Is Sustainable Fashion a Privileged Affair? Yes, and…

Standard disclaimer: This is a bit of August armchair sociology, converting personal demons in a generalized and generational lament. Bauman would be proud of me! Freud, too. Just to be clear, I’m normally quite cautious with the postmodern sociology but in the following context it does make sense. I am not claiming that “postmodernity did this to us”, I’m thinking more along the lines of “these are the postmodern responses to the same old problems”.

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I’ve felt guilty since entering adolescence: of my use of resources, of my privilege. This is not a feminist issues of “they are trying to shrink me”, this is “I am trying to shrink my guilt and my carbon footprint”. Win-win! And I’m clearly not the only one: KonMari’s “throw it all out” is selling like crazy, the internets are teeming with tiny homes, capsule wardrobes, out-of-backpack adventures, digital nomadism…

I’ve promised myself to never use the idiotic notion of “millenials”, although I do remember that year when shops were selling “2000” candles and t-shirts. I shall move towards a generalized “we” instead. In this case it means generation Y and also a certain socio-demographic. However, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, replace every “we are” with “Luīze is”, that should do the trick.

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We are attracted to (1) minimalism in numbers, (2) minimalism in aesthetics, and have (3) ethical (and global) sensibilities in line with Ahimsa. While it’s all beautiful and good for the environment (unless you are one of those people tossing out all plastic / fast fashion and replacing it with stainless steel / sustainable garments; using up and not replacing is the thing, obviously), they are an itch to scratch to a budding sociologist. Where does it all come from? And the smugness! And righteousness!
These are the ad-hoc explanations I can come up with (following the best Weberian traditions, yes, it’s definitely multi-causal and more complex, but let’s just relax and spitball):

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A) We are too well-off. To put it crudely, Russians have an expression loosely translated as “going mad because of abundance” (literally: “going mad because of fat” – “С жиру бесится”). Or, to be more refined, we have post-material values. In line with the infamous, unscientific, and intuitively true work of Maslow, these are sensibilities that arise from all practical needs being covered. And then we reshuffle the priorities! While few might have the discipline to follow the steps of George Monbiot, travel and festivals, and vanguard tacos might be ascribed more subjective worth (as *experiences*) than the biggest TV set and a mortgage.

Old problem counterfactual: Marie Antoinette playing farm and how believable we find that she could’ve suggested that the starving eat brioche.

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B) Our life is unpredictable, and, contrary, to the XX ideal, we don’t expect it to be otherwise. Even if living and writing code from Bali is not your dream, there’s also no certainty of living in this house, in this city, in this country for a reasonable amount of time. So acquiring numerous heavy possessions is not practical.

Old problem counterfactual: not having anything and the plague is coming. Possessions are meaningless, unless you can buy your way into the Decameron mansion, and we all are going to end up in a mass grave anyway.

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C) We can’t handle chaos, hence try to establish a little patch of order in our won backyard. We cannot control economy, politics, terrorism… but we can decide to wear 33 garments for next 3 months, and stick to it. At least something! The doom and gloom seems to accelerate, and if the X-ers were already f*ed (see Coupland for proof), we are beyond that… We are craving meaning and clarity, and feeling special, better than the rest (after all, our mothers believed the indigo children bs, so we grew up confident in our uniqueness and unavoidable success).

Old problem counterfactual: family patriarchy under Feudal or Authoritarian system.

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D) The knowledge economy has gone postmaterial, so we are (selectively) reducing the material stuff and entering the business of selling intangible skill and hot air. Coaching, consulting, curating, networking… several powerful devices and few other possessions might be all we need. We envy the techno-nomads and virulently share testimonies of living out of a backpack.

And we are our own brand! Such careful cultivation when the fruits of your labor are not material. Only the number of followers and “likes” measure our worth. We seek to project our ideal selves – glowing, smart, compassionate, and creative – into reality instead of killing ourselves and all other creatures.

Old problem counterfactual: the world is still material (knock on wood!), and parsonal branding is not new! Either for curating a successful philosophy (1, 2) or explorer brand (3, 4, 5).

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E) The eye has to rest! Contrary to Diana Vreeland’s advice, we might just be tired of all the stimuli. Every day we see a gazillion pictures, read as much snippets of texts, tweets, ads… it’s tiring.

There might be a spiritual-religious spark to it, too: looking for the enlightenment via (selective) renounciation and purity politics (the “clean eatingorthorexia horrors, anyone?), wishing to be on the right side of the history.

Old problem counterfactual: find a cave, become a hermit and wait for the magic to happen! Moving in a semi-secluded cabin and writing a tedious diary is another option.

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Is it that bad, doctor (or, better, holistic practitioner)? I prescribe persuasion by quiet example, *not* surround yourself with the like-minded, and better a smug blog than smug sermons at family gatherings.

Dos any of this resonate or is this really just me?

Capsule wardrobes trans-seasonally and beyond seasonality

What my wardrobe would look like if I’d adopt a completely a-seasonal approach.

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I came across this piece on trans-seasonal dressing and… misunderstood it! Having never seen the term before, my restriction-loving mind filled the gaps along the lines of “yeah, how about just wearing the same items throughout the year! Of course, would be very local climate dependent, but even in 4-season zones we already wear many of our things both in January and July. Let’s see how many of my garments are that versatile!”

Then I googled a bit more, re-read the article that had sparked my interest, and realized that I had made it all up. In the fashion world the term actually refers to the fact that between winter and summer there are these in-between “transitional” periods of weather changing towards warmer or cooler. It’s clearly additional fun for fashion designers and editors, but in my culture we just call them spring and autumn (and Latvian summer) and bring a jacket. There are even such things as summer coat

So I’ll just go back to my initial idea and explore the *beyond* seasonality of my wardrobe.

