It’s fun to have designated “party dresses” or to shop for a new piece for an upcoming wedding, but this mindset can sometimes lead people to think about fashion in ways that are less helpful for the environment and their wallets. Separating clothing into specific categories often means that people buy new items for new events or activities rather than mixing and matching what is already in the closet. And the clothing for that specific event often hangs around, waiting (sometimes indefinitely) for the next cocktail party, formal wedding, or beach vacation.
Sustainable fashion activist Tolmeia Gregory has called for an end to “the whole culture of buying clothing for specific occasions, such as nights out and holidays” in order to reduce wardrobe glut and fashion industry pollution. This can actually be pretty easy to do with a wardrobe full of classic separates and a little creativity. In fact, much of “French-girl style” is based on the idea of mixing high and low pieces in ways that make occasion-specific outfits unnecessary. Follow these tips to create a curated closet that can be remixed for a variety of special occasions.
(Professional and evening wear combined to create a cute church look.)
Mix and match classics and separates
Fast fashion stores peddle fun new trends every few weeks; buying into these new trends can be fun, but also hard on the environment and your wallet. Instead, assess trends for their staying power, whether in the fashion world or in your closet. Leopard print, for instance, is a trend that’s been going strong for a few years now. Other trends go out of style quickly, but if it is a trend that you really like for itself, not because of its popularity or newness, then you can keep wearing it for years to come, even if it’s no longer the latest thing,
Classics also work really well for those day-to-night situations that can seem so tricky. Little black dresses are known for their versatility, but a white button-up, a blazer, or trousers can also, with some styling, become cocktail attire, whether together or separately.
(This white tee relaxes the overall look.)
(You could wear this look to work, to church, or out for a summer weekend.)
Curating a wardrobe of separates is one way to focus on versatility and variety in your wardrobe because you can easily mix and match separates in one category or two different categories, such as professional and evening wear. Mixing items from two categories can help you balance outfits so that they are fun and appropriate for the occasion, even if they are not what you might usually think about when you imagine “cocktail,” “office,” “beach,” or “date-night” attire. Professional trousers, for example, pair well with button-ups and sweaters, but also sparkly, sequined going-out tops. Similarly, a shiny, metallic evening tank can be worn under a blazer to create fun but conservative office attire (for more creative environments). Playing with separates allows you more pairing options and also ensures that your clothes get worn more often because they aren’t hanging in the back of the closet, waiting for a specific occasion.
(A belt, flower pin, earrings, clutch, and updo give these workwear pants and blouse a cocktail vibe.)
(These trousers could be worn to work or out on a date.)
(A blazer and chambray shirt tone down the sequins for daytime.)
(This tweed jacket and statement necklace dress up the T-shirt.)
(A red lip could turn this weekend dress into a date-night look.)
Many people own specific items for specific events or activities, but before you look for a new piece, consider first experimenting with what you have. Sometimes bending or breaking the rules about what can be worn where is the best way to get the most out of your wardrobe. We’re certainly not recommending you commit a major fashion faux pas like wearing white to a wedding, just that you consider playing around with your wardrobe and taking a second look at items that you may have relegated to one type of event. For example, you may have a striped or floral maxi sundress that you wear to the beach on vacation, but, depending on the formality, that sundress could be glammed up for a wedding with big earrings, nice shoes instead of flip-flops, and a cardigan, blazer, or cover-up if it’s cool at night. Conversely, a simple cotton wrap dress, a shift dress, or a loose white button-up can also function as a cover-up for a beach vacation. It’s simple and easy to elevate denim with dressy tops and heels. For formal events, rather than buying a gown, you can turn a sleek black workwear suit into formal attire with heels, big jewelry, evening makeup, and a clutch.
(Vibrant workwear with a clutch.)
(Workwear and sequins.)
(A suit for the evening.)
(This cool dress could work as a cover-up, too.)
(This maxi looks like it’s being worn as a cover-up, but a belt and big earrings could turn it into a dinner look.)
Buy colors you like regardless of season
Focusing on colors that you like and will wear year round can also help reduce wardrobe waste. Rather than buying light colors for spring/summer and darker colors for fall/winter, try to choose colors that you like and would wear at any time. Neutrals and jewel tones are colors that most people seem to feel comfortable wearing for multiple seasons, so you could start by wearing more of those colors until you figure out if you are comfortable wearing baby blue in January or burnt orange in July. Examples of jewel tones include royal blue or purple, bright red or wine red, forest green, teal, and dark pink.
Some people enjoy changing their color palettes with the seasons, and seasonal looks can also be created by pairing colors in different textures. For example, royal blue and white cottons look more summery, whereas royal blue and black or a royal blue skirt with a cream cable-knit sweater can look quite wintry.
This is not to suggest that you skip all seasonal colors—just that you wear them whenever you like, and not just in autumn. Of course, if you need to buy a season-specific item, it’s not wasteful to buy it in a seasonal color. It would not make a difference, for instance, if a heavy wool skirt was a Christmas-y plaid, because it would be impractical to wear it in the spring or summer anyway.
(The shorts and vibrant colors make this look work for a summer event.)
Reconsidering how and where we wear our clothes can help us reduce the number of items we wear and produce—that it can also boost our creative juices is an added bonus!