In my work I talk a lot about the environmental impact of our clothes choices. But what does that actually mean, and how can we work towards a more environmentally friendly wardrobe without having to resort to a beetroot tie-dyed dress made from sack cloth? How can we build a wardrobe we feel good about but also want to wear?
Being sustainable with our clothes is quite simple, in that you don’t need to do anything at all. The most sustainable wardrobe you can wear is the one you already own. To extract every ounce of value and use from the purchases you have already made, and to keep those clothes in the use cycle for as long as possible is ultimately the most environmentally friendly (and easiest) thing you can do.
But as a personal stylist I also know that as human beings we use what we wear as a way of expressing our values, our sense of identity and personality. And this can change. In different scenarios and as we take on different roles, that connection with our appearance is important to maintain our sense of authenticity, of self and ultimately our level of self-esteem. One day we might want to look smart and professional, and the next we want clothes to cosy up on the couch and watch movies, and it’s unlikely we’d do that in the same clothes.
It is healthy to have ‘new’ things to wear, because it helps us express our own evolution. Everything hanging in our wardrobe is a decision we made in the past. We need new clothes to keep up with our own sense of growth and change. But they only have to be new to us. So, how can we keep this sense of flow and progress with our clothes, this variety and yet hold on to this ultimate sustainable wardrobe of using what we already have?
This is the path of the fluid wardrobe.
A fluid wardrobe is a wardrobe that embraces the idea of keeping our clothes in use for as long as possible while bringing in ‘new to you’ things on a regular basis. It makes sure you don’t get bored of what’s hanging on the rails, and you keep clothes in the circular economy for as long as possible, ensuring the maximum amount of value from each piece. Here’s my top tips for creating your own fluid wardrobe:
- LOVE WHAT YOU HAVE
Go through your rails and ensure that what’s hanging there are things you love, you enjoy wearing and you want to keep. In our online course Sustainable Style Studio, we use a system for measuring what we wear and what we don’t as a way of ensuring our wardrobes stay relevant to us and we can happily let go of what we don’t love anymore. It’s good to start tracking your most worn items, and those that don’t get worn could be good contenders when you do your first clear out. After all, if it’s hanging in your wardrobe and not getting used, how is that helping anyone? Start to separate out what you wear a lot from what you don’t and ask yourself, what is it about the things you wear that you enjoy so much? And why aren’t you wearing these other items? All great information for future purchases and for honing your own unique sense of style.
If you’re intent on creating a sustainable wardrobe, then caring for your clothes so they last and are wearable for as long as possible is key. Fixing buttons, dealing with stains, repairing holes are all skills you’ll need. If you need to learn, the website Love Your Clothes has some brilliant tips and video tutorials. It’s also important to know your stuff when it comes to laundering and ironing so you keep your clothes in great condition for as long as possible, and weirdly that’s often about washing them less often that you might think. Washing puts stress on the fibres of the cloth, so often hanging something to air after wearing can be a better sustainable solution that over-washing.
- DO TWO INVENTORY CHECKS AND CLEAR OUTS
In our online course, twice a year (Spring and Autumn) we review the wardrobe. In our system, we pack away what isn’t going to be used for the next six months into storage bags that we store away from the wardrobe rail. In Spring we pack away the things we have been wearing in the autumn/ winter, and then we get out the stored spring summer clothes we put away last year. This works because it stops you getting bored of your wardrobe, what’s on the rail is right for the season, and means you’re reviewing your clothes at the right time. This is the time to review what you’ll be wearing for the next six months, to check they still fit well and that you still like them. Don’t sort the items you’re about to pack away, just the ones you’re going to need to wear soon. If you then decide you don’t want those items, this is the perfect seasonal time to sell them or donate them - take them to a dress agency, sell them on eBay or another second-hand clothes selling site, or take them to your local charity shop.
It's absolutely OK to let go of clothes you don’t love or wear anymore. To be able to clear out what no longer represents who we feel we are, to easily let go of who we were to make space for who we are becoming is important for our own sense of progress, so not getting too attached to our clothes can be helpful. Sometimes we associate our clothes with happy memories, events or people and that makes it hard to let go of them when we feel that emotional attachment. But ask yourself, isn’t it better to move these things on and let someone else enjoy them if we’re not wearing them? If you must keep a memento, have you got a photograph of you wearing that item?
This is also a good time to check over your clothes for the coming season and deal with anything that needs repair, stain removal, or even an alteration or complete remodel. Find a good local seamstress if you don’t want to tackle it yourself, but it’s amazing how much more you might wear something if you got the fit or the length exactly right for you.
