Tag Archives: thrift shopping

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.

 

 

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What I Didn’t Buy – Ties + Denim = Disaster Skirt

When shopping at the Goodwill Outlet bins, I never know what I’m going to find.  For each found treasure, there are probably one thousand pieces of drek.  I’ve gotten really good at filtering out the Forever 21 and the Kathy Lee junk, but sometimes a garment will surface that makes me stop and think.  This is such a piece.

I posted this photo on Instagram, and got some really interesting comments.  One person asked if it mattered when the ties were so ugly.  Another pointed out that it could be the work of a student, as some schools’ textiles programs assign a tie reworking project.

My objection to this skirt has nothing to do with the ugliness of the ties, though there are some ugly ties there.  I’m not concerned with the haphazard construction.  And at this point in time, I can’t see that there would be much of a market for these late 1970s and early 80s ties.  What really bothered me was that I’m very certain that 7/8 of each of the sixteen ties and 3/4 of the denim from the skirt ended up in the trash, all for a skirt that was probably never worn.

A lot has been written lately about how much textile waste each person living in developed countries generates in a year.  I’ve read everything from sixty to seventy-five pounds of waste per person.  At that rate we will soon be buried in fiber.

There is no way that the Goodwill in my area can sell in their retail stores all the stuff that is donated.  Much of it never even reaches the store, as items thought to be unsalable go straight into the bins.  Items that have been on the sales floor for over a period of time are culled and put into the bins.  Even after spending hours in a bin that is sorted through by dozens of eager shoppers, there is a lot of textile items that are left unsold. At that point the leftovers are baled and sold to a rag house.

There is a great article in The New Republic about how these raggers work.  Basically, cloth items are sorted into three groups:  the really good stuff and vintage which is sorted and sold to vintage and other resale shops, the okay stuff which is sent to developing countries, and the stuff that is so bad that all they can to is sell it to be made into rags, felt, and other reprocessed cloth.

The article mentions that there are people in these rag houses who are trained to spot vintage clothing.  I’ve read elsewhere that some of these companies actually let vintage shop owners come in and sort through.  I do hope that all the great things that I see, but can’t justify buying, end up in a nice vintage store somewhere.

There is never a shortage of neckties in thrift stores, and my Goodwill is no exception.  I imagine that ninety percent of the ones that go through that place end up at the rag house.  But at least those ties will be recycled into rags or whatever for industrial use, and will not land in a landfill somewhere like the unused portion of the skirt ties most likely did.

But what about the project itself?  Is there any hope for the dated and seemingly ugly tie?  What can be made with all the millions of out of style neckties?

Actually, I think there is some hope for a similar project.  In this case, not only was the choice of ties unfortunate, but the execution of the project was poor.  Instead of overlapping and stitching the ties, they could be placed edge to edge and zig-zagged.  They could even be left unstitched, to make a dancing skirt with a lot of movement.  But most importantly, some actual pretty ties could be used, like those from Liberty of London.  But then, how does one come up with sixteen Liberty neckties?

As I spotted this skirt, another shopper also spotted it.  In one of the great cross-overs from digital to real life, this shopper was Jessamyn, who is a reader of this blog and who recognized me.  We ended up in a conversation that included the question of what can be done with unwanted neckties.  She mentioned that she had made crazy quilts using some of the wonderful silk ones she had found.  And that is a good point, for though it seems like the thrifts are full of the tacky ones from 1982, there are also plenty of fabulous Italian silks.

I recently mentioned that I always buy the Liberty ties because they make great bias binding and can be used for small projects.  Reader Nancy was so kind as to send to me two lovely Liberty ties she had found.  It’s just too bad that not all the old neckties were made of such wonderful fabric.

One last thought: I can’t help wondering if the ties that I consider to be ugly and pretty much worthless will someday become desirable.  It has happened before with neckties from the 1940s.  

Interior look at how the ties were attached to the skirt.

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