Conscious Shopping Guide



According to a report from Tearfund printed in the book Eco Chic, here's where your money goes when buying clothing. Despite this, the idea of having a small wardrobe seems old-fashioned and restrictive to some. Thanks to fast fashion, home laundries, and advances in synthetic fabrics, people don't need the discipline to buy less anymore. As fashion became more egalitarian, natural fibers and ethical production methods were perceived as luxuries. With so many cheap options available, investing in sustainability is considered profligate, even unrealistic. Having a high-quality, eco-conscious wardrobe isn't necessarily expensive, however- the main investment required is patience. Here's a quick guide to fair and responsible shopping. Since individual values differ, there are no recommended brands, websites, or stores, but general guidelines to minimize purchasing mistakes and social / environmental impact.


To read this chart and further information on ethical shopping in Chinese, click here (thank you Melody!)
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HOW TO SPEND IT

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T-Shirts: Since you wear them close to your skin, they need to be washed more and should hold up to repeated use. Look for opaque fabrics that aren't flimsy, preferably linen, which carries a price premium. I like white tees because you can bleach any stain out with lemon juice and sunshine.


Jeans: You pay more for humane treatment of workers; better quality, wastewater treated denim; Italian rivets and buttons; stitch count, and non-toxic washes. Fit is more reliable on premium jeans- I like J. Brand because they're made in an LA factory, sizing is consistent, jeans are long-lasting, and they don't have a lot of weird embellishments.


Lingerie: Invest in a great base because it affects everything- the way clothes look, the way you stand, and both your comfort and confidence level. Quality lingerie will last years with proper care.


Shoes and bootsI never understood why people paid so much for good shoes until they became my main mode of transportation. Quality, breathable footwear and proper cushioning ensure comfort and orthopedic health. Think long-term by investing in special items that complement all your outfits and will serve you for years to come. Protect your investment by maintaining them with the help of a cobbler.


Coats: It's the first thing people see you in and can elevate both your outfit and their impression of you. A good coat should be lined to withstand daily use and a solid, closely woven material to ensure abrasion resistance and durable wear. Focus on fit and details like shaped seams; choose a color you won't get sick of easily. Decorative epaulets or embellishments make cleaning difficult. Belted trench coats tend to be more versatile, since they adjust if your weight changes.
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Hosiery: Whether you pay $200 or $2 for stockings, they all run the same. I've had Wolford and Agent Provocateur tights rip on the first wear and $0.40 silk thrift store finds last forever. The exception is stuff like Swedish Stockings, or wool tights- it's worth investing in higher quality, ethically sourced wools.


Knit sweaters: It's not worth spending $2000 on a Loro Piana sweater, in my opinion. They pill like anything else (maintenance reduces this, but nothing is wholly abrasion-resistant). You can find great-quality knits in thrift stores or from local producers and humane mills. A tailor can retrofit luxury styling details.


Evening clothes: You won't wear them much, and most places are dark anyway. These are the easiest items to buy secondhand, so it won't be a tragedy if somebody clumsy or sweaty messes up your stuff.


Summer / beach clothes: Between the salt, sand, sun, and sweat, summer clothes take a beating. They should merely be washable and breathable. Don't spend a lot on things you'll only wear a few weeks of the year. Obviously this doesn't apply if you live in a warm or humid climate, but you can buy a pair of ethical, handmade leather sandals and some summery linen or GOTS-certified hemp for a reasonable price.


Handbags: This will be controversial, but there are so many nice, quality handbags on consignment or being made by small-batch designers. Even though Longchamp's manufacturing practices are abominable, the Pliage is the lightest and most practical bag I've ever owned, and it's essentially indestructible- washable, plus the store fixes them for free. A lot of luxury handbags are just not well-made enough to justify the price tag. Louis Vuitton canvas comes to mind.



