So, upgrading your style means buying lots of clothing and having a full closet, right? Wrong. This is one of the most common style misperceptions: the notion that to dress well you have to spend lots of money and have a huge wardrobe. Most of us already have too many clothes. Too many of the wrong ones. Good style means making better choices. Here are the points I’ll be making in this post:
Do an inventory of what you already have.
Repair items that need it.
Have clothes altered if you lose or gain weight.
Shop thrift stores.
Buy quality items and fewer of them.
Natural fabrics versus synthetics.
Recycle garments rather than discarding them.
One of the reasons we have so many clothes is because they are so inexpensive. Low prices have caused Americans to buy and own many times more clothes than our parents or grandparents had. Inexpensive clothes tend to be cheaply made. They don’t last the way quality does — cheap clothes and shoes stretch out of shape, fade, come apart at the seams, and just wear out faster. Because they often don’t fit well, people may only wear them a few times before tiring of them and giving them away or throwing them away. Then they buy new ones and the same cycle continues.
The apparel industry is the second-largest polluter in the world
Did you know that the apparel industry is the second-largest polluter in the world (after the oil industry)? The worldwide garment industry directly or indirectly pollutes water, air, and uses water resources at a significant rate. Synthetic fabrics release microfibers into the air and water, creating an invisible presence of plastics in our oceans and water sources. And what happens to all of those clothes that wear out too quickly? Some estimates are that only 15% are recycled or donated, while 85% are simply thrown away and end up in landfills or elsewhere. The garments dumped into landfills worldwide could fill Sydney harbor. Every year.
Fossil-based petroleum is used to create many synthetic fabrics. These fabrics are much more energy-dependent and directly pollute through carbon emissions, etc., than natural fabrics. The apparel industry is directly or indirectly responsible for soil degradation and deforestation.
On top of the environmental problems, the garment industry has long been a source of substandard conditions for workers in many countries. I could go on, reciting data and statistics on the environmental and societal problems of the garment and fashion industry, but you get the idea. At the same time, the garment industry also plays an important role in the global economy. The challenge — how can this industry engage in a sustainable way.
Curate Your Style with Social Responsibility
So what to do? We still have to wear clothes, don’t we? Getting dressed is one of the few things we do every day of our lives. We may not control the reigns of the worldwide garment industry, but there are some things we can do to exercise our influence even in small ways. Here are some tips for how you can dress yourself, curate your style, save money, and exercise social responsibility:
- Take inventory of what you already have.
Start by taking stock of the clothes you already have. Like I say, many of us have too many clothes already, and maybe not the right ones. Go through your closet(s) and take a hard look at what is there. Look all the way to the back, where things tend to hide. Look first for items that you know you haven’t worn or used in a couple of years or more. If it has been that long, you’re likely never to wear them. Set those aside for recycling. The exception would be specialty items such as certain kinds of jackets, shoes, etc., that you may need for special occasions or purposes. Also, hold on to a few items and use them as your “work” clothes for yard/garden work, the garage, etc. Store them where you can easily find them. There may be a variety of reasons you don’t wear or use something anymore. Perhaps it was a gift, and you never liked it to begin with. Or you have too many of the same kind of thing. Perhaps some items are worn out, need repair, or just no longer fit. Note: some items that need repair or don’t fit can be fixed or altered if you like them otherwise (see next category). Bag up the things you won’t be using, and take them for resale or recycling. DON’T just throw them away! Remember, we’re trying to avoid adding to the landfills.
- Repair items that need it.
There may be items you like and want to keep, but just need repair before you can wear them. Perhaps a missing button, or a seam that’s come loose. Make sure they’re on your “to keep” list and take them for alteration or to a tailor for repair. They do you no good if they’re just hanging in your closet, but you can’t wear them. Only a few dollars spent for repair can give some old favorites a new lease on life.
- Do alterations if you lose or gain weight.
Some items you want to keep may still be in good condition, but simply don’t fit anymore. Most commonly, for midlife guys, things become a bit tight around the middle. This problem can be solved by losing some weight, or by having something resized. Ask yourself which is most likely to happen, and act accordingly. Losing weight is probably the preferred option, but realistically? In the meantime, just take some of those favorites that don’t fit in for alteration. If you do lose weight, just have favorite items taken in accordingly. You’ll get some use out of them and improve your look in the process. The point is that rather than buying new things, you can often make use of what you’ve already got. Fix or resize items you really like, but haven’t been wearing. This is an environmentally responsible thing to do, and you’ll feel like you’ve got a new wardrobe.
- Shop thrift stores.
