Shopping is something I will always enjoy, but I also care about the environment. Where do you start?
I love fashion. I love watching catwalk shows. I love getting dressed up. I love the intoxicating thrill of frippery that I can’t afford. I also love the sound of tissue paper in a shopping bag. This sound is only matched by champagne cork popping. That’s just half of it. The thrill of high street chases is what I love most. I love to stop a woman in the street and ask her where her dress is from. Then, I hunt it down and order it on my phone at the bus station. I’ve been known to be weak at the knees when I try on new suede boots. I also love earrings and will never have enough.
You know what I also love? I love living in a climate where it doesn’t freeze me. Instead of plastic, oceans with fish and/or icebergs. Mars is a long distance – and Elon Musk? No. This means that I must love clothes in a way which doesn’t produce huge amounts of waste or use a large amount of the global carbon budget. It is absurd that 300,000 tonnes worth of fashion waste are thrown away each year. This is not progress. In the past 15 years, the average number of garments worn before being retired has fallen by 36%. In China, this figure is 70%. It is not a good idea to throw away clothes that you love. Fashion isn’t trash.
This article is not about me lecturing you on sustainability. For a start, you’re probably better than I am. This is more about me being like you. This is about me changing the column in this newspaper to reflect how almost everyone wears clothes. On Saturday mornings, styling what you already have more than buying new outfits. From now on, I will change the way I dress and write. Every week my look will feature old favorites from my closet and new finds from vintage shops. Beautiful hand-picked pieces will always be available for purchase. We won’t pretend this is the end of the story.
From Katharine Hamnett and Stella McCartney to newcomers like Mother of Pearl’s Amy Powney, designers who are passionate about making ethical fashion have helped make sustainability cool and glamorous and newsworthy. Should ethical fashion be glamorous or newsworthy? Perhaps not. They do, however. Fashion and sustainability must be discussed with everyone. A woman who wants Stella’s Vegan Stan Smiths (PS235) and has, for example, PS30 to spare but would still love them. According to the Office for National Statistics PS25.10 is spent on shoes and clothes for a household with an average weekly spending of PS554.20. We all have a human need to be in tune with the times, to constantly turn over a new page. This drives our fashion impulse buys. It is common wisdom to give up your PS30 purchases and buy a PS350 blazer once a year. This is a bit too optimistic and patronizing.
Sustainability must begin with examining the psychology behind fashion. I want to be a better-looking, cooler and more exciting person when I purchase clothes. It’s the same as before, there is nothing new. What has changed is the gap between what we see in the mirror and what we want to achieve with our Instagram-fed dreams has widened.
Sometimes, clothes can help bridge the gap. Fashion can be amazing at its best. How do you know when to buy a dress? You can start flirting with your self in the mirror when you have tried it on. It doesn’t have to be full-on flirting. That would be quite strange. You look in the mirror, smile at yourself and feel satisfied with what you see. You should buy the dress when that happens.
You know which dress you should avoid buying? You try it on and then you look in the mirror. This dress will negate you. This dress is not your friend. I beg you to promise that you will never buy that dress again.
I’ve been talking to a lot of people about this topic – fashion psychologists, experts on the circular economic, and women who can find treasure in charity shops. I want to know how I can maintain a high fashion standard in the clothes I wear, as well as the environment.
Caryn Franklin, Kingston School of Art professor of diversity, strikes a chord when mentioning the emotional issue of sustainability as a special issue for women. She says that women feel that they won’t be good enough and must continue striving for an impossible goal. “They use clothes to medicate, creating the self they believe they need – and then when that doesn’t happen they keep going and disposing of the clothes.” This means there is a gap in self-worth and clothes are being dumped into landfill.
It might seem a stretch to say that building a style around clothes you already have is the first step in accepting yourself. Actually, I don’t think so. This is the way that 99% of us dress most of the day. It’s absurd to call it “recycling” when a Duchess of Cambridge wears exactly the same coat twice. It’s not about the fact that nearly all of us still wear clothes we’ve owned for years. This creates an odd dishonesty gap. I’m not referring to Granny’s cashmere (humblebrag 2.0) or designer pieces that are now considered vintage. You can still wear ordinary clothes many years later if you like them. Gap was the source of my black trousers. They have been worn about once per week for the past 12 years, sometimes more frequently.
