I’ve always loved clothes. As a child, I would only play the angel role in the Christmas pageant, just because of the outfit. Tinsel, glitter, gold, and wings—does it get any better than that? I view clothing not just as a consumer good, but as wearable art, and our personal style can be a daily form of artistic self-expression.
I’m also passionate about human rights and social justice, which led me to work as a lawyer and advocate on human and labor rights, fair trade, and anti-human trafficking around the globe. This deepened my understanding of the intersection between today’s garment industry and widespread worker exploitation, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment, not to mention the horrible environmental costs from the second worst polluting industry in the world.
In the trendy and rapidly changing world of “fast fashion,” marketers may use a phrase like “love what you wear” to encourage you to buy more and to change your style frequently. But I propose that we flip the script and think about what it really means to love our clothes, inside and out. If we all act together in rethinking our approach to what we wear, we can start moving the needle in the global garment industry.
Want a bit of guidance? Here are 10 tips to help you buy less, buy better, and pay the true cost for personal style.
Plan clothing purchases in advance, rather than being distracted by bargain basement prices or a sale rack. Think about whether the style, quality, and fit can take you 5–10 years down the road, or more.
Find a great tailor to help you with fit tweaks and repair work. Take that pesky stain to your local organic dry cleaner to work their magic rather than throwing the item out. If a piece no longer works (or never really did; we all make mistakes), don’t throw it away. Goodwill donations are better than the trash. Finally, if a piece is too tattered, look for a clothing recycling location, or cut it up to use as cleaning rags.
Ignore trends! Develop your own aesthetic based on your personality, physique, and lifestyle. Learn what’s uniquely flattering to you rather than what fast fashion tells you to wear.
Keep things well organized and do regular closet overhauls to make sure you know the options you already have. It’s refreshing having a closetful of pieces that you can browse through easily and actually want to wear.
Ironically, with a capsule wardrobe (a small number of classic, interchangeable pieces), you buy less but may feel like you have more clothing than ever before!
Beware of outlets, bargain shops, and fast fashion! Sweatshop labor and environmental degradation is not a “discount,” but a cost paid by someone already in poverty and by our planet.
Look for companies that are transparent with regard to the factories they use as well as the treatment of workers and the broader environmental impact. Want some help? Check out the resources on the Maven Women website. If you sign up for listservs of sustainable companies that you like, you’ll get a constant feed of options as well as discounts and limited-time offers.
Concerned about the loss of American jobs to outsourcing? Love South American culture? Look for brands made in the places you love that tell a story of community empowerment.
Worried that buying sustainably will break the bank? Clothing swaps are a great way to get “new to you” items while having a good time with friends. Thrift, consignment, and vintage shops are chock-full of inexpensive items that are good as new and tell a great story. As I type this, I’m wearing a “vintage” (a.k.a. used) belt from Etsy that I had resized at my local cobbler.
If you have the time and funds to travel internationally, consider visiting an artisan group. It may be great style inspiration and enable you to try your hand at some fun new techniques like weaving or block printing!