Tuesday 10 November 2015

Achieving a 'Sustainable Wardrobe'

(the nautical knot dress that now resides in the 'to refashion' pile)

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about, and working towards, a better functioning and more sustainable wardrobe. I once read a statistic that women generally wear 80% of their clothing 20% of the time, and 20% of their clothing 80% of the time. I reckon that many of us can relate to finding a large selection of clothes when we open our cupboards and drawers, but still we tend to put on the same handful of things again and again. I also read (possibly in this book) that women today own on average twice as many items of clothing as women did in the 1980s. Do women nowadays need twice as many clothes? I can't imagine so. I can't see that we have double the social or familial roles, for example, that may require so many more outfit options. I don't think that owning twice as many tops as our mums did at our age makes us happier, or makes it easier for us to get dressed in the morning.

These two statistics I mentioned above come to my mind a lot and feature greatly in the my personal definition of a 'sustainable wardrobe'. I want to reach a point where I wear 80% of my clothes 80% of the time! And for that to be possible, I'll probably need to pare down to an amount of garments that a 1980s lady would be more used to having (but NOT the styles!). So here's what a 'sustainable wardrobe' means to me, and how I plan to achieve these goals:

  • Clearing out clothing that I definitely won't wear again
  • Actually wearing the clothes that I like and that fits me
  • Mending, altering and refitting the clothes that I like but I don't currently wear
  • Choosing future sewing projects that will be worn regularly

(the nautical sundress that also now awaits the refashioning treatment)

Clearing out clothing that I definitely won't wear again:

This always sounds like it's going to be easy, doesn't it?! But it's amazing the emotional attachments we develop with our clothing, especially if we made the damn thing ourselves. When you've chosen the fabric, painstakingly cut everything out and stitched every single stitch yourself, the investment of time and money you put into that garment can make the ties very strong, even if we know that we're not going to wear it again. However, I've managed to be pretty brutal in this area recently. Admittedly, some of the stuff has gone to the half-way house of the refashioning/remaking pile if I think that the fabric can be salvaged for something else. 

I know that for some people, being surrounded by lots of stuff makes them feel secure, but for me it can feel claustrophobic. Having less stuff makes me feel unencumbered and freer to take advantage of whatever life may offer me, including on the very practical level of being able to move house/city/country easier if that is what I choose to do. 

I must also admit, that the concept of owning lots of 'stuff', including clothing, that you rarely use feels really uncomfortably 'hoard-y' and selfish to me. I can't help but associate a greedy, childish 'mine' kind of mentality to this behaviour that I feel is really damaging to society, as well as to the environment which cannot support the accelerated levels of manufacture required for the excessive acquisition of products. To donate my unworn, me-made clothing to charity shops (whether they are then deemed appropriate for resale so that others can buy and enjoy them, or if they then get sold on as rag to be shredded, processed and recycled), can be hard but also cleansing.

Actually wearing the clothes that I like and that fits me:

Thinking about going through what garments I have, finding new outfit combination to wear it in, and then actually wearing it, as part of sustainable approach to clothing dawned on me embarrassingly recently. I was getting caught up in what I didn't wear and what I might make to wear, and had somehow forgot to concentrate some attention to what I already have to wear. Wow, did I feel stupid!

I don't expect to able to wear 100% of my wardrobe 100% of the time. There is my wedding dress, some special occasion/fancy clothes, and some very seasonally-specific clothes that realistically have very limited usage. But everything else needs to worn semi-regularly to earn its keep. I recently started wearing my corazones rockabilly blouse (pictured above) more often, and it has received an insane amount of compliments at the playgroups! Not that my aim was to garner compliments, but of course it is nice!

Challenges like Me-Made-May are great for prodding us into wearing the (specifically, self-stitched) clothes that we have but often forget about. Bringing those practices into the rest of the year is what I'm trying to do now.

(the Mimi blouse that I recently made a little looser around the upper arms)

Mending, altering and refitting the clothes that I like but I don't currently wear:

This usually the most boring one, isn't it? My personal trick is to do one altering or mending task in between every 'started from scratch' sewing project. That's the only way I can rev up the motivation. Oh, that and by telling myself that I'm pleasing the Sewing Gods by fixing something that's a bit off. Then hopefully they will, in turn, bless me with a successful subsequent 'from scratch' sewing project!

It sounds perverse, doesn't it, to prefer to start a new sewing project, and invest all the time and effort that that will entail, rather than setting aside half an hour to fix something that I've already invested heaps of time and effort into? Tell me I'm not alone! It reminds me of a friend we had called Max back when we lived in Barcelona. She hated the flat she lived in and was always moaning about her flatmates. But she admitted that she would rather moved countries than find somewhere the other side of town and go to the effort of moving in to it.  