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First of all, let’s talk climate. Having been born and raised in a temperate climate (humid continental, to be more precise), one of my major cultural shocks have been grasping that my friends from tropical climates have completely different understanding of weather and seasons. Having seen Mozambicans investing in their first wool hats when surprised by snow in Czech Republic, learning that a Panamanian friend bought her first coat when starting to travel internationally for work, and noticing that my Dominican colleague does not change his meals to lighter and cooler ones in summer has brought the point home. And I know that my current Mediterranean habitat of very mild winters and very hot summers would suggest to many (Latvians) that I am out of touch with the 4-season reality. To some extent – as the mutations of my Riga capsule have shown – I am.

I played with my wardrobe excel and divided it by the “beyond season potential” of my garments, i.e. answered to the question would I consider wearing (and do wear) them throughout the year or no way. I separated the Barcelona and Riga items, as different logic (and weather!) applies.

Click here to see the spreadsheet.

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No surprises. I have garments for all seasons, and – I would say – a reasonable mix of season-specific and year-round pieces. Seasonality is mostly dictated by fiber type: wool and synthetics for winter, cotton and regenerated fibers for summer. And cotton and regenerated fibers for the year-round champions! The conclusion here could be that getting rid of some of the most plastic pieces would move my wardrobe closer to a beyond-seasonal ideal. We’ll see about that this winter! (The August heat is inducing repulsion towards all my cold weather gear, so I’ll wait to see how I feel about my polyester dresses when the temperatures drop some 20ºC and wool tights come back in vogue.)

Here are some examples of how my year-round garments look in different seasons:

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What are the garments that you wear throughout the year? Are you among the people who have only one-season clothing for your home base and other capsule wardrobes for travel in different latitudes? Would a beyond-season capsule be possible in your life?

The Future of Riga capsule

My Riga wardrobe is going down. As my future is still in works and I’ve spent so little time in Latvia this year, Riga capsule is becoming 3 dresses, 6 layers, 3 pairs of footwear and 7 pieces of loungewear (our of which several can be repurposed for exterior uses). This new reduced Riga capsule will serve my needs here – being comfy at home, dealing with the weather and attending the somewhat regular formal occasions (hi, Opera!) – while reducing the amount of wishful thinking I had attached to this capsule.

The three dresses: formal, winter, and summer.

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I have found four reasons for not making it a one unique wardrobe located in one place (I haven’t had that since autumn 2007):

  1. There are 4 items that do not make the slightest sense in Barcelona: my parka (~2004), my fluffy jacket (2006), a heavy wool sweater (2015), and the infamous Crocs winter boots (2014). Nokian Hai rainboots are on the brink of falling into the same category.
  2. Travel is so much easier when I don’t have to bring any clothing, especially when taking into account the volatility of Latvian climate. It can be anywhere [-30; 10]ºC in winter and [10; 30]ºC in summer. Carrying winter boots and rain boots back and forth would be very wasteful and tiring.
  3. It’s fun! I’ve observed the flow of garments between the two wardrobes for 10 years, and it’s very telling. Of my naïveté, to start with, as my first wardrobe choices when heading out of home were rather questionable. And of wishful thinking, telling myself that Riga wardrobe was of the same value. Liar! Except for the weather-specific garments, those staying behind in Latvia were always second-tier pieces… But the re-encounters are exciting, although in most cases they serve just to confirm that obsolescence of the garment.
  4. Having things in Riga is a sentimental link, and I have few of those left: passport, family and friends, and some belongings that in last 10 years have proved themselves to be not essential enough to be carried with me but still to important to be donated.


Certain heirlooms also get to stay.

Do you have any geographically separated wardrobes (in summerhouses, at your parents)? How do you make sure that those are still functional and not a dump for the “maybe” pile?

My take on “formal” and dressing up out of a capsule

My life tends to be the opposite of formal…

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One of my early influences from Western romantic movies was a fondness for “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue“. I found out only yesterday that the whole thing is British and it has an additional line “and a silver sixpence in her shoe”, but even 25 years ago the idea of putting an outfit (and that of a bride, no less!) together from pieces that are not new and following a set of quirky rules seemed a lot of fun. I’m not tying any knots anytime soon (or ever, if I can avoid it), but putting together outfits by combining pre-loved items is what I do… We are in the wedding season, so here’s my proverbial sixpence on how to survive formal occasions with a capsule wardrobe.

There is a lot of superstition around formalwear, and most of it is not even as romantic as putting a coin in your shoe. (Also, now you won’t catch a ride home with a sixpence, but in XVIII-XIX that was quite a lot of money.) Most of formalwear superstition now is not linked with good luck or fertility, it’s all about “what will *they* think” instead. Very boring! The most abundant and insidious belief out there is that repeating outfits is a disrespect for the occasion, if you haven’t even bothered to go on a shopping spree for it. Bah!

My unsurprising suggestion here is to relax and repeat-repeat-repeat outfits until your current formalwear disintegrates. Very few of us have lots of these occasions (and if you are one of those people, there is a whole army taking care of your red carpet needs), so even if you have the perfect “formalwear capsule” (= 1 dress!) now, (a) it is very likely that in five years you will have worn it only a handful of times, (b) f* knows what your body will be up to in these years, (c) fashion aesthetics do change, just think of all those shoulder-padded garments now slowly dying in so many storage units. So, unless you manage to create a timeless and formal one-size-fits-all garment (let me know if you succeed, as even men suits don’t live up to these requirements), having a “formalwear capsule” is a wasteful strategy. You will never get it up to #30wears.