- SELL OR DONATE WHAT YOU NO LONGER WANT
Having two seasonal clear outs means that what you don’t want any more is seasonally appropriate to sell or donate. Deal with this pile as soon as you can so it doesn’t create clutter or creep back into the wardrobe! If you decide to sell it, you can sell it yourself on eBay, Vinted or other preloved selling apps, or send it to a local or online dress agency like ours. This is a great way to recycle the items to a great new home, and to generate a bit of cash to use yourself towards your purchases for the season ahead. If you choose to donate, your charity shop will be able to use the items right away rather than store them out of season. If you have items that are beyond selling (i.e. not wearable, damaged beyond repair etc) then as long as they are clean you can either take them to your local recycling centre, look out for the clothing bins (often in supermarket car parks) to put them in, or some charity shops will accept them as they can recoup some money by weight for the scrap fabric (check first with your shop and mark the bag – RAGS). Some local authorities will also accept clean textiles as part of their household kerbside recycling programmes – check in your area. Almost all textiles (even underwear and socks) are recyclable as long as they are clean and dry, so become familiar with the recycling options near you.
- BUY PIECES THAT ARE NEW TO YOU
We’ve already established that we need new things to wear to help with our own sense of change and evolution, but they only need to be new to you. To keep clothes for longer in the circular economy, adopt a second-hand first approach to anything that you decide you need or want in your wardrobe. There is so much fun to be had looking for treasure from second-hand sources, and you don’t need to head to the charity shops unless you choose to. Nowadays there are plenty of online shops and sources you can go to search for your favourite brands. Try typing a search in to eBay for brands you love and see what comes up, or look for specific items on your favourite preloved websites. Most offer returns policies, so make sure you can return if it doesn’t fit or you don’t like it. Try and find high quality treasures that you love and that fit you well so you are more likely to wear them for longer. If you head to the charity shops, our blog will give you handy tips on where to go and what to look for. Not only is this method great for the environment, it can save you a small fortune and is genuine fun to see what you can find. My preloved purchases are valued more by me as I know they are quite literally irreplaceable, so I am careful to give them the love, care and attention they deserve.
- PLAN YOUR NEW PURCHASES
There might be some occasional items you need new which is absolutely fine – you can’t after all buy everything second-hand. Personal items such as nightwear, swimwear and underwear will all need to be new, but you might also have a certain style of jean that you know fits you so well and that you’ll wear until they fall apart, or you might need a couple of cotton t-shirts in certain colours to help you make more of what’s already in the wardrobe. Buying new and being sustainable is something of a minefield as there is not yet a standardised way of judging how sustainable a brand or product is. Using the website Good on You who review brands green credentials can be helpful, or look for a brand that puts sustainability at the centre of their business rather than an add-on to existing (and possibly not so sustainable) practices. Wherever you choose to buy from, buy the best you can afford and buy pieces made to last. Buying pieces that you love that are well made and are well cared for means that it will last and eventually when you decide to sell that item or pass it on, you’ll get the maximum value back from it.
- DO A REGULAR STYLE REVIEW
Building a wardrobe you love and want to wear is simple, but not always easy. Starting with a few fundamental ideas around your perfect colour palette, and sense of style is a great start point. Over time however as we go through life we can drift or lose that sense of style, perhaps conforming to a corporate look, or sticking to one or two styles and colours for ease. To get the maximum enjoyment from our fluid wardrobe, we need to regularly check in and make sure that what we’re wearing reflects who we are and the styles we love that speak to us. You can use our free style workbook (when you subscribe to the newsletter) to get some ideas about where you’re heading, or start to keep styles and looks you love on a Pinterest board and review it regularly – how close is the board to what you have in the wardrobe? Sometimes, we open the doors of our wardrobe and feel a sense of boredom, but often just getting creative and using what we have to make a few new outfits we haven’t tried before is the remedy. In our free Facebook group we do two annual style challenges to help us create new and exciting outfits we haven’t put together before, and this alone can keep us interested and engaged with our clothes and our sense of fun and creativity with how we express ourselves.
A fluid wardrobe is not a quick solution but rather it’s a way of approaching your wardrobe through its value and use so that even if you no longer love something, you can pass it on and let someone else enjoy it, while finding things you love form preloved sources. Using this circular economy is the ultimate sustainable wardrobe.
Tell us what approach you use to be more sustainable – have you got a website or resource you’d love to share to help others on the path of an environmentally friendly wardrobe? If so, please share it in the comments below.
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