One in five of us do it, but is ‘wardrobing’ ever acceptable?

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Shortcuts Fashion One in five of us do it, but is ‘wardrobing’ ever acceptable? Wearing new clothes and then returning them to the retailer is now so common that sellers are clamping down. So what do shoppers think of the practice?

Woman opens boxes of shoes bought online
The customer is always right? Wardrobing costs UK retailers £1.5bn. (Posed by model) Photograph: JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Step into your local post office during your lunch break and you will see them: queues of shoppers, packages in hand, waiting to return items they have bought online. But not all of the clothes being returned to major retailers will be unworn. According to a survey, a fifth of shoppers admit to buying items with the intention of wearing them and then returning them. “Wardrobing” is estimated to cost UK retailers £1.5bn, and they are increasingly clamping down on the practice: earlier this year, the online retailer Asos announced it would blacklist serial returners. We took to the streets of London to find out how common wardrobing really is – and whether the retailers should be worried.

Michael Howard, 49, gardener

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Michael Howard: ‘We live in a wonderful free-market economy, don’t we? Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

I never shop online personally; I like to go to shops and try things on. My wife sells clothes at Spitalfields market, and when you’re a small retailer who only has one of each size in stock, wardrobing would be a nightmare. But I don’t know about a ban on it. We live in a wonderful free-market economy, don’t we? People wouldn’t accept it. They’d prefer to have someone out there being paid peanuts to make clothes and deliver them, without thinking too much about it.

Bruna Siofeather, 19, student

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Bruna Siofeather: ‘Sometimes you need to return it.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

I do the opposite. I buy things all the time and I can’t be bothered to return them. Wardrobing isn’t right anyway, so I wouldn’t do it. It’s not very nice. I feel sorry for the companies, but I don’t think you should be banned from returning things if you do it too often. Sometimes you get stuff and you really don’t like it, and you do need to return it. There are some brands now that put the tag on the outside so you can’t wear things and take them back. Other brands should just do that.

Natalie Galvau, 21, design student

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Natalie Galvau: ‘I am trying to make more of an effort not to consume as much.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Lately I have tried to get into the habit of shopping on the app Depop, or doing charity shopping, because of how bad fast fashion is for the environment, so I don’t wardrobe. I am trying to make more of a conscious effort not to consume as much, which is difficult because everything is so readily available on the internet. I don’t think you should be banned from returning things. It would be an issue for me because I like to take things home and see how they look.

Ocean Lewis, 20, model

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Ocean Lewis: ‘I’m too lazy to take things back.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

I have never done wardrobing, but I have friends who do. And stylists who I have worked with on shoots do it. They’ll order clothes for the model to wear and then return them. But I’m too lazy to take things back. I really am! Seriously, though, it doesn’t seem right. People get their picture taken in the clothes, and then send them back. Imagine if everyone did that.

Matt Hurst, 36, sales account manager

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Matt Hurst: ‘I wouldn’t want to receive something that had been worn by someone else.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

I’ve heard of someone who does it – she even has a special gun to put the tags back on. She’ll buy a nice dress for an event, wear it once, and then send it back. I have no idea where she got the gun from. I guess you could say she’s a professional wardrober. I don’t like the idea of people doing it, though. I wouldn’t want to receive something that had been worn by someone else. I actually always check my clothes when I buy them, to check there are no signs of wear.

Theo Hausler, 33, facilities manager

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Theo Hausler: ‘Wardrobing must have a big carbon footprint; it’s very wasteful.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

I don’t do that. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I like to buy my clothes and see that they fit and keep them for a good amount of time. Wardrobing must have a big carbon footprint: it’s very wasteful. But I guess that’s just the fashion industry in general. We have lost the worth of the actual labour behind what we buy. We never keep anything. My mum used to fix my socks when we were little, but no one does that now.

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