A much more rational, even utilitarian approach is to make the best possible combination of your smart casuals and call it a day. If you are reading this, you probably live in an amazing abundance of garments. Some of that is bound be good enough for the occasion, especially if you are not the bride.

Rental services for formalwear is an option. A lot of fuss but obviously better than buying. In my 30 years, I’ve never needed an evening gown. I might look into rentals if an occasion with strict-enough dress codes arises. Second-hand outrageousness or ethnographic costumes might be an option, depending on your crowds. Obviously, all this is lifestyle-contingent. But all the bs of a new dress, new shoes, a matching clutch and half day at the hair saloon is much too much anxiety for me to handle. Also, and for the n-th time, unless you are the bride, nobody is really keeping tabs on how many times they’ve seen you in the same dress.

If you are hellbent on *investing* and wan the old lie of “I’ll wear it again” to become true, stay away from flashy and fashionable, unless that garment is truly and uniquely *you*. Fashionable colors and prints are more likely to feel dated. Opt for something tailored and/or long-lasting (LBD, anyone?). And take into account that most of your cohort is combing the fast fashion places for the right outfit, hence the identical jumpsuit *catastrophe* is possible. Well, if that ever happens, laugh about it and take a photo!

And repeating has a comfort advantage, too. You are very likely to know if you can dance in these shoes and if you can eat in that dress, and how it looks in the photos. And you probably already have the right underwear. All this puts you light-years ahead of people who are breaking in a new pairs of shoes, i.e. those people dancing barefoot.

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To illustrate my point, this is what I wore for:

A high school reunion in 2015.

A wedding in 2015.

Two weddings in 2016.

A first communion in 2017.

My grandma’s 75th birthday in 2017.

Opera in 2017.

I have a wedding to attend in a week and, unless there’s a fashion force majeure, those people will see the same H&M sweetheart dress (2008), my Arcopedico work shoes (2017) and the little bolero jacket dreamed up by me and made by Gunta Upīte (2011). I’m leaving the headpieces at home, because I have no idea what will be going on on bride’s head. Easy-peasy!

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What’s your formalwear startegy? Do you combine from the existing everyday pieces or do you have the one cocktail dress that has seen all the occasions? Or is this the segment of your garment life where you relax the capsule and go shopping?

#30wears and 18 months of counting

Only 5 items have passed a 75 wear threshold in last 18 months: the gray cardigan (80 wears), Hummel jacket (79) and all three pairs of Veja Taua model I’ve owned (92, 154 & 101).

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I sneered at #30wears when I first read about Livia Firth’s initiative. Hah, where’s the merit in that? 30 miserable wears! I do more in few months, let alone throughout the lifetime of a garment… and then I went through my spreadsheets and summed all the wears. You win, Livia!

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#30wears is (yeah, another one!) ethical fashion initiative, in this case reminding that the simplest, cheapest and greenest way to make our wardrobes more ethical is to wear what we already own for as many times as we can. Basic, right? The number is rather arbitrary, but makes an intuitive sense of being a significant number of wears… and less scary than the magic 50 or 100.

It might be the imprint of a (post)Soviet scarcity mentality when hoarding made all the sense in the world, but I find absurd having something just for one wear. In my head that’s some kind of perverse consumption failure. And, no, I haven’t owned an evening gown or a wedding dress. No, I don’t do much red carpet, so repeating outfits is OK. Also, nobody notices what I’m wearing.

Intrigued by a new quantitative threshold (mine is 10 wears per season), the spreadsheet lover in me brought together the numbers for last 18 months. I’ve been counting them for this long, so that’s the available time horizon.

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I went through my numbers, and I am not impressed. They range from 0 (May swap finds waiting October) to 154 (Veja Taua Bahia), and have clear patterns. So these are the lessons learned if you want to wear your items more (and get better cost-per-wear, too!):

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It’s a numbers game. The least items you have, the more likely you are to wear each item. Obvious, yes, but I had an already heavily reduced wardrobe during this period, and less than a third of the garments I’ve worn have reached the magic 30.
Step 1: Reduce the total number of items in your wardrobe!

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This one follows the previous: the longer you have something, the more opportunities it has to be worn. There is a trick there, though. First, some exceptional items – special occasion garments, family vintage, sentimental stuff – work against this rule. If you are keeping something for its sentimental value, admit it and treat it differently. But only after really inquiring with your heart and all the family ghosts. The other mental hurdle is the well known “I’ll wear it someday”. Na-ah, if you are not wearing it now or waiting eagerly for seasons to change so that you could wear it, let it go.
Step 2: Keep only those items that you wear! If even a #30wears challenge can’t make you wear it, find another home for that party dress you wore once.

The same denim jacket from 2003 till 2017. 45 wears in last 18 months, but a scary unknown number since our paths crossed in 2003.

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Very few tears and unravellings are unmendable. Time is your ally in upping the number of wears, and so is mending as it will keep your favorites with you. If you have a “fix” pile that just silently dies in some bag for months, do yourself a favor and get rid of it!
Step 3: Find a seamstress you trust and can afford (or do it yourself if you have those kind of fingers!), and get your stuff fixed.

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Seasonality! Contingent on your location, but throughout-the-year versatility really pushes up the number of wears. Think jeans. Think t-shirts with and without layers. In my case, think necklaces.
Step 4: Depending on your climate, think about ways how you could carry the same garment throughout (most of) the year!

The same Dana Zēberga necklace in February, March, May and June.

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Function, function, function! If you have only one thing for one use and you need it often, you have a winner! I have one winter hat – a hand-me-down from C – and that’s easy, I have six winter scarves and struggle with indecision. And they are all heirlooms, too. Harsh weather garments – bikinis and winter coats – can fall into this category if you manage stick to having only one. ONE IS ALL YOU NEED HERE! (Underwear and hosiery are clearly exceptions to this and the next rule.)
Step 5: Question the function of each garment! Try to bring it down to one per function.

