the room, heads turn. The extraordinary 61-year-old prides herself on her personal style and in turbans, colourful silks and vibrant cottons the Sydney fashionista looks as if she’s really enjoying herself. “I think it makes you feel better if you make a bit of an effort,” says Lesley. “It is my three-dimensional canvas. I guess it’s my form of creativity.”

There’s no question Lesley lives and breathes fashion, the zanier the better. And as the Network Stylist for SBS, she reckons she has the best job in the world indulging her passion as she shops for her TV presenters. Every day, she feels like a kid in a fashion candy store, but Lesley admits the temptation to buy for herself is frequently too much to bear. This presented a problem. “I realised that my budget was not really working,” she says.

“I was doing my end of year tax and when I added up how much I had spent on shoes, clothing, swimwear, exercise gear … it was $10,000. I looked at my wardrobe and thought, I have to not spend $10,000.”

And so Lesley decided to spend her 61st year with what she cleverly terms a “zero wardrobe = budget”. And to make sure she was on track and prove that she really could work with what she already had, she would photograph herself in her daily outfit and post the 365 looks on Instagram.

The site – lesleyhasmanyhats – soon gathered followers, all eager to see her daily ensembles. Lesley’s initial idea was to refrain from buying clothes all year. “My husband is retired and so I am the only income now,” explains Lesley. “I found that I was not making ends meet and I wanted to do other things like travel.” Yet, as a self-confessed fashion tragic, she realised she wouldn’t be able to get through a year buying nothing. “I knew that I would be incredibly depressed at the end of 365 days if I had not bought one thing. So I decided that I had to have ‘zero wardrobe budget’ out of my working salary. If I wanted to buy anything, I had to sell something or do an extra job after hours.

“I have reasonably good will power and I think I did very well, considering. I really bought very few things,” she proffers.

In fact Lesley bought six things – some sweatshirts, a pair of boots, an “orangeypink top with a balloon shape” that was tantalisingly on sale. “There aren’t many people who would be silly enough to wear it because it is not flattering,” she muses. “But I just adored it.”

And there was one big purchase. “My favourite international designer is Dries Van Noten and what I love most about fashion is the fabrics and the textures. So I bought a [Dries Van Noten] black dress with hand-painted silver flowers on that I had seen. Originally, it was $2200 … way, way, way out of my price range. But when it came down to $450, I definitely had to have it.”

All up, Lesley spent $2000, funds she is adamant came from her extra work or selling off some of her existing wardrobe.

And while to the mere mortal it may sound as if Lesley hardly suffered, her regular annual purchases would total 20 to 25 pieces, so this was a considerable level of deprivation for the fashion lover, who pleads in mitigation: “For my job, I need to look good every day!

“For some people, the fact that I would have even spent $10,000 is unconceivable, so they hardly think it is a hardship,” concedes Lesley. “But in the end, I think it has been a creative project more than anything else for me.”

Most confronting for Lesley was posting her picture every day.

“That was the hardest part,” she says. “But now it’s the thing I am most proud of, that I have a visual diary of my entire 61st year.”

Although she repeated a few items of clothing, Lesley admits that she probably does possess 365 outfits in her personal collection, compliled over 30 years. “You don’t come into my bedroom and find a pile of clothes on my floor. I have respect for all my outfits.”

Lesley hails from New Zealand, born in Invercargill on the South Island, but after moving to Sydney at the age of 21, Australia is definitely home. In her trendy warehouse apartment, it seems perfectly apt that the walls of her bedroom are delineated by racks of her clothes. “I have one wardrobe that has coats and dresses; one that has jackets; one pants and so on.They are all colour coordinated and they are all according to types, so short tops are together, longer tops are somewhere else. I think I’ve got six wardrobes and, yes, they are pretty packed.”

Now her year is over, I ask Lesley what she has learnt from her experience. “To be more mindful,” she says. “I don’t need the latest or newest thing and as far as fashion goes, I just like to add layers to my wardrobe.”

And while she can’t promise to buy nothing this year, “I’m definitely not going to go mad – I can’t afford to,” she says. “Travel is always something that I would love to do more of. I also like cooking and so does my husband.

We have people to our place, sharing what I have with my family and friends.” And when they’re there, her guests can view Lesley’s fabulous collection – a veritable wallpaper of design.

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