Each person’s style evolves over time. No one looks or dresses the same as they did in middle school, or high school. Even if you think you look similar, there are still things about you that have changed. So what happens when you build a sustainable wardrobe around your personal style, only to have your style continue to evolve and change? Can you have both a sustainable closet and an evolving style?
Since starting my ethical and sustainable closet, my style has changed a LOT! When I started my teaching career, I had two goals to achieve with my wardrobe: comfortable and easy. I wore a lot of cotton stretch dresses with leggings, long sweaters with skinny jeans, and really anything that was on sale at Anthropologie. The summer after my first year of teaching was when I learned about ethical fashion and the fast fashion industry. Long story short, I cleaned out my closet and made a no-buy commitment for a year. I found out that I gravitated more towards my neutral colored clothes, and wanted more “grown up” clothes than my leggings and stretchy dresses could offer.
My style felt totally different a year later. I didn’t want to fall back into old fast fashion shopping habits, so I aimed to change my closet slowly and intentionally. In that process, I learned a lot. Here’s what I learned:
1- Do something with the clothes you don’t wear before you start buying.
When you have lots of old clothes that you don’t wear anymore, it’s hard to see what you have and what you are missing when you look at your closet. De-cluttering is the first step to having a closet that you wear and love. See my blog post, “I’ve cleaned out my closet, now what?”, for tips on how to downsize your closet in a sustainable way. Once you have cleared out the clutter, you can see what you are missing. Also, if you sell your clothes to consignment stores or online, you will have more money to invest in your new wardrobe pieces!
2- Make a wish list BEFORE you go shopping and stick to it.
It’s tempting to create a wish list as you go, but I have found that this only leads to more impulse buying. Making a wish list after cleaning out my closet showed me that I was missing some basics that would expand the use of my current closet. For example, some things I had on my wish list were: good quality white t-shirt, black cardigan, Irish wool sweater, and casual sneakers.
It’s not only important to create a wish list, but also to stick to it. It can be tempting to stray from the list as you are shopping either online, or in secondhand stores. I had to remind myself that impulse buys usually are only worn a few times and then end up cluttering up my closet. I didn’t want to end up back where I started.
3- Don’t try and get everything on your list at once.
Most people (like me) don’t have the budget to spend tons of money on their wardrobe in one weekend. Most likely, you may not even find everything on your list right away. Prioritize your list, and search for those items first. If you can buy secondhand, try searching consignment or thrift stores first. If you can’t find what you want there, try looking online on secondhand marketplace sites like Poshmark or Lovanie. Again, if you can’t find what you are looking for that way, buy from an ethical and sustainable brand.
Spreading out your purchases not only is budget friendly, but its also more fun. I really enjoy the hunt when I add something to my wish list. My Irish wool sweater took a couple years to find, but when I finally got it, it was that much more special.
4- Don’t settle
One mistake I made was settling for something on my wish list that wasn’t exactly how I envisioned it. I had been looking for a black cardigan and bought one secondhand. It was cropped, v-necked, and fitted. That’s not what I was looking for, but I told myself I would “make it work”. I learned quickly that “make it work” turned into “wear it once and never put it on again”. I settled too quickly for something that I didn’t completely love. I eventually found my favorite black cardigan, and I keep coming back to it each season.
5- Buy high quality.
Many people think that high quality must come with a high price tag. This is completely UNTRUE! Some of my highest quality pieces have been found secondhand. I have found Merino sweaters, vintage denim jackets and skirts, and great pairs of jeans secondhand. If you can’t find what you are looking for secondhand, see if you can find it ethically made. There are so many great ethical brands!
Not sure what makes a garment high quality? To put it concisely, look for items that: are made of a natural fabric (wool, cotton, silk, etc.), have durable seams, and can withstand some wear (is it pilling? Is the fabric see through?).
I hope these tips will help you to build your sustainable closet. Having a closet that fits our needs and our style is important. I know I have a much easier time getting dressed in the morning now that my wardrobe matches my needs and personal style.
If you are not sure what your style is, head over to my free resources and download the Personal Style Workbook! Enjoy!