And this is only a half of the scarf-situation.

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Duplicates are bullshit. I’ve done several attempts at this in my life and it has always been a massive fail. Even when two not identical garments have exactly the same function, they are not helping anybody, unless your lifestyle requires it (think uniforms!). There is clearly one item too many between my two pairs of informal short shorts (going at 30 and 13 wears so far).
Step 6: Rethink your duplicates! Chances are that you prefer one to other, so keep your favorite.

My problem here is that the patterned ones are much more comfy but even I’m not ready for this kind of pattern clash. Ugh!

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Verdict: Wear counting is a fun thing to do! It opens your eyes to the very short life of our garments and to how rarely we actually wear stuff. A thought experiment: a garment you machine wash after every use (keep in mind that very few garments need this!) and wear seasonally could get around 25 wears per year (52/2) while a garment worn year-round on every third day = 365/3.
However, counting and the slows progress of numbers will drive you crazy if you start with a very ample wardrobe. My suggestion is a Marie Kondo purge of everything not fitting (the body or the lifestyle) or sparking joy, followed by counting. Spreadsheets don’t lie but they need room to do their magic!

Breathe deeply, it’s clean enough

I keep observing – and dealing with – several mental hang-ups that hamper access to a more sustainable living. The great taboo of cleanliness is at work! It’s very natural as notions of purity and cleanliness lie at the very core of cultures, separating good and bad, beneficial and pernicious. Even more – and this coming from a sociologist – there is a clear evolutionary need to distinguish rotten and smelly as bad (i.e. inedible; cheese came into being long time after) for our survival.

However, industrial societies have brought the hygiene revolution a tad too far. With the advances of chemical industry, household appliances and the new abundance of garments, it’s all too easy to become overzealous with cleanliness.

Apart from health and overall environmental implications (look those up anyway, please!), I want to bring your attention to two areas where twisted notions of hygiene affect the sustainability of our wardrobes: care of garments and ways to obtain them.

So, first of all, when it comes to basic care issues, reconsider your laundry habits:

When I’m taking off a garment after wear, I check it for smell and stains. If the item can do with just airing, back to the wardrobe it goes. I know this is a hard one to overcome, especially if you come from a “you’ve worn it, put it in the laundry basket” household. For inspiration (and courage!) I suggest you read up care advice from top denim brands. Despite the fact that those are intensely worn and constantly crotch rubbing garments, Nudie Jeans’ advice is “six or more months of daily wear before washing“. Boom!

If you have items that need washing machine to get back into shape after one wear, I suggest you get rid of them. One wear per wash is a very bad deal for anything except underwear and socks.

Work around the care labels. Read them but see if you can hack them. For example, “dry cleaning only” is usually a hoax. The only thing they’ll do is break your buttons, take your money and, depending on method used, might flush down the drain all kinds of nasties meanwhile. If the item is especially delicate (or you need it for tomorrow), wash it by hand, either in the sink or bring it with you in the shower.

Wash with cold water! Unless you have exceptionally dirty clothes (hardcore food stains, mechanical oils, etc.), cold water will do. Upgrade to 30ºC if very dirty and save 40ºC for special occasions. In our household 60ºC is for our grimy tea towels and 90ºC only for very persistent stain treatment (which happens maybe once a year and involves bleach, yuck!).

Working with these low temperatures I’ve realized that separating colors is a laundry superstition. In my washing machine everybody goes in together and only very occasionally the whites come out baby blue or light pink. Learn to recognize possible dye leakers and separate them. Letting go of this separation makes sure you always have full loads.

Upgrade your detergent to a better alternative (inquire with knowledgeable people, like these) and consider getting rid of the fabric softener, it’s offensively smelling black magic anyways.

Line dry if possible. Depends on your dwelling and on your household composition, of course. We are very lucky to be able to line dry on the roof of our apartment building. I feel that only extra laundry needs, like having small children, justify investing in a dryer. I’m biased,  because that’s not a typical household appliance neither in Latvia nor in Spain. The only ones I’ve ever used have been in laundromats when I lived in Brussels. And I don’t miss them.

Rethink if ironing is an activity you want to invest in. I iron only my handkerchiefs. And only in winter, the handkerchief season.

OK, so you’ve let go of many things your mom taught you about laundry. Now we can tackle an even trickier one: the great secondhand prejudice. Making your own stuff last for years and obtaining clothing second hand can be linked with the purity taboo, specially if you find yourself among people that sneer at pre-worn garments.

My sensation is that fear of poverty tends to be at the bottom of the second-hand aversion, much more prevalent among people that have experienced scarcity (hello, Eastern Europe of 1990s!). Seems that the key for embracing second hand is not having fear of being perceived as poor and abandoning the idea of new as intrinsically better.

(A toxicity side note about newness: when dealing with fast fashion, you are much better off with pre-used and pre-washed items that have lost some of possible toxicity of pesticides and dyes that garment might have had when fresh off the shelf, provided that the re-seller hasn’t sprayed it with any new crap. Community swapping is a way to avoid this hazard.)

If the ones mocking your pre-loved outfits are other people, f*ck them. Try, at least. Ignoring what (significant) others say is very hard, I know. However, in this case you have your Values by your side. The next time your grandma asks if you are really so poor as to wear other people’s stuff, let that comment fly over your head knowing that goddesses of sustainability are by your side. I’m sure you are already ignoring other similarly well intentioned but off mark advice. So let go of this one as well.

