By Jorie Mark
What happens to an outfit when it’s no longer in style? Chances are, it ends up in a landfill.
This is the sad fate of about 85% of clothes purchased in the U.S., as the BBC reports. Globally, the outlook is just as dire: when you look at how many tons of clothes are thrown away worldwide, it would equate to approximately one garbage-truck full of clothes being delivered to a landfill every single second. Clothes in landfills contribute to 10% off all greenhouse gases produced and waste 20% of the world’s water supply. Giving away used clothes to a charity may give the clothes a little more life before their demise, but the majority of donated clothes meet the same final destination as ones that are thrown in the trash.
So even if you recycle religiously, only use reusable water bottles, and commute in a hybrid car—or better yet, bike to work—if you’re a fashion junkie who is always buying something new, you’re likely doing Mother Earth a disservice.
What’s the solution? Well, let’s be practical: never buying new clothes isn’t an option for the majority of consumers. We can’t just walk around naked or wear the same clothes every single day, and thrifting isn’t for everyone.
Plus, for some of us, fashion is one of life’s pleasures, tied to our identity and giving us confidence….not to mention that shopping for something fresh and new can be a fun ritual that connects us with our family and girlfriends.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways we can’t tweak our approach to shopping so that we’re more conscious of how our choices impact the environment. Every little bit counts! Fortunately, there are some easy ways that you can make more sustainable fashion choices that will actually elevate your style! Here are our top three eco-chic tips.
1. Forgo “Fast Fashion” with a Classic Capsule Wardrobe
“Fast fashion” is a term referring to clothing that is manufactured quickly and inexpensively, allowing the consumer to refresh her style multiple times a season without breaking the bank. Unfortunately, fast fashion comes at a big environmental price; today’s “trending on TikTok” prairie dress or micro bag likely will get just a few wears before ending up in a dump. (For one thing, some of these looks go from “cute” to “cringy” in a New York minute; for another, often they are so poorly made that they don’t survive more than a few wash cycles.)
But you don’t have to part of this ever-growing environmental problem. A more sustainable approach to fashion is to invest in a classic capsule wardrobe that will stand the test of time—in terms of both the style and the quality of construction. Buy the right things the first time, and you’ll wear them year after year.
Staples for a classic capsule wardrobe:
- Blazer: Choose a flattering jacket or blazer that can be worn to work or a job interview, to give structure to a flowy dress, or to dress up jeans.
- Jeans: Instead of going for trends like asymmetrical buttons or lots of bedazzling, find yourself a few good pairs of jeans that flatter your body and feel comfortable all day long. If you wear denim frequently—perhaps your office has a casual dress code—you will need a few pairs. Go for a classic blue, dressier dark wash, and black or colored denim so that you have enough variety.
- White blouse: Every woman needs a high-quality white blouse, which can be worn under a suit, with a skirt or with jeans. Look for careful, sturdy stitching at the buttonholes and make sure it fits well in both the bustline and in the shoulders.
- Black trousers: Trends may come and go, but a good pair of black pants that fit you perfectly will stand the test of time…plus, black never goes out of style, and completely deserves its reputation for being slimming!
- Little black dress: There’s no overstating the importance of an LBD. A simple sheath dress with stretch fabric is a safe bet for all body types and will look on point year in and year out.
With these classic pieces, you can easily add accessories, the occasional trending blouse or funky shoe, or a bright pop of color to keep your style fresh. True, it might be a bit pricier to get these wardrobe necessities at a place like White House Black Market or another boutique compared to getting your fast fashion fix at the same place where you also buy your groceries. However, when it comes to the cost-per-wear equation, chances are that you’ll actually be saving money in the long run by buying well-made items that won’t ever go out of style!
2. Learn How to Properly Care for Your Clothes
One reason why consumers fall for fast fashion is because it’s a quick and cheap way to replace clothes in their closet that look worn-out…but of course, fast fashion isn’t meant to last, so after just one season, they’ve got a whole new batch of worn-out clothes to replace. Want to make your closet less of a revolving door and more of a Carrie Bradshaw-inspired shrine to clothing? You’ll already be one step ahead if you stop buying clothes that crumple at the seams after a few washes. Beyond that, learn how to treat your dresses, pants, jeans, tops, blazers and even undergarments with TLC, so they’ll stand the test of time.
Here’s how to give your clothes the respect and pampering they deserve:
- Store them properly. Joan Crawford was right—no more wire hangers! (Or plastic ones from the dollar store.) Those sturdy, wooden hangers are worth the money. Use skirt hangers for skirts and wide shoulder hangers for jackets and blazers. Hang pants by clipping them at the hem or cuff with a trousers hanger so you don’t get that awkward crease at the knee or stretch out the waist. As for sweaters and knitwear, fold them in a drawer or closet shelf, so they don’t get stretched out.
- Wash your clothes less often. If you’re laundering your clothes after every wear, you’re significantly cutting down on the longevity of your garments, and need we remind you that the energy and emissions generated by the washer and dryer aren’t exactly eco-friendly, either? Certainly, panties, socks and activewear do need a cleaning after each wear, but nearly every other item can be worn multiple times. Some eco- and clothes-friendly washing tips:
- Read the label on your clothes before washing them for the first time. Not following the care instructions can shorten the garment’s lifecycle. This is particularly true when it comes to washing sweaters.
- Handwash and air dry when possible. Minimize the time your clothes spend in the washer and dryer by using the cold cycle and shorter dryer cycles, and air dry when possible.
- A delicate detergent is gentler to both your clothes and the environment—that commercial heavy-duty stuff is really made for things like hockey uniforms. And on that same note, a reusable fabric dryer ball is better for your clothes and emits fewer chemicals than a dryer sheet.
- If your clothes smell from cigarettes or pungent takeout, try airing them out or spraying them with a light fabric spray before banishing them to the laundry basket.
- Repair or restyle worn out clothes rather than disposing of them. It’s tempting to throw away or donate that cardigan because it’s got pilling at the underarms or the color has faded, but you can take a few steps to salvage the item before saying goodbye to it forever. A fabric shaver will remove those unsightly pills, and a bright or dark fabric dye is a great solution for formerly ballerina-pink cotton that’s gone gray, or to remove the evidence of a spaghetti sauce stain on an otherwise still-fabulous white shirt.
3. Choose Sustainably Sourced Fabrics
Reading labels is something many of us already do when we’re grocery shopping, whether we’re checking to make sure a product is organic and non-GMO or just want to make sure there’s not too much added sugar. You should get in the habit of label-reading when you clothes shop as well, because some fabrics are more sustainable than others.
Most sustainable fabrics:
- Synthetic fabrics including Tencel, Modal, Lyocell—we love these Tencel jeans!
- Recycled cotton (also used in White House Black Market jeans) and recycled polyester.
- Depending on the supplier, many natural fibers will be sustainably sourced. This includes linen, hemp, and wools including cashmere. Go for items labeled “organic” when that’s an option.
All this being said, sometimes, you just want something shiny and new, and that’s totally OK! Whether you’re contemplating what to eat or drink, what form of transportation to use, how to dispose of waste, or what to wear, the point of being more environmentally responsible is simply to be conscious of how your actions impact the world around you, and whenever possible, to make better choices.
Eco-chic looks good on you!