This is a view into my closet. Hanging here are 87 articles of clothing, about 65% of the clothes I own, the others now being in storage for the warm months. I did a quick survey and I found:
- 48 items were bought new
- 20 items were bought used
- 8 items were made by me from new materials
- 11 items were made by me from used materials
- 33 of the bought new items were made in the USA, Canada, or Europe
- 21 of the ready made items were changed by me (hemming, repairs, button changes)
- 8 of the bought new items were bought within the past year
- 20 of the bought new items are over five years old
By looking at it this way, you get quite a bit of information about my buying habits. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that over 50% of these items were bought new, as I consider myself to be a diligent thrift shopper and seamstress. Taking a close look at the newer bought items, I realized that much of what I’ve bought in the past three years happened on trips to New York. Somehow I can excuse myself for buying souvenirs of the big city.
Several of the new items have been bought this spring, as at 61 I’ve decided that my days of wearing shorts outside my immediate neighborhood or at the beach are over. I’ve found that shorts with attached skirt (skort? I hate that word) are a cool and comfortable substitute, and when I found a design I like that is made in the USA, I stocked up.
My closet is not perfect, and I can see what I can do in acquiring new items to make it more to my liking. I want to make more of my own clothes, using fabrics that I already own. I want to investigate brands that are making an effort to be more responsible in their practices. And I want to be satisfied with what I already have, adding new pieces only as they are needed.
But while I can see a lot in my closet, there is much that I can’t see. I’m good at choosing clothing that I feel is made in safe factories that pay a fair wage, but what about the fabric? Most of my warm weather closet consists of cotton, which is notoriously bad for the environment. Much cotton is grown in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan where the crop is picked by forced labor, much of it children. Very few companies go so far as to tell consumers where their cotton is sourced.
So what is a consumer to do? How can we do our best to ensure that as little harm as possible is done in the creation of our clothing and other textiles? Over the next few days I’ll be looking at ways I’m going to make my closet better.
Probably the most obvious strategy is to buy less new and more secondhand and vintage. By doing so you are not producing any new waste. Shopping in vintage or consignment stores supports local businesses. And shopping in thrift stores supports charities. Some people think that the thrift stores no longer produce treasures, but some of my favorite garments were thrifted: a 1970s Bonnie Cashin coat, a stack full of vintage cashmere sweaters, a plaid Pendleton coat, and my favorite jeans.
If you are going to buy secondhand, it helps if you have basic sewing skills. I’m always amazed at the number of great things I see in the Goodwill bins that are there simply because a button is missing or the hem is out. Making basic repairs can greatly extend the life of a garment and prevent waste. It’s also helpful if you can do a bit of altering. I’m short, so I usually have to shorten pants, and even shirt sleeves. I recently found a french-made Breton stripe shirt of hefty cotton, but it was two sizes too big and had wear at the neck. Cutting it down to my size eliminated the damage, and was a quick and easy fix.
Shopping secondhand takes time and dedication. One can’t just run down to the local thrift store to buy a size medium polo shirt in light green as one might do on a trip to Target. But with time and a bit of luck, secondhand clothing can become a big part of your closet.
Next: Some clothing companies that have got it right, and some others that are working on their social responsibility game.