If the cockroaches are in your own head (we all have those, relax), it might help to think about all the other things in life you share with people. This exercise might be triggering for some, but most (more or less) neurotypicals should have no problem admitting that we share tableware with strangers at restaurants we frequent. We go to hotels and sleep in bed linen many other people have slept before. We share soap and hand towels (and other personal care items depending on household) with partners and family. The logic we routinely apply is that things become as new after a good wash. If you have a hygiene-based aversion to second hand garments, I suggest two things:

First, calm down. As with all subtractions, this is a friendly invitation to review and question certain aspects of your everyday life. However, sometimes it makes sense to keep things the same after that critical examination. And that’s fine. You’ll just know that your wardrobe detox strategy shall be one of replacing with sustainably made new things. It takes google time and money, but it surely doable. As I’ve explained before, for me it makes more sense to buy my underwear, hosiery and footwear new. But here you have an example of how underwear does not have to be bought new.

Second, consider the gradient formed by different strategies of obtaining pre-worn garments. The true thrift shop with certain levels of mess, tackiness and that particular smell is the most hardcore way of incorporating second hand items in your wardrobe. Depending on your personality and mood, it can be an exciting treasure hunt or an exhausting nightmare, especially if you are looking for something very specific. A very basic notion for for thrifting is looking for broad categories (“a full skirt”, “a dress for my cousin’s wedding”) instead of a something exactly as you have imagined. And always keeping your eyes open for unexpected gems. I did a lot of thrifting in my adolescence, but that was stopped first by my incursion into fast fashion browsing habit and then by change in acquisition dynamics via hand-me-downs and swaps. But that’s still the kind of fashion browsing I could get behind.

A more pleasant second hand experience can be consignment stores and curated vintage places, but you’ll pay for the selection work done for you. Usually these places are much smaller and tailored according to curator’s taste. So you might find a shop that’s a match made in heaven for your style, but don’t hold your breath for that!

If your aversion comes from the fact that second hand garments have spent unknown time in containers, trucks and warehouses, and you have no idea where they are coming from… clothes’ swaps could be your thing! Depending on how they are done, those could be events with things from relative strangers, but you’ll be sure that the garment came directly from their homes. So no mystery locations and smells to get rid of. I don’t even wash the things I adopt at swaps, I just wear them and they become mine. Without infrastructure, transportation or money. Pure magic!

If strangers make you squeamish, organize an intimate swap with people you know. Make a party out of that or just casually ask if your friends have stuff they are not wearing (or volunteer to assist them with a wardrobe revision).

The lowest stress option on the pre-worn gradient is shopping your own wardrobe and wearing your stuff. Many times. As long as it makes sense for you. This is why I do the strictly controlled spreadsheet thing: it shows me what’s working for my current lifestyle and what has to go. Those “not for me, not now” pieces then return to the circular fashion economy via my friends and community, and keep wearing and re-wearing my wardrobe heroes.

The #30wears hashtag is going around promoting this exact idea. Thirty seems a rather low threshold for me. Just during the 3.5 months of last winter my trench got 50 wears… I wish there was some mechanism in our apparel counting wears. I’m sure that some of my garments have seen several hundred wears.

How I pack or #whatiwore 2017w16

Week 16 featured this year’s first trip, so I had to pack for four nights away from home and two flights.  My travel planning for last few years involves a pen-on-paper list (pictured above) divided by days and activities. I fill it with weather appropriate items I want to wear and – voilà! – I have a list of all I need to pack. This approach allows packing only the necessary number of things and planning to repeat outfits if appropriate. I will never tire of repeating that other people actually do not notice that much of our outfits. So repeating is a very smart travel strategy: if it passes the smell test, wear it again (and carry less with you)!

I make the list quite some days before the trip. It helps to assess my needs in a more detached way and helps to prepare all that has to be washed or mended before the trip. As with wardrobe pruning, you have to know your stuff very well to be able to do this without opening your wardrobe. To make sure that nothing stays behind in the laundry basket, I prefer to get the suitcase out a few days before the trip and just start to put in stuff that’s on the list.

My basic travel outfit is a long blouse and leggings adjusted for weather with adequate footwear and additional layers. It’s comfy, relaxed, and still feels put together. Lack of pockets in women’s apparel becomes an issue when traveling, so the additional layers need to have those. And, knowing how crazy cold it can be on a plane, I always bring that additional layer and a scarf with me.

For this trip involving Granada and Seville, however, I was preparing for warm weather on ground, so my Mom’s hand-me-down blazer it was. As long blouse and leggings combo work very well for almost all casual travel situations, I only needed a hotter weather alternative… So the shorts season is officially open!

By the third day the white blouse already had some grease stains (hello, Andalusian tapas!), but the little pink number (a hand-me-down from Kristine) did a great job replacing it. I have to admit that I chickened out when packing and included an extra top and leggings. In vain. Lesson learnt: trust the list!

I don’t mind showering together with my socks and underwear, so five of each was more then enough even if I changed into fresh socks after siesta. And my new Veja sneakers are now officially broken in and extra comfy for long walks.

We also attended a formal family event, so my aunt’s hand-me-down dress, the Arcopedico shoes and the same blazer topped with a sparkly headband did the trick.

Persuasion or #fuckfastfashion, but gently

Liisa threw a post idea at me the other day: “How can we – gently and lovingly – convince our friends and family that fast fashion is an aberration? How can we respond to some of the most common arguments people use to shield themselves from thinking about the conditions their garments are made in?”

The idea is an excellent one, especially as adoption of more sustainable fashion practices (very similarly than becoming a vegan) leads you to exclude certain groups of products from your consciousness. Your wardrobe is build as if the big cheap retailers would not exist, and you get shocked every time you hear that somebody still goes there. This trick our minds play with us leads to less capacity for empathy for those who still continue with *the habit*.

