Guest post by writer and vintage fashion enthusiast Penelope Cothias.
Around the world, we waste about 92 million tonnes of textiles each year. (1) Our quick, cheap, and disposable mindset about fashion may be one of the biggest contributing factors.
Contrary to popular belief, a large amount of clothing made by fast fashion brands don’t end up in the hands of low-income families. The low-quality materials used to make most of the clothing and the massive quantity of (often very damaged) items to sort through leads the majority to be left in landfills.
While donating can sometimes be worthwhile, we must also cut down on our buying and choose more Earth-conscious items to avoid this vicious circle from continuing at the same rate. Not only does this raise carbon emissions and waste precious resources like water, but the labor force making the garments are often low-paid and working in dangerous, unethical conditions.
Creating a conscious closet may seem like a lot of effort, too expensive, or like it means you have to give up fun shopping trips with friends. Yet, in a few adjustments, it can actually become second nature (and a lot of fun) to create and maintain an ethical and earth-conscious closet.
1. Shop in your own closet
A lot of wasteful shopping purchases come from simple causes like boredom or forgetting of what we already own. It’s habitual for many people to seek out the same types of items they love again and again, yet later finding themselves getting rid of the second-rate versions they never actually wear. Some of us have so many clothes piled in drawers that we don’t even remember that rare find we got last month.
"I highly suggest cleaning out your closet once every season, or at least each spring/summer and fall/winter. Create a new closet each season with what you already own. Piles of scarves and heavy jackets can block the view of what you already have, and it becomes easy to fall into the dreaded 'I have nothing to wear, so let’s go shopping' mindset."
Another advantage is that you can reanimate your love for what you already own all year. No matter how much you love that little black dress, you will forget about it once you pack it up for the winter. Re-opening your items the next season gives a refreshed sense of style inspiration and a new sense of gratefulness.
Keep your closet seasonal and clutter free by labeling and storing the out-of-season items under your bed or on the top shelf of the closet. The entire process gives that little hit of shopping dopamine without the need to consume.
2. Make thrifting work for you
While I adore the entire process of scavenging old items to potentially find a hidden gem, I understand that not everyone has the interest or the time. However, you can make getting second-hand finds work for your income, schedule, and sense of style.
Here is a little thrifting troubleshooting:
Never find good items in your local shops?
Plan a weekend to scope out bigger cities. They often have a lot more diversity of items, quality, and prices since they need to make room for new inventory quicker.
Don’t have the time to go sorting through random goods?
Make online shopping work for you by saving your favorite sellers on retailers like Etsy or Depop (which offer handmade or vintage items by smaller and independent businesses).
Don’t have the budget for vintage goods on Etsy?
Do a swap with your friends. This can be done in person or even online. Ask a friend (or a group of friends) with a similar size and style to put aside items and arrange a swap. I’ve mailed my items in exchange for new pieces from women I’ve only ever met online more than once!
3. Buy natural fabrics
One of the biggest contributors to fast-fashions’ harmful impact is the synthetic materials used to make nearly all of their clothing. Polyester is becoming the most used fabric in the world. Have you ever stopped to think about what polyester is? Plastic.
People are increasingly wearing plastic clothing every day.
"Many don’t want to drink from plastic water bottles, yet they don’t realize they are wearing it and potentially absorbing it through their skin."
Buying natural fabrics like cotton and linen is one way to live more naturally and lessen the impact of textile waste. Natural fibers also tend to last longer (less pulls, scratches, and tears) which means not only can you wash and wear many times, but you could pass them down later to loved ones or even re-sell online.
4. Beware of the mall gaze
A common way many people like to bond with friends or find a new look is to walk through the mall or a major shopping street. A lot of the time it’s hard to resist not actually buying something, and it’s easy to forget there are so many more places to shop than chain stores that also offer great deals.
If you and your friends are looking for a new dress for an event or outfits for work, try to branch out to new lively spots in your city. Many larger cities (especially university towns) have streets with multiple vintage shops in a row.
You can find a large antique mall and browse the boutiques of pre-loved items from other eras. Find creative ways to indulge your senses and gather new items, so if you do make a purchase, it’s less likely to be a one-hit-wonder.
5. Know thyself
It seems normal for people to buy items with the same amount of casualness as picking a nail polish color. We think, Well, if it doesn’t work, I’ll just donate it. However, why not side-step this entire process by truly getting to know what works for us.
We all tend to gravitate toward certain colors, silhouettes, and details. Even if you wear a variety of colors, there is often a pattern. Do you prefer jewel tones, pastels, or neutrals? What is the link between your favorite outfits?
"You know the looks where you feel dressed-to-kill. Why not feel like that everyday by only buying and owning items like that?"
Make an anatomy list of the outfits you adore and find the common denominators. Next time you go shopping, focus most of your attention on the items you really love and use.
This saves time and energy while shopping, and makes it a lot more likely that you’ll enjoy your piece for longer than a few wears.
When converting to a more conscious wardrobe it’s okay to take it slow. It took me years to adjust from 20% conscious items to nearly 90% now. I’m still finding new ways to get beautiful, sustainable items on a budget.
However, if you start now it will continue to evolve and improve over time. You may be surprised to look back on how much you saved in closet space and from landfills even one year from now.
About Penelope O'Reilly
Penelope Cothias is a writer and vintage fashion enthusiast who strives to make her dream world a reality through photos and style. Connect with her on Instagram: @commeunfairytale.
Beall, Abigail. “Why Clothes Are so Hard to Recycle.” BBC Future, BBC, 13 July 2020, www.bbc.com/future/article/20200710-why-clothes-are-so-hard-to-recycle.