SECONDHAND SHOPPING TIPS

  1. Go to well-lit, edited stores, particularly ones organized by color or type of garment, so you don't wade through piles of garbage. I also hate dark shops, messes, musty smells, and overstuffed clothing racks; something must have happened in my childhood to make me this way. 
  2. Don't buy if there are odors, stains, or yellowing, because they might not come out. Collar and underarm stains are the worst. Avoid discolored or faded fabrics and anything with signs of pilling, holes, or threadbare patches, particularly around the elbows and knees. 
  3. Focus on items you want to add to your wardrobe. I only look at the colors red, navy, hunter green, and neutrals like light pink, white, grey, beige, etc. That way I'm not in danger of getting something that doesn't match what I already own (a good rule of thumb is an item should match at least three existing pieces in your closet). Jewel tones tend to flatter, look nice from season to season, and complement everything. I also feel prints belong in a small or capsule wardrobe- just not mine. Leopard print, stripes, and some florals match everything and combine well.
  4. Start feeling fabrics. Is the material resilient? Is it see-through? Can you wash it? Check the lining, stitching, care tag, etc. If shopping online, concentrate on brands you know are consistent in sizing and fit you well. 
  5. Try on all items or verify the measurements. Long sleeves and hems can be tailored, but if it doesn't fit in the waist or bust, forget it (skirt and pant waists can be taken in- buy to fit the widest part of you). Don't buy stretched fabrics, gaping blouses, and items containing worn elastic. Shoulder seams can generally be altered to align with your actual shoulders. Tailoring coats is usually cost-prohibitive.

As I got older, the secondhand market became more expensive and brand conscious. I looked over my clothing purchases for the past six years and it worked out to $429 a year ($35.76 a month), including things like bridesmaid dresses and everything I've sold. Secondhand is my preference because nothing uses less resources than something that already exists. Plus I'm used to it, I guess. I grew up thrifting (thinking about ethics and sustainability was a luxury!), I hate regular shopping, and haven't found ethical, fair-trade clothing that fits my particular needs and lifestyle. Yooxygen, Asos Green Room, Alternative ApparelRe/DONE, and The Reformation skew a bit too Coachella for me; Groceries Apparel, The White Briefs, Honest By, Everlane, Zady, RennesOf a Kind and Modavanti don't often carry pieces that match my aesthetic or suit my body. Others may find it advantageous to support sustainable brands. In France, Ekyog is organic and environmentally-conscious; Valentine Gauthier, Freelance, Le Mont St Michel, Agnes B., Bompard, Maiyet, Veja, and Armor Lux manufacture ethical items. Upcycled Paris brands Les Recuperables and La Petite Rockette are dedicated to reducing waste in fashion, and ethical online marketplace ShopEthik carries a selection of vegan, recycled, eco-responsible designers.

I went through periods where I had lots of items that fit perfectly and were in good condition, but I didn't like them anymore. I wore them until I found a replacement or fell back in love, which often happens when you find new ways to wear pieces or alter / refashion items. If you don't wear certain clothes, sell or donate them, because they age in the closet. Housekeeping manuals frequently recommend passing unused, unworn items along after a year.

In practice, it's easier for me to apply these principles to shopping for household goods and gifts than clothing. Our household purchases are few; the items are largely zero-waste, secondhand, or made by local artisans. I give handmade, cash, or experience gifts where appropriate. As far as clothing and accessories go, I have five pieces purchased new (three purchased years ago), and several things made in China. After reading this article on the myth of the ethical shopper (thanks Nadia!), I'm determined not to buy anything that makes me complicit in the mistreatment of humans, animals, or the environment.

Paris to Go

21 comments:

  1. Another thought - knit your own sweaters, especially if you like vintage style. That way you can do it with non-toxic, ethical wool. As far as other clothing goes, I'm looking into buying some organic linen and running a few items up. I'm not a great sewer, but as I like simple designs this could work and has the benefit of everything actually fitting. If you can't sew, perhaps a seamstress could make a few items for you. Whilst that might seem costly, I think it reflects the REAL cost of clothing.

    Madeleine.x

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    1. You are totally right Madeleine! I meant to put "make your own" in the chart above and completely forgot. Thanks for bringing that out. I agree it reflects the true cost!

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  2. This is truely great. Greatness and beyond! I will use, as I have reduced my annual shopping budget for next year, because I really feel I have everything I need. Thank you!!

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    1. Hi Emma! It's great that you've gotten to that point where you have everything you need. And perfect as you start your new life with your husband :)

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  3. These are so great! You probably don't remember me, but I used to read STAL. I found you from your article about the Balenciaga coat on Elle.com. It's nice to see how your writing matured over the years. I love the no-nonsense way you've distilled all this capsule wardrobe-minimalist mumbo-jumbo to its very essence. Workbooks and e-guides are great, but not everyone has the time for that, so these quick and dirty versions are truly helpful.

