Many Americans struggle with buying too much and throwing too much out, and this is especially true when it comes to clothing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My mom taught me that we can have fun wearing clothes without buying into fast-fashion consumerism: It’s all about intention and knowledge of yourself, your closet, your likes and dislikes. Following my mom’s principles and teaching them to the next generation can help us reduce the amount of clothing we consume and create a more sustainable world.
01. Only buy pieces that you want to wear seven days a week.
This not to say that you should wear an item every day—but limit your purchases to clothes that you love so much that you want to wear them every day. Yes, you can probably find many items that you like in a store, but pieces that you love that much will be hard to find—that’s the point. This standard will drastically reduce the number of items that qualify for a purchase and will prevent you from becoming someone with “a full closet but nothing to wear.”
Actress Tiffany Haddish has re-worn her favorite designer gown multiple times.
02. Look for items that go with multiple pieces in your current closet.
Avoid buying a piece that doesn’t work with anything else, because this means that you have to wait to wear it until you can find matching pieces, and you may end up forgetting about it in the back of your closet or spending more money than you mean to. If you need to buy ensembles, make a plan and go about it intentionally so you know ahead of time precisely what you’re looking for, for example, shoes and a dress.
Not only has Kate Middleton re-worn dresses, but she has also remixed items in her wardrobe on several occasions.
03. Let it sit.
Test items that you think you will love by waiting a few days to buy them. After all, shopping can bring a serious high to some people. Make sure that you are buying the piece because of the feeling you will get from wearing it, not because of the feeling you get from buying it.
When you see something special, write down a note or take photos of the tags. Then go home and go about your life. If you’re still thinking about this piece a few days later, you can reasonably assume that you like it enough to buy it. However, if you happen to return to the same shop a few weeks later and realize that you’ve forgotten about that piece in the meantime, it’s probably not special enough to buy.
04. If there’s something even very small that bothers you about it, don’t buy it.
Everyone has been tempted by these pieces before: a sweater with one scratchy seam, some great jeans that are just a tad too tight, a blouse with one rebellious button. Whatever the small thing is, it will become a big thing later—it will become the only thing you think about, and the reason why you don’t wear it. When looking at your closet lineup, you will pick the non-scratchy sweater or the more comfortable jeans every time, and these not-quite-perfect items will become the things you wear only occasionally on laundry day.
05. Be willing to mend or repair when necessary.
If you only buy pieces that you really love and plan to wear a lot, then you will probably also be willing to use them up, wear them out, and make them do for as long as possible. A willingness to mend and alter clothes when they fall apart means that you are creating less waste for the environment (and spending less money).
Some items are hard to salvage—swimsuits, for example, that have lost their elastic—but there are many pieces that a good tailor can fix for you when they don’t work anymore as-is. If you’ve lost weight by a size, it’s easy to take in blouses and pants. If you’ve gained weight and your dress has a deep hem, you can ask a tailor to use that extra fabric to create panels on the side to give you a bit more breathing room. Irreparable holes in pant legs and sleeves can often be cut off to turn the items into shorts or sleeveless blouses. Shoes can even be re-soled or re-heeled.
06. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
Buy things that you love, regardless of what’s popular at the moment. If you buy something on-trend because you think you should like it, you may end up avoiding wearing it because it just doesn’t feel like you. Conversely, if you find something you really love, whether it’s big, bright, old-fashioned, or crazy-colored—go for it! Buy the clothes that make you feel good, not the ones you think are supposed to make you feel good, and don’t ever squash your style because you’re afraid to stand out.
07. Embrace thrift, vintage, and hand-me-downs.
Probably many of us have worn our older siblings’ or cousins’ clothing at some point. When you were twelve, though, you may not have known that you were also helping the environment!
Most people know by now that the fashion industry is responsible for a mind-boggling amount of waste and pollution. According to the EPA, in 2014 Americans landfilled 10.4 million tons of textiles, and combusted another 3.1 million tons. Wearing used items saves clothes headed for the landfill, so you will be reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Vintage shops are a great place to find unique, well-made pieces. However, not everyone has access to vintage shops, and vintage clothing can be difficult to find for women who wear larger sizes. However, many thrift shops have more variety in sizing, and if you can make the trip to a nice part of town, the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores often have higher-end cast-offs. Another fun way to obtain used clothing is to host a clothing-swap between a few friends who are close to your size.
08. Donate and recycle.
When you do need to get rid of clothes, don’t just throw things out. Make sure that you donate wearable clothes and accessories to Goodwill or Salvation Army when you are through with them. And if your pants absolutely can’t be re-worn (very inconvenient holes—happens to all of us), look for a center that recycles the fabric or provides for the homeless. Some Madewell and H&M locations have recycling bins for clothing, as do many Goodwill and Salvation Army locations, as well.