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Fewer and Better

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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.) Also fun: TagPop for neat and green purchases.

+ 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.)

What's In My Bag || NEON FRESH

(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. Also, 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 eBay or Poshmark — two of my go-tos. PS, if you buy either of those bags, please send me a photo so I can see how pretty it is with context.

+ I support brands who are transparent about manufacturing. There’s this do-or-die mentality when it comes to voting with you 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. American Giant for their jackets and sweatshirts. (Here’s an unbiased review I wrote about the bomber jacket.)

2. Everlane for their tees, tanks, crewneck sweatshirts, 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.

3. 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.)

4. 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.)

5. The North Face for outdoor wear. The kid items hold up well and have great resale value. I’ve had a coat pass down from a friend’s daughter to one of my girls to another to another and then, finally, back to that friend for her niece.

+ 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.

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22 Comments

  • Reply Courtney January 16, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    I actually do sew! And sewing just means that I end up throwing little pieces of scrap fabric in the trash all the time. I did read a tip about stuffing it into a pillowcase to donate to animal shelters for the dogs to use as beds so this article may guilt me into doing that instead.

    • Reply Roo January 16, 2017 at 7:29 pm

      Ooh, that’s a great tip. I’ll pass it onto my sewing friends, but please, no guilt! 😚

  • Reply Sara January 16, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Northface is also great about repairing items even if they are years old. The zipper cracked and fell off my husband’s Northface recently – much to our surprise, they repaired it, replaced all the zipper pulls, and cleaned it. Shipping was also free both ways. We were definitely impressed with the care that was taken on a 8 year old coat. Came back looking new and ready for another 8 years of wear!

    • Reply Roo January 16, 2017 at 7:27 pm

      Wow, that’s great to know, Sara, thank you!

  • Reply Alayna January 16, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    I tried to refrain but just couldn’t. Only TWO of something if you really like it? :)

    • Reply Roo January 16, 2017 at 7:27 pm

      Ahahahaa. *two to four

  • Reply Jamie January 16, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    Roo – How often do you dryclean? Those silk tops are gorgeous, but I feel like as a mom, I need to be able to wash often. Love this idea! I spent most of last year not purchasing any new clothes/shoes and it has made me a completely different shopper!

    • Reply Roo January 16, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      Hi Jamie! I have a small dry cleaning shop just a minute down the road, so it’s pretty convenient to drop off and pick up. I don’t wear silk tops daily, but as a general rule — at least two wears between dry cleaning, but if I’ve spent a day on the train and in NYC and leaning up against subway walls, it goes in the dry clean pile after one wear.

      And did you figure out what you love and want to always keep / buy? I discovered that I really like Rockport dress shoes.

      • Reply Jamie January 16, 2017 at 10:28 pm

        Oddly, the thing I discovered is my love for black clothes. I’ve always been someone with a huge, multicolored wardrobe. This past year though, I Kon-Mari’d my wardrobe and have really gravitated to a mostly black, with some other neutrals, wardrobe. I like classic pieces with an edge and I’m ready to make the jump from H&M to something a little more long-lasting. Love your blog so much!! Glad to see you back in action ;).

        • Reply Erin January 16, 2017 at 11:04 pm

          I had to comment… I kon’maried my closet and discovered that I looked horrible in all my black clothes and now buy mostly bright colors. It did wonders for my shopping habits though!

          • Roo January 17, 2017 at 8:23 am

            You two could have swapped! 😛

        • Reply Roo January 17, 2017 at 8:28 am

          Thanks, Jamie! Happy to be writing on it.

          I have the black Ryan tee from Everlane, and I really like it. It’s super soft.

  • Reply Britiney January 16, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    ME!!! Let’s sew! *fistbump*

  • Reply Heather Laura Clarke January 16, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    YES to hating the rack-searching. I can’t do it. Sensory overload is the perfect way to describe it.

