Last week, on Facebook, I shared a video on ‘fast fashion’ and its effects on the environment. (Before we go on, do bear in mind that there’s no judgment here whether you’ve got a a shoe closet that would make Imelda Marcos jealous or not.)
Retailers are churning out clothes, and where there was once two seasons of fashion, it’s been replaced with weekly turnover in clothing stores. The video calls out horrifying stats — the average American throws out 82 pounds of clothing a year and 85% of our textiles end up in a landfill.
82 pounds a year! So even donating clothing isn’t a foolproof solution, since there are more second-hand clothes than charities can keep up with. It’s a far cry from 150 years ago when Ma Ingalls had one good dress:
Ma’s delaine dress was beautiful. It was a dark green, with a little pattern all over it that looked like ripe strawberries. A dressmaker had made it, in the East, in the place where Ma came from when she married Pa and moved out west to the Big Woods in Wisconsin. Ma had been very fashionable, before she married Pa, and a dressmaker had made her clothes.
The delaine was kept wrapped in paper and laid away. Laura and Mary had never seen Ma wear it, but she had shown it to them once. She had let them touch the beautiful dark red buttons that buttoned the basque up the front, and she had shown them how neatly the whalebones were put in the seams, inside, with hundreds of little criss-cross stitches.
In 1900, families spend 14% of their household budget on clothes — which seems high, but then you realize an outfit was made well, crafted to last, worn daily, sewed to be let out and used again and again. It’s a far cry from today’s packed closets and disposable clothing and a bit of an indictment on our spend-and-toss society.
What’s the solution?, a thoughtful reader asked. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been mindfully making small changes over the past couple years, and maybe a couple of them might work for you. Bear in mind, I do have it slightly easier because I’m not commuting to an office every day. I have work trips and meetings, but today I’m wearing jeans with holes in the knees. (To be fair, I’m in the creative field, so jeans with holes in the knees would fly in a branding firm, but not an accounting firm.)
+ I’m ok with less. I keep a small wardrobe, but I use up all of it. For example, I own two pairs of jeans, and I’ve had the same denim jacket for six years, but I wear all of them all the time. If I love the way something fits, I’ll buy two of them for when one finally kicks the bucket. And while social media now provides evidence of outfit choices for weddings, parties, and other events, I’ve discovered that keeping one or two dresses that I really love on standby prevents any panicky feelings of “I need to find a dress NOW” and all of the terrible things that comes along with them. (Like shipping costs, driving 30 miles to my nearest Anthropologie, eating my feelings, etc etc.) And beating all of that overrides any feelings accompanied with being tagged in photos wearing the same dress at five different events.
Quick note about shoes, here’s my cold weather lineup: a pair of sneakers for running, a pair of sneakers for lifting, smoking loafers, a pair of heels, a pair of ankle boots, snow boots (New England!), and furry fluffy marshmallow boots (New England x2!)
(I made my brother take this photo of me in Australia, and I think he eye-rolled the whole time. Anyway, this small crossbody and these Ray-Bans are the only small crossbody and sunglasses I have owned for a long time. More on that down below.)
+ I buy secondhand. There’s something about rescuing clothing from a landfill that really appeals to me. I have three daughters that are growing like weeds, and I can tell you which brands have lasted from eldest girl to youngest girl, and which have had to get tossed somewhere down the line. I use ThredUp, click the “new with tags” and “like-new” options, select my go-to brands, and pick out their sizes. Lots to filter through, but shopping while sitting on the couch is infinitely better than rifling through the racks at Marshalls, which I have avoided for the better part of ten years. (I can’t explain it; it’s an assault to my senses.)
And while I like ThredUp for the girls, I love TheRealReal for me. It’s “luxury” secondhand, and it lets me indulge my penchant for fancy things while being green and fiscally responsible. For example, I love silk blouses from Vince, but on TheRealReal, I scored one for $40 instead of $250. They vet and authenticate everything and unlike ThredUp, all items must be pretty close to new. In fact, I’m convinced that TheRealReal is the place where people consign items they never had a chance to return.