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    1. Hi Yvonne! I think- correct me if I'm wrong- you sent me my invitation to Gmail back when it just came out :) How could I forget? Thank you so much! I forgot about the Elle link haha

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  4. Great list, as always! I've found great luck thrifting for vintage sweaters (so warm!), skirts, winter coats, button-downs, and blazers. After searching for a while for a pair of casual pants, I bought a new pair recently. I didn't want to, but: I couldn't find a thrifted equivalent, the fabric on my old pair was worn out, I can wear my new pair year-round, and probably consign when I'm done with them. I think because I put so much thought into them, I am confident I made the right choice and every time I wear them, they make me happy!

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    1. That's wonderful Rachel! From your Tumblr I can tell you think a lot about the high cost of fashion and buy responsibly. I should put more thought into my purchases like you- a few times, if I couldn't find something thrifted or fair trade I just bought what I *thought* was sustainable and realized after that it was the wrong choice.

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    2. What?!?! You're MY role model in buying thoughtfully and sustainably! I feel like I have a long way to go, but thank you for the compliment! (And I really need to update my tumblr...)

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  5. Great thanks for the slew of wardrobe posts. They bolster the pause I need to keep from buying when I don't need a single thing. I will return to this one when I want to make a purchase.

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  6. Hi Ariana. I'm a new reader and just wanted to say thank you for this illuminating post. Annabel

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    1. Hi Annabel, comments like these make me so happy, thank you!

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  7. "Despite this, the idea of having a small wardrobe seems old-fashioned and restrictive to some. "

    I have this problem. As a first step, I learnt to recognize quality. But got really used to the variety. That I now have a non-minimalistic closet of high quality second hand clothing.

    Years of a habit - hard to wean off. Restrictive is the right word. I do admire everyone who can turn it around and get by with a tiny closet. I did a 10 item closet experiment for 3 months. It was liberating. But I couldn't sustain it. I was missing the variety after a while. As I brought in the stowed away items, it made it a pleasure dressing in the morning. The act of choosing was what I missed.

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    1. I think you don't have anything to worry about, reading your blog, it shows how much care you put into purchasing and maintaining your clothing. I think a minimalist closet doesn't depend on a number, but depends on the thoughtfulness of the owner. If you're wearing everything and you love it, why change? When I think of small or minimalist wardrobes, I think of those wardrobes that aren't full of unworn, unloved items purchased as a result of mindless consumerism. I do not get the impression that you are a mindless consumer by any means, quite the opposite, actually.

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    2. I definitely have a maximalist closet. I'm a champion thrifter so it was fun and inexpensive to come by. But since I've been pregnant, I've found myself with a de facto capsule wardrobe. I'm glad that I have gotten a taste, but I know for sure that it is not for me.

      The biggest change is how often I need to do laundry now. I can't stand doing little loads more often. I preferred being able to get into the "laundry zone" and spend all day on it and be done for the next 2 months.

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    3. This is crazy, I was just reading your blog a few days ago! I was looking for winter bike outfits and came across a picture on your site and just kept reading! Thanks for sharing your experience. Your closet sounds beautiful!

      If you don't mind me asking, about how often do you do laundry? For me, I was able to reduce laundry by reducing my wardrobe- but, I don't have kids and most of my stuff can just be brushed or aired out. What are the items that you have to wash the most (if it's not too personal) ? I'm writing an article on how small wardrobes and laundry work but I'd like to get a feel for other people's experiences.

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  8. You mention that you have not found ethical clothing that matches your needs and lifestyle. Could you elaborate on this? What brands have you tried? I've noticed it's not all crunchy, hippie clothing anymore and the market has expanded greatly, so I'm curious what you mean by that.

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    1. There's a lot available beyond loungewear and athletic clothing, as you note, but brands like Eileen Fisher and Le Mont St Michel don't fit me, my aesthetic, or my lifestyle yet. I'm not so into separates, and knee-length, tailored dresses in materials I like are difficult to find. I get the impression that most ethical brands design with the clothes hanger, tall, gamine woman in mind (actually most designers in general) and tailors can't always alter things to fit my body. I've found brands secondhand that worked right away, and I like that buying pre-existing stock makes the most of the energy embedded in each garment.

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  9. Have you seen this article on polyester? I'm sure there are other, similar articles out there, but thought this one summarized things very nicely. Another reason to really think about what you are buying, and buy secondhand if possible! https://zady.com/features/polyester

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    1. Very interesting! I hadn't read it but I enjoyed the other articles on the site as well, about the soil and planned obsolescence especially. Thanks for sharing!

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