A closet full of clothing and nothing to wear is such a common problem that it’s become a cliché. What’s far worse, of course, is the sad fact that our society continues to buy and discard clothing at a wildly unsustainable rate. The good news is that we can curate a wardrobe we love and be kinder to the planet by shopping less and preserving our clothes for longer.
Sustainable clothing 101
Chances are, you know how devastating fast fashion is for our environment and for global human rights. Its alternative is sustainable clothing (or “slow fashion”) that is
- purchased second-hand
- made by local, small-scale companies
- made with eco-friendly dyes and textiles
Sustainable can mean any combination of these criteria, and the “perfect” sustainable piece may not exist. Think about carefully adding clothing when necessary, re-wearing pieces again and again, and taking care of your things so they last.
Find your personal style
Look to the past
What outfits you wore in the past felt perfectly you? What did they have in common? How would you describe them? Preppy? Feminine? Sporty? Understated? Bright and cheerful?
Mix and match
Do you tend to wear the same things in the same way? Mix and match your clothes to create more outfits! For example, try dressing up a simple dress with heels and a clutch, or dress it down with sneakers and a denim jacket. You can even make it appropriate for chillier days by layering a sweater overtop. Look online for inspiration. Wearing your clothes in creative ways means that you need fewer pieces.
Get inspired by the style pros
Browse on social media and make some Pinterest boards or choose some style icons. Why do you love their style? Don’t forget about you, though, especially if you’re only viewing people who look completely different from you. Thankfully, social media is full of influencers of every height, age, body size, and shape to help inspire you.
Be honest about your lifestyle
Do you love the look of sharp blazers but spend most of the time chasing toddlers? Why fill your closet with pieces you can rarely wear? It might be wiser to invest in a few stylish but comfortable outfits that’ll still help you feel pulled together.
Find what works for you
Limiting their wardrobes to a certain number of garments helps guide sustainability efforts for some. Many women, though, find their bodies change during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and may need to have sizes and styles to see them through the changes.
Consider hiring a stylist
Stylists aren’t just for the rich and famous; the right one can help you hone your personal style and help you find things that are perfect for you.
Out with the old
Set aside some dedicated time for this decluttering task. Put on some music and have fun with it!
- As you take everything out of your closet and drawers, carefully examine each piece, asking yourself if you love it and if you wear it. Group things into categories:
- If you like something but don’t wear it, move it to the unsure group.
- Ask yourself why you’re unsure about these pieces. Perhaps they don’t work with your lifestyle, or you might not know how to wear them. Put together outfits and try them on in front of a full-length mirror. You can even look online for inspiration, such as by Googling “how to style white jeans.” As you do this, ask yourself if there are any outfits that would work if you added a few key pieces to your wardrobe. If you’re still not feeling an item, move it to the donate group.
- Place your keep items back in a thoughtful way that makes sense to you, so you can easily find things you need. For example, group pieces by season or by colour.
Before you donate clothing
Ask friends and family if they would like what you’re no longer using, sell to a consignment store, or post online in a “swap and shop” or “buy nothing group.” Check out organizations that are accepting donations or consider organizing a clothing swap with friends. This will ensure that your things end up in the hands of people who really want them.
In with the new
Make a list
Rather than the latest trends, look for some key basics that will make everything else in your wardrobe work. Think great-fitting jeans or comfy everyday sneakers.
When will you buy this piece? How much would you spend (consider the cost per wear). Can you find it second-hand, either online or in-store? Or is this something that you would purchase from a slow fashion brand?
A mini sustainable wardrobe
We can apply our own sustainable wardrobe techniques to our children’s back-to-school fashion.
- Shop second-hand; accept hand-me-downs; and when shopping new, support small-scale, locally made children’s clothing companies.
- Stay with similar styles or colour palettes, so mixing and matching is easier.
- Choose well-made clothes made from durable fabrics.
- Look for brands that offer adjustable clothes that grow with kids.
- Learn how to sew (or iron on) patches, such as on the knees of leggings.
- When your kids outgrow their clothes, pass them on to other families.
Do some research
Consider how well-made a piece is. Does the brand have a warranty? Can the piece be repaired? How long (honestly) will it last?
Take clothes, shoes, and bags to a cobbler to replace zippers, re-sole shoes, fix broken heels, and more. Teach yourself how to sew on buttons and do basic mending or consider a professional tailor who can also resize outfits.
Remove pilling with a fabric comb to keep your knits looking like new.
Deal with stains promptly and follow laundry instructions on your clothing’s tags. Hot water can be damaging, as can the dryer. When possible, hang clothes to dry. Wash delicates (bras) in garment bags.
To wash or not to wash?
Washing clothing properly often enough—but not too often—can help them last longer. Here’s a general guide.
- underwear and socks every wear
- bras every 2-3 wears
- shirts worn against the skin (tank tops and t-shirts) every wear
- pants and jeans every 3 wears
- pajamas every 3-4 wears
Put clothes away correctly; for example, fold heavy clothes such as sweaters, which can become stretched out if hung.
Our clothing is only one example of how we can be intentional with our purchases. We can also choose home goods and gifts with care and meaning. Female-founded and Vancouver-based Better Basics (betterbasics.ca) is one such company that specializes in carefully curated, eco-friendly essentials that are good for people and the planet.