+ I am devoted to my de-fuzzer. This thing is the best $12 I’ve ever spent. My favorite sweater was starting to pill and look years beyond it’s age. I popped batteries into my defuzzer, went to town, and it looks as good as the day I bought it. (Also, the process is very satisfying for those of us who like cleaning out hairbrushes and such.) I use it on anything that’s starting to look a little fuzzy, and it’s a great pair-up if you’re a second-hand shopper. Almost everything I buy from ThredUp does look new, but the Nike jacket was starting to pill at the shoulders. Defuzzer came through. I’m close to anthropomorphizing it with stick-on googly eyes and a name, that’s how devoted I am to this.
+ In the same vein, I go easy on our clothes. I can’t be bothered with twelve sorting baskets, but I have laid down some rules about washing clothes. (Your sweatshirt worn once doesn’t need to be washed, child of mine, unless you were just rolling outside in the dirt.) Underwear, socks, workout clothes, play clothes, and anything hit by chili on Chili Night gets a hot wash. Everything else is fine with a warm wash. One of you is going to tell me that I’m letting invisible bugs live on my skin with this washing procedure, and this whole tip is going to go out the window. I also air dry most of my clothes and definitely all of my bras. We have a little folding rack that does just fine indoors when the weather is frigid.
+ I spend more to spend less. I’ve written before about a pair of well-made leather boots I purchased on sale that lasted me nine years before they finally kicked the bucket. If I had spent another $150 to have them fixed, they might have lasted another nine years (mea culpa, deep regrets, etc).
If I spend $200 on a Cuyana crossbody bag, it may very well be the only crossbody bag I need for ten years. In the same token, one classic Baggu leather tote bag is going to outlast (and cost less in the long run) a stack of Target tote bags. (No real hate on Target, for obvious reasons. The obvious reasons being that I shop at Target … but I won’t buy a handbag there.)
(This handbag, for example, has seen me through a few years, trips to a few different countries, and is still going strong.)
Side anecdote: A friend invested in a Givenchy handbag, but she’s carried it so long, she’ll soon be down to a 75 cent cost-per-wear. (I love calculating cost-per-wear! It makes me feel so thrifty and gives me incentive to continue to wear investment pieces.) Classic high-end bags tend to hold their value, so if she were to sell it right now, she’d get a cool G for it. Really.
And then if you really want to maximize your savings (money + planet), buy them secondhand. You can get a barely used Mansur Gavriel handbag for much less than retail on Poshmark or TheRealReal and the flip it later when you’re no longer feeling it.
+ I support brands who are transparent about manufacturing. There’s this do-or-die mentality when it comes to voting with your dollar, and I think that’s to our detriment, because it can get really frustrating and overwhelming. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, realize that small changes still help. I’m never going to get it 100% right (I own Nike sneakers and an iPhone, which may or may not be poor choices; I’ve seen conflicting articles), but I do make an attempt to vote with my dollars when it comes to sweatshops and slave labor. A very short list of brands you may consider bringing into your shopping fold (and please do add more in the comments):
1. Everlane for their tees, tanks, crewneck sweatshirts, pants, and their weekender bag. Also cool: on Black Friday, all of their sales go towards something for their factory workers. This past Black Friday was moped helmets.
2. PACT for their organic underwear, socks, and oversized hoodies. (Full disclosure, they are a former client of mine. But I also pay for their undies, so.)
3. Cuyana for leather goods and silk tops. The silk tops aren’t cheap, but they’re thick, luxurious, made in the US, and a closet workhorse. They look great with jeans, pants, skirts, and under blazers. (Also, if you’re looking for a silk shirt, it’s nicer and more substantial than the Everlane silk shirt.)
+ The upsides? There are plenty. I spend less money overall, I save time, I sort through fewer clothes in my closet, I send fewer clothes to a landfill, and — at the risk of sounding morally superior, although this whole article runs that risk (ha) — I’m able to rescue other clothing. But I’m not militant about any of it. I mean, I really like clothes and handbags and wallets, I’m simply trying to be a bit more mindful about my consumption of it.
PS. Anyone want to come over and teach me how to sew? I feel like we’d make some killer quilts out of old band t-shirts.