Empathy is key in messaging, because the substance of all our “fuck fast fashion” speeches is no other than dividing garments in “good” and “bad”, and telling people that by purchasing “bad” garments they are directly responsible for oppressing people and destroying ecosystems. Nobody wants to be part of that club, so denial, defensiveness and anger are only natural reactions.

So both with veganism and sustainable fashion, unless people are really trying to provoke me (I wish I’d received a euro every time I’ve heard a variation of “what about the pain that carrots feel?”), I adopt the “every step counts” approach and never tire of celebrating the smallest changes that people are willing to make.

However, there are some common illusions that people use to shield themselves from the inconvenient truth of fast fashion. Be gentle and firm when addressing these, imagine you are unraveling a knit: you have to be careful during the process, but this stuff’s gotta go.

A: Fast fashion as employer. Sounds like something along the lines of “but these people are happy when the bad garment industry jobs come, they would be even more miserable without them”.

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The fallacy is assuming that if it could be worse, it cannot be better. Also, unfortunately the fact that people making fast fashion garments in most cases are far away from the consumers reduces our empathy. In many cases labor, social justice and feminist activists would fight for similar issues at home but do not see the links with struggles thousands of kilometers away. There are exceptions, of course, but the geographical divide is clear. In Spain – the birthplace of the Amancio’s empire – Zara started by relying on Galician seamstresses, but then the price squeeze came, and now time by time we get TV segments lamenting death of the industry as all production jobs have been moved overseas. However, rarely it gets connected with “be ready to pay more if you want the industry back”.
My argument in favor of smaller but local garment industries has to do with less carbon footprint, but it is easy to imagine a better garment industry both in Cambodia and back in Galicia. But not at the actual rock bottom price point. And that leads us to the second fast fashion illusion…

B: Fast fashion as a cheap option. “But I’m poor/looking for the best deal, the price is very important to me, that’s why I go to fast fashion places”.

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Two issues are at the root of this reasoning. First, we have learned that cheap garments are possible, and the assumption that follows is that they *should* be cheap. That is not true. For most of clothing’s history garments were scarce and very expensive. Everybody had very few items, and those were mended, upcycled and worn to threads. The abundance we live in is very recent and has clearly diminished the value of each garment. And the same logic has worked the other way around: pressure for cheap garments have propelled use of worse materials and worse stitching. So, on one hand, people want cheap stuff. On the other, they know that the cheap stuff won’t last, and are ready to buy another one very soon.
Second issue are hidden (i.e. unpaid) costs. As with other industries that rely heavily on a global production chain, many negative environmental and social impacts of garment industry go uncounted and unpunished. Due to strategic placement of operations, they are likely to pollute in places with lax environmental regulation and bully labor union activists in places where governments prefer foreign investment to organized labor force. This is a major trick for making the final garment cheaper: you just move your production to more savage capitalism and avoid Western regulations.

C: Fast fashion as as easy and ubiquitous. “I’m busy and need a pair of flats now!”.

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Garments are not drinking water (or potatoes, if you are Eastern European). There are very few real clothing emergencies, i.e. you have only one bra and the fastening broke. Or it’s -30ºC and you have no garment that would cover your legs. I doubt that any of you, my friends, have been in a real emergency of that kind.
Our fake emergencies tend to be more along the lines of “I cannot wear this dress to this wedding, I already wore it last year to common friends’ wedding” or “this purse is several tones off from the shoe color”. Meh. Nobody cares, believe me. Not even if you’re the bride.
These fake emergencies stem either from the ubiquity of fashion and meaning we assign to garments (“I need new stuff for this event”) or bad past decisions (“these shoes are killing me, let’s pop in H&M for a 5€ pair of whatever”). The alternative is pruning, planning and knowing your stuff intimately. And letting go of many preconceived reasons for shopping.

D: Fast fashion as the amplest choice. “I like to see the biggest possible number of things in one place, and then chose from them”.

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It’s like if you’d enter a bar, choose the least unattractive person there, and decide they are your crush now. While all you actually wanted was a glass of water.
In a nutshell, fast fashion moguls decide for you and then you browse their badly made stuff that won’t last for even one season knowing it’s either this or nothing until the next “update” (that happen at least weekly in most of those places). And even if the garment would last, you don’t even like it enough to wear for one full season and make it your signature item.
I admit that hunting down something specific in the ethical or second-hand market is hard. But internet exists. Seamstresses exist. Learning to sew is a possibility. And letting go of twisted fantasies about the perfect dress too.

E: Fast fashion as a pastime. “But it’s fun to go an browse, and then be able to buy at least some of it (or make a *haul* of it)!”.

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Get yourself another hobby! If it has to be fashion-related, do the more exciting (and funny too!) thrift-store browsing. Or try to swap with your friends. If you want it fashion-related and being even more selective (and without spending any money), I suggest turning to Pinterest. Curate your own collections, capsules, editorials… Make collages and share them on the internets! (Like this person.) The gratification should be at least on par with spending hours indoors listening to chunda-chunda music and going through racks of poorly made polyester garments.

F: Fast fashion as “fast”. “Fast fashion is like fast food: After the sugar rush it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth”.

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This is a bonus one, coming from this post that undoubtedly had best intentions. It’s only partly correct, though. It’s spot on about instant gratification and lack of long term benefits. However, despite the fact that industrial food production has a lot of issues going on in oh! so many fronts, fast fashion is worse because it has a bigger impact while being made and that stuff lingers…
While with food we have to worry (and rightly so!) about recycling the wrappers, it’s harder with garments. You have the bags and boxes, and the thing itself. Yet most cities don’t run a textile waste program. And charities that accept donations are overwhelmed by the quantity of badly made and worn out fast fashion garments nobody wants. So they ship containers of unwanted textiles to (mostly) African countries where they dynamite the traditional textile markets. And even if your 3€ novelty t-shirt end up becoming a cleaning rug in Ghana, there is still uncompostable waste at the end of all the moving and shipping that piece of mixed fibers has experienced.

