Working Toward a Better Closet

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.

Shop Secondhand

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.




Filed under Shopping, Viewpoint

33 responses to “Working Toward a Better Closet

  1. I agree (naturally)the vintage piece in any wardrobe is usually the most rewarding-like your coat! When image/wardrobe consulting it was so difficult to convince the clients(except 1-2) to grasp this! Then after one wearing -they could not stop wanting more! These were well paid/ CEO types -I admire your eco-friendly approach to shopping-good luck!


  2. I absolutely enjoyed reading your closet ponderings.

    I admire your resolve to repurpose things and make them usable. I would have never thought of using that stripe top the way you did. Thank you for the ideas. If you could post some pictures of before and after as you work on something, it would be really helpful. I haven’t had exposure to this train of thought. But I can learn now.


  3. This is great stuff! I struggle with finding ethically made fabrics. I know Cloud 9 cottons are organic (but I’m not sure where or how ethically), and I think Joann carries a “made in America” line. Outside of these… I don’t have much clue other than buying vintage.


    • There is at least one company in North Carolina that still makes cotton jersey from locally grown cotton, but it’s not organic and it is hard to find. It’s easier to find luxury fabrics from Italy and France than it is to find yard goods made in the USA.

      I have my marvelous Goodwill bin source for fabrics. I do break down and buy a new piece from time to time, but most of my sewing is done with fabric I’ve thrifted.


  4. It is frustrating when you’re trying to buy responsibly, but somehow you don’t always, or can’t. I still buy most shoes, and all underwear and socks, new, and most pants as well except loose linen summer capris made by one company. I don’t really like capris, I think they are matronly and unflattering, but they do work in warm weather when your shorts day are over.

    We called skirts with shorts skorts when I was a kid in the 60s so I don’t mind the term, although ti was always “a skort” not “skorts.”


    • I didn’t count shoes and underwear in my survey. I buy all new, but I rarely buy shoes except for walking shoes. Ethical shocks are easier to find. I order all mine from zkano.

      No capris for me! I’m so short anyway and they make me look like I’m standing in a hole. I’ve noticed that most women in my age group have moved to capris, but it really takes an Audrey Hepburn type body to pull them off.


      • Gail

        I’m glad find other women in my age group who dislike capris. I think they look frumpy, but all my friends wear them in the summer.


  5. Interesting inventory! Now I want to go count my closet!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been thinking about a lot of the same issues lately. It’s a neat idea to do an inventory like this, as we often think one thing and the data proves otherwise! Great post.


  7. Abby

    I agree, and I have gotten to the point where a good 90% of my wardrobe is thrifted. I sew my own underwear but still have to buy bras. I have always found it hard to buy new. I don’t want to look twee in my 30s, but I also don’t want things that are frumpy. I find wonderful deals in the thrift shops, and you are so spot on about how basic sewing skills come in handy. Sometimes after a wear I can see why a garment was donated, and I can also usually fix it.
    P.s. How about this weather?


    • I really don’t know how one survives without a bit of sewing knowledge, but then I’ve been using my skills for 50 years now!

      Weather in WNC? So incredible! I’m happy not to be in Maine and Vermont and Quebec where they got snow yesterday.


  8. allwaysinfashion

    I like your approach to a closet inventory. I’ve never thought of catagorizing what I bought new, what I bought used, etc. I don’t sew much anymore (too many expensive disappointments) so repair rather than create. I did pull the elastic out of an ill-fitting dress recently and now have an amazing Grecian gown to sash with a length of cording. Nice piece!


  9. I love this subject, and this post! My own closet is sadly neglected. I am badly in need of cleaning it out and sourcing some well- / ethically-made basics. You are inspiring me. And I got a vicarious thrill from your Breton shirt find!


  10. I love this post, Lizzie! It’s awesome to see a more mature person not just stuck in their ways and content with whatever but trying to be conscious in their choices and striving to still be better at any age. Thanks!


  11. Thanks for this, Lizzie! It’s a good reminder. I make about 80% of my clothes, but as you say that it not necessarily an environmentally friendly choice.


  12. seweverythingblog

    Terrific post about your closet ponderings! I’m one of the make what you wear crowd. Haven’t bought clothing for 6 plus years now, & can safely say that all my everyday clothes are made by me. Since my special occasion & ethnic wear was not discarded due to good style & construction, I have those to deal with. Some of the occasional wear belonged to my mother & grandma so I’m hoarding it :).
    Thanks for a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pam Goetting

    Hi, Lizzie!

    For quite a while your site has given me much joy, and I thank you for it. I just don’t usually have time to comment.


    Liked by 1 person

  14. Leigh Ann

    I started sewing a few years ago, and I really enjoy it. But I’m not good enough yet to make everything I wear. As far as thrift stores go, I like them, but I’m a size 20 RTW. It’s not like I can just walk in and expect to find something that is both cute and actually fits. It can be very frustrating. (Not that new RTW is always all that much better!) But I am doing the best I can, by trying to be thoughtful about what I really need and buy, buying used when I can find it, and by doing alterations to the best of my ability. I would like better identification of which country sewing fabrics come from, but that is hard to come by at times.


  15. We are on the same page here, Lizzie, as usual. As you may know, I myself gave up all newly mass-produced clothing for well over a year, back in 2014. And the habit has mostly stuck.

    If you can do (or are willing to pay for) minor alterations/repairs, you can have a unique, personalized wardrobe — even one that’s on-trend if that’s what matters to you — but of higher quality and at lower environmental, ethical, and monetary cost than if you shop the malls for “fast fashion.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.