The Rise of ‘Wardrobing’: How to Dress for Free and Its Environmental Impact

2023-12-11 09:42:00

Buy a piece of clothing or a fashion accessory, wear it occasionally without removing the label, then return it to the store to obtain a refund. This is the very essence of ‘wardrobing’, a practice which would make a comeback to cope with the incessant rise in prices. If some see it as a way of not overconsuming, of showing off with overpriced clothes, or even a simple game, the initial idea remains clear: to dress for free.

Presented as a popular “trend” (the hashtag has a million views on TikTok), this technique is not new: in the series “Gossip Girl” widely watched by the younger generations who are the most tempted to use it , two of the characters use it to integrate among the young people of New York high society. This practice is of course bordering on fraud, because in theory, it is entirely possible to try on a piece of clothing (sometimes for up to 14 days) then bring it back or send it back for a refund. ‘Wardrobing’, which can be translated into French as “porté-returné”, is increasingly being emulated around the world to cope with inflation. “Followers of this practice see it as a new way to save money, which allows them to wear an item of clothing for a short time before returning it,” explains an observer in “Le Point”. Or even have access to luxury pieces for free. However, some people justify this trick by talking about the… eco-responsible aspect of less consumption.

Beyond the financial losses generated by these returns of a particular type, for brands and retailers at least, ‘wardrobing’ would not be, as some justify, an eco-responsible practice. On the contrary, returns, whatever they may be, represent a heavy impact on the environment, especially when purchases are made online. Researcher Regina Frey, interviewed by Le Figaro explains: “It is often cheaper to get rid of unwanted items than to store them and refresh them for resale”, implying that these items worn then returned end up at least in part in landfills…

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The environmental impact of returns is also the argument taken up by the multitude of brands that have recently changed their policy in this area. Previously free, returns may now be subject to a cost, particularly for online purchases, such as at Zara and H&M, for example. Generally set at less than two euros, can these fees really curb this craze for ‘wardrobing’? Nothing is less sure. Especially since returns to physical stores remain free.

Completely legal, renting clothes is an alternative to wardrobing, as is buying and selling second-hand clothes.

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