One way of upgrading your look is to stop in your local thrift store now and then. This makes you an environmentally responsible participant on the other end of recycling. You can find some quality items in thrift stores, but you have to be careful. You can easily end up with things that are a great deal, and you thought you might like, but you still never wear. That has happened to me a number of times, but I’m learning. Thrift store shopping is actually not for beginners. It helps to have some sense for styles, fabric types, cut, quality, etc., before you can spot the items that have merit. Otherwise, you end up buying more junk. Thrift stores are better for some items than others. Don’t even bother looking at shirts. They are usually worn, stretched, faded, stained, or damaged in some way. I’ve almost never bought a shirt in a thrift store. Your best options in thrift stores are sport coats, other jackets, and outerwear. It is hard to find full suits that come close enough to fit and don’t have other problems. But you can find the occasional nice tweed jacket that can upgrade your look. If you do find something in a thrift shop, make sure the fit is close, and then plan on taking it in for alteration. You will almost never find something that fits correctly without alteration. Actually, that’s true of most things you buy new, but that’s another topic. Jackets and outerwear are harder to alter for fit, so make sure these fit before you buy. Look closely for stains and damage, but if you’re careful you can find some great items. I have a new condition Eddie Bauer goose down jacket I use in the coldest weather — and paid only $5 for it.
- Buy quality items, and fewer of them.
One way to avoid clothes that don’t wear well or that you just don’t like, is to spend extra for quality. Spend more on quality things you really like and they will last. This is a good principle in general, but especially with consumables like clothing. Remember this…The most expensive items you’ll own are the “cheap” ones that don’t last or you don’t end up wearing. You should only own clothing items that you’ll actually wear. Think in terms of VALUE rather than initial price. How much use and how many wearings will you get out of it? Something you wear or use hundreds of times over many years is a better value than a cheap item you only wear a few times because it wears out, doesn’t fit, or you just don’t like it. In midlife, you’ve reached a point where what you put on your body makes a statement about your knowledge, judgment of what is cheap, and what has value. After 50 or so years of living and getting dressed every day, you should look like you know what you’re doing — like you know quality and what looks good on you. You are far more likely to get years of use from quality items, thus reducing environmental impact and save money in the long run. Plus, you’ll look and feel much better in the process. Buying quality will usually cost you more up front, but it doesn’t have to be ridiculously more. There are ways to get affordable quality, and that’s a subject for future posts.
- Natural fabrics versus synthetics.
In general, natural fabrics have less environmental impact than synthetics. Plus they often last longer and look and feel better. There are two sides to this, of course. A case can be made that cotton, a natural fiber, uses water resources and requires polluting fertilizers at a high rate. At the same time, quality cotton items can last longer than synthetics and thus cause less overall impact. Synthetic fibers often require fossil fuel resources, and create pollution from manufacture and disposal. Unfortunately, there is no perfect option here. We have to dress ourselves in something, and there are environmental problems no matter which way you go. The main thing is to be aware and make the most responsible choices you can. Perhaps your particular style leans toward athletic and outdoor wear. In this case, much of what you’ll wear involves synthetic fabrics. It is hard to rock this look in natural fabrics like cotton and wool. My own style leans toward classic looks where I have more natural fiber options. Again, in either case the main principle is that less is more. You are better off buying fewer, higher quality items that you will use over and over.
- Recycle garments rather than discarding them.
Once you’re done with something, what to do with them? Keeping clothes or shoes forever does no good. Things eventually wear out, or become unusable. Even quality items wear out after years of use. When garments and shoes reach this point, don’t throw them away. At the very least, donate them to your local thrift store. Useable items can be resold. Some thrift stores will have a separate recycling program. See if yours does. Some retail stores and malls now have recycling bins as well. This way, items unsuitable for resale can be taken for recycling, which may involve shredding and repurposing for things like carpet padding, insulation, etc. It is better than just throwing them in the trash and making more landfill.
Call to Action:
• Less is more. Having good style doesn’t mean buying more.
• Do an inventory of what you’ve already got.
• Recycle or donate what you don’t need or can’t use.
• Think VALUE. Buy quality items that will last.
You can’t solve environmental problems all by yourself. But you can do something, with even small and reasonable steps, and look and feel better in the process.
Drew, Deborah, and Genevieve Yehounme. “The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics.” World Resources Institute, 16 Jan. 2020, www.wri.org/blog/2017/07/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics.
Martin, Maximilian. “Creating Sustainable Apparel Value Chains: A Primer on Industry Transformation Industry.” Impact Economy, Dec. 2013.
McFall-Johnsen, Morgan. “The Fashion Industry Emits More Carbon than International Flights and Maritime Shipping Combined. Here Are the Biggest Ways It Impacts the Planet.” Business Insider, 21 Oct. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10#many-of-those-fibers-are-polyester-a-plastic-found-in-an-estimated-60-of-garments-producing-polyester-releases-two-to-three-times-more-carbon-emissions-than-cotton-and-polyester-does-not-break-down-in-the-ocean-8.