(the recently completed sailboat raincoat which I wore every day last week)

Choosing future sewing projects that will be worn regularly:

Possibly the most fun of all the aspects of creating a 'sustainable wardrobe', as I see it. I've already talked about my own personal sewing projects that I have a good idea will actually get worn in my nippy weather sewing plans post. As we get older, (hopefully) we get more of a sense of who we are and how we want to present ourselves to the world. And specifically to clothing, what we like to wear and what suits us (colours, silhouettes, fits, fabrics, textures, fibres) tends to 'stabilise' and not swing violently from one trend to another, or perhaps one subcultural identity to another. Obviously, people's taste continue to evolve, often in response to if not a reflection of popular culture. But slowly and occasionally adding to and updating a wardrobe with new pieces (shop-bought or self-made, or both) has got to be a more sustainable way to go about dressing than reinventing yourself every year or few months, as many teenagers (myself included!) are prone to do.

This isn't meant to come across as an attack on the youth, however! Learning who you are through the prism of how you dress is an essential phase that everyone must and should go through, I would argue. But having come out the other side of that experimental period, it makes planning sewing projects that are likely to get worn regularly much easier.

I would LOVE to know what your thoughts are on creating a 'sustainable wardrobe'. What would be your ideal selection of clothing? What motivations effect what you make/buy? How often do you purge the things you don't wear? Do you enjoy a large selection of clothes, or does it annoy you? 


bbarna said...

When I reached my 30's I did a major purge of the wardrobe and decided to only keep the clothing that I loved and that fit....I am a big, curvy person and it was hard to get rid of all the smaller sizes that I had kept in the hopes of losing weight, but I did it. I have lost 40 lbs in the last couple of years and have been able to do another purge. It is quite wonderful to have a small wardrobe of mix and match clothing. Easier to dress each day, and packing for trips it a snap. Now I am working on sewing more cycling clothing and casual wear, but only what I can reasonably use. Best of luck in your endeavour.

JB_Kiwi said...

This is such a great post Zoe - so thought-provoking! I've really found sewing great for helping me find a sense of personal style (which meshes with realising what things I actually *like* to wear...and what I hate!). I think MeMadeMay helped me (by pushing me to wear what I'd made) to realise that I really liked wearing dresses (of a specific shape/comfort-level!) instead of jeans all the time. But I am definitely guilty of abandoning garments that I no longer like so I'm definitely going to make an effort to do some refashioning. I love your plan of bribing yourself! Perhaps you could do a couple of tutes on this? What sort of alterations do you do and how? I tend to worry that I'll completely wreck a dress if I whip off the sleeves I hate, for eg. For me refashioning feels way scarier than making from scratch! Jess x

char said...

I really struggle with getting rid of clothes anyway, let alone ones I've made myself. Even where a dress I've made doesn't fit quite right or I don't like it as much as I thought I would, I won't get rid. I'm hopeless!

Anonymous said...

I did my big purge when I lost a load of weight, but the wardrobe is starting to fill again. One thing I find helps is to put away the out of season clothes. I do this twice a year rather than 4 times. I find when I get the summer box down in May it is clear which items I am happy to see again and which I'm not really bothered about. If it goes into the box twice without having been worn then it is out.

the craftytraveller said...

We moved house earlier in the year, and the wardrobes are half the size of the ones in our previous flat. So I had a massive purge of clothes pre move - a real, honest cull: do I like this still? Is it aspirational? etc etc and now all my clothes fit Mr and in the one wardrobe and small chest of drawers. Fabrics are in the spare wardrobe. It feels great! I definitely don't miss those jeans from five years and 8 kgs ago!! :-) I am constantly reassessing things too. It's an addiction!
As for your wedding dress and story: absolutely stunning and a joy to read!

Crab and Bee said...

Hi Zoe! I too struggle with mending and altering - it never sounds as fun to start, even though it's gratifying afterwards. I had one idea to share! I try to construct garments as well as I possibly can for durability. Then they last a long time for me, and they're more desirable / useful to others if I need to pass it along.

Fabric Tragic said...

I type this sitting in bed looking at my heaving wardrobe! I am generally pretty ruthless. I find if I put on a garment, and take it off because it's sitting badly or uncomfortable them it doesn't take long to get it down to the op shop! I find my clothes often have multiple 'lives'. Depending on what it it is, I might wear it for a year or two as a 'good' item, then as it gets more tired it becomes a 'work' item , then once it's completely trashed it heads either to the garage rag bag for the husband to use or send off to the op shop. I found that as my skills in choosing fabric/styles/constructing/fitting have all improved then less is heading off to Le Op Shoppe which is nice. I'd also guess I sew at least 50% with knits, which automatically makes things more likely to be worn, and I also sew a lot of repeat patterns, which means less fitting failures and less wastage of time and fabric.

Ticket to Ride said...

For many years life conspired to keep me from making my own clothes and I found it difficult to find what I wanted 'off the peg'. As a result, I wore the few clothes I bought, often. I'm really enjoying expanding my wardrobe now that I have time to sew again.

Knitlass said...

Yes! I'm with you all the way here. I'm also working on my wardrobe - remembering to wear more things, trying out new combinations, and being really honest about what I wear, and want to wear.

Have you seen any of the Hugh's war on waste programmes. He did a little bit on textile waste. Maybe we should blitz him on twitter, and convince him to follow up with some coverage of the refashioners and menders in the sewosphere?

Anonymous said...