OK, so I’m not sure how gentle this turned out to be. Not much, I suspect. However, here you have at least threads of conversation to use – more gently and lovingly, preferably – to advance the conversation in your community. Remember that you never know when just a one phrase you utter might make that *click!* in somebody’s head. I cannot promise converts, but at least you are prepared for the conversation now.

Constant Gardener: Edit your wardrobe!

So you have curated a solid vision for your wardrobe or just feel like making a spring cleaning in your wardrobe… Each wardrobe is a world, so you have to decide which approach works for you.

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Strategy A: The intuitive one

If you have an extensive wardrobe that hasn’t seen pruning in long time, I’d suggest you go for the intuitive approach. This is the strategy you will find described in most places that give advice on wardrobe cleaning:

0. Get into a warrior mode, a good documentary or a podcast on the evils of consumerism and fast fashion might help.

1. Get it all out together (on the bed, on the floor).

2. Sort it into three or four piles: “love”, “maybe”, “out (donate)”, “out (textile trash)”. Try the items on if need be. “Tailor it” could be an additional pile, but be careful, it can become a ghost that then sits in your wardrobe for months waiting to be tailored. I’d suggest a certain degree of ruthlessness, i.e. if that things has been waiting to see a tailor for months, it has gotta go.

3. Return “love” to your wardrobe, get rid of the “out” piles, reconsider “maybe” by either giving it a period of grace (i.e. hide it somewhere and if in few weeks you haven’t wanted any of it, out it goes) or just go through it again, making new “love” and “out” piles.

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This approach should leave you with a significantly reduced amount of items, all of them in good condition. Success! If you want more variations of this strategy, check out how Lee from Style Bee, Courtney from Be More with Less, or Anuschka from Into Mind do it.

My very personal final suggestion is that you make an exhaustive list of all that remains once you are done with this wardrobe edit. That will help to assess the overall size of your wardrobe (normally the sheer number is enough to scare one into adding some more to the “out” piles) and the weight of different categories. Plus, you might want to follow up with Strategy B.

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Strategy B: The brainy one

This one is more appropriate once you have gotten down to a wardrobe that you feel in control of. You know each garment intimately, you know how it feels, how it sits, how it washes, how it shows sweat, and where exactly the hemline hits. In most cases such knowledge means a reduced number of garments, and this might lead to fear to get too excited with editing and throw out a key basic that maybe does not spark that much joy but actually is an essential layering piece. Keep calm, this approach is for you.

1. Make an exhaustive list of all your clothing. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but, please, bear with me. Make a list of all serious clothing you have (except lounge, sports, sleep, underwear, hosiery; i.e. only stuff you wear when you let strangers see you) and footwear. And I suggest you do that in a spreadsheet or at least a text editor, instead of a paper notebook. More or less like this:

This accountant-style exercise will most probably provide a lot of insight on its own. Here you can see my current wardrobe spreadsheet. Just for fun I’ve also included country, year I obtained it and how I obtained it.

Preliminary conclusions? (a) I’m a dress and skirt person. (b) As you already know, all my footwear is new while the rest of items tend to be either quite old or hand-me-downs. (c) I am already down to numbers what other people curate as capsule wardrobes. But I have two of them! So, this still feels very abundant and might need some more pruning, especially taking into account (d) my problem with identifying the right moment to say goodbye to worn-out items.

As you know your stuff well, just taking a look at the list might be enough to make bye-bye decisions, especially as you can see other garments in the same column and be assured that you will have something to wear. For example, my plan for the end of my Spring capsule is to finally retire my old denim jacket (est. 2003) and bring one of my military-style blazers from Riga to substitute it. This will be the swap:

Making the list can be cumbersome the first time. However, once you invest in having an easy-to-update list, the following edits can be made while you are curling up in your bed with a cup of hot cocoa. No need to get it all out again in order to prune out an item or two.

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2. Make a parallel tab in excel (you can also print the list and cut out the individual items, yet I prefer the good old “copy-paste” for this), and organize your items in a table like this one:

Celebrate your “winners”! Then think about the rest. Which things you could donate today and never think of them again? I suggest that out they go. Erase them from your list (feels good, right?) and, if doing this at home, bag them for donation. Hopefully you can let go of all “don’t like don’t wear” and “forgotten” items and then proceed with the two other categories.

For pieces you don’t wear but like: Would you add them to your wardrobe again tomorrow? No? Out. Are they wrong or you this year/this body? Out. Life is a complex thing already, you have no need to accumulate guilt and remorse in your wardrobe, thank you very much.
While there are some garments we save for special occasions (evening gowns! ski overalls!), ask yourself if you will wear this one when the occasion comes. If your response is along the lines of “probably I’ll get another one, and there hasn’t been an occasion since 2009 anyways”, consider donating it.

For pieces you don’t like but wear: If some circumstances frequently make you wear something you abhor (work uniform? high heels?), maybe there’s a small tweaks you can make to improve the feeling. Or, on a bigger scale, maybe it has nothing to do with the garment to start with…
If there’s no external pressure to wear these, you are need of another list: a wishlist to keep your eyes peeled for better replacements in your next swap, second-hand shopping trip or ethical fashion app.

By the way, do you have any duplicates? How well that functions? Maybe you need only one? Especially if you already keep wearing just one of them. Erase them from the list and into a bag they go

3. Shop your own wardrobe! Think about the current season or the next one, whichever feels more inspiring, divide your remaining items in two groups: season-appropriate and season-inappropriate. If something works year-round, include it. See? That’s a clear pool of options for the season in question. And what a haul it is!

