A Change –
My wardrobe has been drastically different since I read the book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline in 2012. Overdressed delves into the ugly world of fast fashion and how the manufacturing and ultimate disposal of those cheap clothes come with an exorbitant price to the people who make them and the environment. It opened my eyes to the fact that I was never really concerned about what my clothes were made of, who was making them, or the impact my clothes were having on the world around me.
For Me –
I have never had a crazy wardrobe. I am a creature of comfort and habit, so I tended to wear a few pieces over and over again. I attended a pretentious, private school as a kid, so I had to wear uniforms five days out of the week, and I think that helped instill in me the benefit of clothing repetition. At the same time, it also instilled in me a deep hate for khakis and polo shirts. I haven’t worn a polo shirt since I graduated high school in 2005.
So my main issue with downsizing my wardrobe wasn’t this idea that I needed a ton of daily options, it was keeping pieces that I needed “just in case.” I would keep tops and bottoms that no longer suit my lifestyle because “one day” and “maybe.” I needed to learn to let go of the story I was telling myself about when I would wear/need those outfits and embrace the reality of what I actually do day to day and feel comfortable wearing.
Why is Change Tricky –
As Americans, we have all been conditioned to want and to focus on the here and now, and nothing embodies that more than our relationship with our clothing.
We consume clothes without much thought into how that garment made it to the store, and where it will go once we are done with it. We are not taught to focus on the longevity and quality of our clothing, instead we are taught to focus on the “look” and shopping for “trends.”
The most accessible fashion is fast fashion, and until there are enough people with the buying power to stop utilizing it, there will not be a change, because fast fashion disproportionately targets people with smaller incomes, aka the majority of shoppers. It is hard to justify spending more on a sustainable, quality piece of clothing when you already struggle to provide food and healthcare for yourself and your family.
What to Do –
So, if you have the means, what can you do?
Shop Secondhand First – Saving a garment from the landfill and giving it a second life is instrumental in closing the clothing loop. You would be surprised the awesome clothes that you can find secondhand! Local thrift and consignment stores are a great place to start. Another way to utilize secondhand clothes is to phone a friend. If you have an event coming up where you need a certain piece of clothing, ask a friend if they have anything that might work that you can borrow. I borrowed a few things from a friend this summer when I went on a trip, and it was so nice to not have to add another piece of clothing to my wardrobe that may get little to no use past my trip. Secondhand is also AWESOME for kids clothes! This is another great place to ask friends with kids who are older or younger if they would be interested in exchanging kids clothes. 75% of my son’s wardrobe is secondhand from friends.
Shop Sustainable Brands – At the very least, look for brands that are able to give you information about the sourcing of the materials, how much the people making the garment are making and what conditions they are working in, and what the brand’s environmental impact is on the earth and how they are trying to improve it. If you want to push that further, linen, silk, hemp, and Tencel are some of the most sustainable fibers because the process to make them requires minimal water and chemicals, and they are biodegradable. (Organic Cotton is also considered to be more sustainable than regular cotton, but it can be water intensive to produce.) You also should be aware of what kind of dyes are being used, as most commercial dyes are chemical laden. It can feel overwhelming and mind blowing once you start to delve into the world of clothing sustainability, so I just always try to do my best to research and to keep advocating for greater, global change. Check out the article How To Tell If A Fashion Brand is Sustainable: 8 Ways for more info on how to spot sustainable brands.
Look for Quality vs Quantity – Focus on finding quality items that will last. Single, quality pieces will always get more use than having a million, cheap garments that are only so-so. Looking for quality is also important when you have a smaller wardrobe where items are going to be worn over and over again. You need a piece to last. I got a great tip from A Small Wardrobe to never buy clothing on sale. You have to love it enough to pay full price. A Small Wardrobe is an EXCELLENT place to go for tips on maintaining a minimalist wardrobe and lifestyle!
Look for Versatility – My eye tends to gravitate towards sparkly, bright items, but again, I have to remind myself of reality, and the reality is, as much as I like the idea of dressing like a Vegas showgirl, my actual life calls for items that can do versatile jobs, so I lean towards actually wearing neutrals. Now, this is where I differ from a lot of minimalists, if you like color or sparkle, and you can make that chartreuse top work in a multitude of outfits, go for it. Your wardrobe doesn’t need to be neutral to be minimal, it should suit your tastes. For me, I love the sparkle, but more to look at, rather than to actually wear. In my wardrobe, I like comfortable, neutral pieces that I can wear to do yoga or go for a hike, but also have a few pieces I can use to dress it up for parent/teacher meetings. Some day I’ll bravely show you my wardrobe, so you can be both underwhelmed at the aesthetic and impressed that I’m actually a functioning adult.
At the end of the day, just do your best. I am far from perfect at this. I am learning more and more about sustainability and fashion every single day, so my view grows and grows.
More than anything, wear your clothes. Try to wear what you have until they are unwearable, and then look at adding to your wardrobe.