    Love this post. I’ve been steadily Kon-Mari-ing my wardrobe for about a year now and it feels better and better. Working from home does give us an advantage, as I don’t know if I could be as limited if I still worked in an office or newsroom.

    (Sewing/quilting lesson will happen! First SS team trip!)

  • Reply Missy January 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    I love this post. This has already been on my mind a ton and I recently totally cleared out my closet with plans to start buying better made stuff. It’s infuriating for a piece of clothing to be garbage after 3 washes. I’ve been looking into (true) capsule wardrobes and trying to make the switch to longer lasting, well made styles. (I’m not really one for trends anyway) My problem comes in knowing where to start shopping for better stuff! I don’t even know where to start and ordering things online seems impossible when I have no idea how clothes from that place fit. Does anyone have recommendations for places that are your go to for quality stuff. I’m a stay a home mom – almost 90% of my wardrobe is casual (no work clothes required).

  • Reply MichelleLG January 17, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    I’m surprised no one has brought this up yet, but my biggest sticking point with the “fewer, higher quality and cost” approach is : young children. Man oh man. Maybe the me 5 years from now will totally get on board. But the me of today with a 4yo, 2yo, and 10mo has seen clothes, handbags, bedding, etc ruined by a child with a Sharpe/ballpoint, tube of lipstick, or a pair of scissors. And food. And bodily fluids. All up on my stuff. I am all about my capsule wardrobe (i love living with less decisions!), but what’s in that wardrobe is not gonna last me for years just yet. :( the struggle is real.

    • Reply Roo January 17, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      Oh man, this reminds me of a story. I don’t remember which girl did it, but one of them took a pair of my brand new, not cheap shorts, put it on to “make a skirt” (they stuck both legs in one leg hole and tied the rest up with a hair tie behind the back to look like a skirt), and then? Attempted to paint her own nails. Nail polish all over the shorts.

      I groaned and talked to them about treating our things more carefully, and that lecture certainly helped. But my youngest is older than your oldest, so I’d just say hang in there, sister, and buy clothes that can withstand a lot of cycles in the washer. 😆

  • Reply MichelleLG January 17, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Bahahaha! Yes! We are there! Many many discussions about treating our things well up in this household. And then another kiddo grows to lipstick-destroying or scissors-weilding age and we’re back at square one. :P At least Owen is the end of that train! Once he’s past the destructive age I’ll be bookmarking Everlane for sure. ;)

  • Reply Christine January 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    What a great surprise! I always check for new updates and was happy to see 3! When I started reading your blog I was a full time working mom and back then checking your blog daily was automatic (ahhh the good old days where I did my best blog reading ;0 ) So I finally subscribed, geez took me long enough:) Love your posts and this one is definitely on my wavelength. I remember when I first started, my cousin came over and took one look at my closet and said “this is it, where’s all your clothes?” It felt good to KM everything and I have slowly been adding staple pieces back, but not always on the quality side so the resources you mentioned are super helpful. Overall, the way I think about shopping/purchases is more mindful.

  • Reply Margaret Zumbrun January 18, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    Budget of course makes this tricky sometimes, but I am all about this!! Some fave brands are The Root Collective and Oliberte for shoes, and Prana for yoga and casual daily wear. Also buying second hand online. I’ve had great luck with my local b/s/t groups! So much easier than sorting through racks at Goodwill.

  • Reply Nazzy January 19, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Yes- I feel like with 3 kids and crazy work hours and just wanting to keep things looking nice I’ve adopted some of the same habits! Do you subscribe to the entire “capsule” wardrobe idea with a minimal amount but everything matches? I keep thinking it might work for me since I have those one-off blouses that only look good with one skirt or pant. I need to commit for sure.

  • Reply The Sports Bra and the Kitchen Scissors - Semiproper February 6, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    […] than one hobbly 5k to get back to where I feel my best. And while I’m devoted to my “buy fewer things” mantra, I also need to wear normal human clothes and not live in sweatpants. So I ordered […]

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