Mixing and matching is magic, multiplication works in your favor.

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4. Mix and match the abundance! Move around your “like & wear” items creating outfits for a typical week in your life. It can look like this or even more finely divided, whatever works for you. Note if something essential (black tights? comfy walking shoes?) is missing and if you would like to replace something with a better version (color, fit, worn-out).
If one week of combinations feel like too few, fill two or three. Unless you are a person that wears only dresses and rompers (I might become that person one day), the odds are that you will have more combinations that you have slots. That’s just math: 3 tops and 3 bottoms make for 9 possible combinations.

The outcomes here are (a) a reassurance of an abundance of combinations, (b) a workable outfit plan with only beloved items, (c) a tentative wishlist. At any step of the process, feel free to set aside garments that do not sit well with the rest of items or you just don’t want to wear. That’s fine. Get rid of it.

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Congrats! You’ve made it till the end and welcome to your new wardrobe.

An additional note on textile donations: Research your options, talk to people at the charity shops, make sure you donate only stuff that they handle. For example, look up if the charity manages textile waste; only in those cases throwing in your (clean!) worn-out socks is a legitimate thing to do. If the place you want to donate to does not manage textile waste, all the items you are donating should be same mint condition as stuff you would give to a friend.

Talking about friends, organizing your own clothes’ swap is one of the best options to do your share in preventing textile waste. The scale is up to you, it’s the spirit that matters. You know it already: one woman’s “I finally got rid of that guilt piece” is other woman’s “OMG, OMG, can you believe that somebody does not want this?!”

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Vision-building for your wardrobe

Despite my conviction that using up what you already have is the cornerstone of a sustainable wardrobe, I know well enough that style visions and desires change. And, luckily, most garments can be styled in a myriad of ways, so your style can evolve even if most of the items stay the same.

Having a clear vision of how you want your wardrobe to feel (at the end it is always more about how it feels and not about how it looks) helps to put together an outfit and to make sure that you are projecting your authentic self into the world. It might be pure vanity, but my mood is highly contingent on what I’m wearing.
Also, if you aim to prune your wardrobe, conceptual clarity is key when deciding which items stay. Unless you approach your wardrobe as an infinite cabinet of curiosities (I did that for a while, “adopting” the weirdest items I could find because it felt cool; then I was faced with a problem of having to move all that stuff internationally and realized that I needed to change my approach), the items that you have should serve to cover your body while you go on with your life. They should help instead of holding you back and cluttering everything from your head to your living space.

So today I propose that you curate your own unique vision for your wardrobe. Then the next stage will be pruning and editing your wardrobe to free up space for that vision.

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Step 1: Prep and get into the mood

Wear an outfit that helps you feel really good. I suggest also a choosing a favorite spot: bed, reading chair, coffee shop, park, whatever helps you channel your authentic self… As for tools, my choice for this exercise would be a paper notebook instead of a screen, but that’s up to you.

Inhale deeply, go to your happy place and… Write down how your outfit helps you feel, what you like about it the most. There are so many possible reasons: how the material feels on your skin, the perfect length, the happy memories it holds, the attention you get when wearing it…

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Step 2: Revisit the good times

Go wider! Visit your happy outfit memories, be they from many years ago or yesterday. Note down context, details, materials, colors, how it felt… Write down several of those.

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Step 3: Come back to present

Remember that even now there are some clothing that you love and enjoy wearing! What are your power outfits? What combinations, silhouettes, materials, colors make you feel most *you* these days?

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Step 4: Imagine the future

Visualize how you would like your clothing to feel. Forget the details and get the big picture. I suggest three different strategies for this, you can do all three or the one that resonates the most.

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Strategy A: Find words describing that feeling! It can be a chain of adjectives (for example, relaxed – colorful – artsy or put together – sophisticated – natural). It can also be a phrase instead of separate words. Phrases work better for me to make those visions solid. Mine so far have been:

    Winter 2015/2016: The anarchist librarian that once studied anthropology.
    Summer 2016: The resident conceptual artists in Albaicín* in August.
    Winter 2016/2017: A very well selling young artist: sharp and unique.

You might look back to what I wore then and think that my outfits did not look like that at all. That’s OK. They felt like that to *me*. That’s all that matters in this exercise. By the way, I think I’m gravitating back to anarchist librarian feel. It will look different this time, no doubt. It’s the feeling that counts.

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Part of my Dressing in Summer board.

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Strategy B: Find pictures that capture that feeling! Pinterest is the place to go for me, and for this exercise I suggest you make a vision board for the weather of current season but without thinking about the practicalities. At all. This is the space for all the outrageous fashion editorials, vintage photos, celebrity shots, famous artwork, landscapes, patterns, etc. etc. that transmit you *that* feeling. Most of the times the board ends up having a clear common overall feel of what shapes, colors, textures attract you.

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You can download these paper dolls here.

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Strategy C: Draw your vision! It might feel intimidating at first (here’s some inspiration that helped me to make the first sketch), but can be beneficial on so many levels. You get to depict how it feels instead of being reality-bound, and artistic expression is always good.

An alternative – and an opportunity go back into childhood for many of us – is making a paper doll (or using my dolls or any of the gazillion silhouettes that you can find online) and a whole selection of outfits for her.

Some of my last summer’s #ootd sketches to encourage you.

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If you do at least one of these, it should already help. If you do all three, congrats, you will have a solid vision that then can be used when editing your current wardrobe or obtaining new items. Meanwhile, happy imagining, pinning and coloring!

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* Albaicín is a magical neighborhood in Granada, Spain. A must-see and not only because of vistas to Alhambra.