However, I have found that expensive clothes are often more valuable than cheaper ones if you consider the cost per wear. In the photo overleaf, you can see the leopard-printed jacket with short sleeves that I purchased from Betty Jackson in early 2000s. It was not cheap, so I recall deliberating about it. I was worried about how useful a leopard short-sleeve jacket would be. You’re welcome, reader. It is very useful. That jacket is my favorite. Louis Vuitton made the blouse with paisley print and the satin trousers I am wearing. It is about a decade old. It is a fashion week staple that comes out every year when there’s a boho trend (which happens every year). It’s also a favorite for weekend lunches with jeans and boots in the fallow seasons.
The blouse I am wearing with my Gap trousers is vintage Lauren. It was purchased at Rokit for PS30. I’ve never been able to master charity shopping so I set out on a mission of gen-up and asked fashion styling guru Bay Garnett for her advice. She creates cult capsules for MiH jeans using vintage denim trophies.
She says, “When I go to a secondhand store, I look for something that feels modern. I hate the retro look.” This is what really surprised me. “The hipster 1950s look with full skirts, lipstick, and ironic hairstyle is great for other people but not for me.” “Oh God, me neither,” Garnett says. “I hate the idea of vintage shopping being something unique, nostalgic, and twee. I don’t like the term vintage. Recently, I bought amazing 80s pieces like a biker sweatshirt and a zip.”
Many times, some of my favorite clothes have been brought back from death. The pencil skirt in the photo on the right is a tiger-striped one that I purchased a decade ago from Max&Co. It was a MaxMara diffusion collection. It was not made for me running up and down stairs twice at a stretch, so it has been reconstructed many times. A mini-length slipdress with pink sequins was my first choice. It was transformed into a cocktail skirt below the knee five years ago. I still wear it at the kinds of parties that require a skirt and sweater.
Lulu O’Connor, an online tailor and alteration company Clothes Doctor founder, is passionate about helping women have longer wearable clothes. “An oversized T-shirt you are attached to that’s lurking in the in-case-I-paint-the-house pile, for instance, could be that cropped-at-the-waist T-shirt everyone on Instagram is wearing with high-waisted trousers. The more logos and slogans you cut through the middle of, it’s more Guccified.”
Mother of Pearl’s Powney has launched No Frills, a capsule collection that is sustainable, ethical and seasonless. With price tags from PS90, the range is keenly priced for a designer label – and the quality and label give it resale value, something Powney and other designers embracing the circular economy are passionate about Vestiaire Collective – a sort of blue-chip eBay, just for fashion – is a great resource to find the person out there who wants to pay good money for the designer handbag you don’t use any more, freeing up your cash for a new one. John Lewis will also buy back any clothes you have purchased from them that you no longer want. Online calculators can tell you how much your clothes (including socks) will be worth. Once you have reached PS50, a courier will pick them up and give you a coupon. You can either sell the items (but not in John Lewis), or have them resold, mended, or recycled.
Postpone your shopping trip this season. Take your keys off, take your coat off and make a cup o’ tea. Now, open your closet. You can start by finding anything leopard print. These prints seem to get better as you age. A skirt that falls below the knee is a good choice. If you have a long-sleeve shirt, especially one of the touristy, you can wear it over the skirt and cinched with the widest belt. You can pair cropped trousers you only wear on vacation with ankle boots.
There is no doubt that there is a better and more valuable fashion column about how we need to stop shopping. Bagsy is not going to write that one. I’m not ready to abandon fashion. I’m willing to do things differently. To keep up with the times, what do you need? That’s simple. Less.
How to get more from your wardrobe
Do your researchThe free Good on You app is a handy guide to everything, from vegan materials to how a brand performs in terms of labor conditions or animal welfare.
You can Spotify your outfits. Plan your social calendar and rent according. For serial wedding-goers, it’s a no-brainer: Wear The Walk offers a wide range of designer dresses and accessories. While Girl Meets dres has a more mainstream feel (and rents maternity wear), it’s still a great idea.
Recycle your run, and invest in ethical sportswear. Check out Contra, the new brand brought to you by the people behind Parkrun, which is ethically produced, non-gendered and body positive. Runners Need will recycle your old trainers all year round. From 14 October to 29 November, you can get a PS20 coupon in the stores. For trainers that will biodegrade, try new Italian brand, Yatay – though they’re not cheap (from PS220 a pair).
You will spend less time shopping and more time making if you have the time and skills. The Maker’s Atelier offers beautifully designed dress patterns and specially selected fabrics.
Recycle 66 percent of textile waste goes to landfill. Traid will collect free from London and the surrounding counties, including Surrey, Hertfordshire and Brighton.