The blog zero waste home has an interesting take. Essentially she has a capsule wardrobe which she renews from second hand shops twice a year. I would find that very restricting, I have too many colours that don't coordinate. I need to find a way that works with my lifestyle.

BLD in MT said...

This sounds like a very good undertaking. I've been combing through my closet lately and there are a few me-mades that I just don't wear. I've been trying to convince myself to just donate them, but its hard since I made them myself, as you mentioned. This might just be the encouragement I needed to send them off to find someone who actually will wear them with love.

SewCraftyChemist said...

I purge every season -- well "season". I live in the upper Midwest and our weather patterns are more fall/winter and spring/summer than 4 full seasons.

I can purge handmade as easily as RTW, thankfully! :)

I am totally going to be changing how I sew though. Because the focus has moved from SEW ALL THE THINGS!! to adding to my (large) wardrobe thoughtfully. I don't mind having a large wardrobe; I have the closet space for it. But I don't want a bunch of "stuff" that barely gets worn!

brooke said...

Thank you once again for an inspirational and motivational post. I have purged a lot of clothes and other stuff in the last year and it feels great. I have been working on planning out a capsule wardrobe, but life keeps intervening. It really is so wasteful the amount of clothes that we have today. It's depressing.

CaitLou said...

Coincidentally, I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I thought I was pretty good, my wardrobe isn't crammed full of clothes and I do like everything in there. Then I realised that I have 4 dresses I wear 80% of the time. 4. So I'm on a mission to tackle my wardrobe and then my fabric stash (I have far too many patterned fabrics that I love the idea of but just wouldn't work as outfits).
To ensure that I can mix & match everything in my new me-made wardrobe, I intend to create a swatch card featuring all the fabrics that are already in my wardrobe that I can take with me when I shop for more fabric.
That's the plan anyway, we'll see how it goes...

Miriam said...

My biggest thing is mending .... I even buy things from the oppy like cardis and then I just wear them with holes instead of mending! I think I wear most of my wardrobe - it's all dresses pretty much. I find combos much harder. We're about to move so I'll need to be ruthless - there are definitely some pieces that don't deserve the room they are taking up. The challenge I think is to open the wardrobe and be happy to pull out anything and wear it. Maybe I should do that as a challenge - let someone else pick a piece and if that worries me I have some work to do!

Rebecca @ Pattydoo said...

As a single twenty something, I've been moving house every year since I left home, so this has meant that I have to clear out clothes all the time. Somehow they pile up though and I always end up with about 2 big, blue IKEA bags of stuff for the charity shop... I don't know how it happens!
I then moved to Germany last year, so with just easyjet luggage allowance of stuff to come with me, coupled with not earning very much here in Berlin, I've really had to work with the basics... it's good because you do feel everything is being used and you alway just end up wearing the few things that you know look best anyway, but I have to admit that it is nice to turn up wearing something new or different once in a while! I think everyone I know could list my full wardrobe if given the challenge ;)

EmmaP said...

I think it is a great philosophy, Zoe. I regularly clear out my wardrobe - taking bags and bags to be recycled/charity shops, but the last time I did it I had a moment of wondering how much money had gone onto clothes that I wore once or twice! For 2016, I am going to try to only purchase clothes that are investment pieces - a J Crew hacking jacket, some Dubarry boots for walking the dog in, and as I am a sucker for cashmere jumpers/cardigans, maybe a few new pieces in new colours! But the rest I am going to try to either make myself or resist buying! It can be exhausting trying to manage all the clothes - so 2016 will hopefully see a calmer approach and a real effort from me to only buy - but hopefully mostly make, clothes that will be new classics and used for years to come!

Ms_Melancholy said...

I have a sustainable wardrobe, it's rather sparse! I have a small pile of clothes that are just a little too small as my weight fluctuates. Other than that I tend to replace what has worn out beyond repair, and slowly sew things that fill gaps because I'm pretty lazy!

I like the fact that I am constantly wearing things I really like, although if I fall behind with the washing it can cause problems! I also wouldn't be able to pack for a 2 week holiday, but I'm unlikely to go on one so no problem there haha!

French Toast Tasha said...

I've been working on building a small but totally usable wardrobe for the past couple of years. When I started there were things I was completely desperate for (warm long sleeved shirts for example), but now I'm doing pretty well for both summer and winter. I'm trying to focus my sewing on what I need/would wear most/where there are still wardrobe gaps or something that I know is about to wear out and I need to replace.

I agree with you that having too much stuff makes me crazy! I want to have just enough so that my needs are filled, and I don't end up at the end of the season sick and tired of everything I've been wearing. Just enough that if one thing suddenly needs mending, it doesn't cause me to panic and do laundry every other day.

Taking part in Slow Fashion October and One Year, One Outfit has made me really look again at refashioning the things I have. After all, the most sustainable textile possible is the one that already exists! Most of my refashioning projects have been sitting around for a loooong time, which sometimes I feel guilty about, but the good part of it is that I have a long time to figure out how to rework them. There's a plan for almost everything in my pile, but I'm trying really hard not to make that into a giant to-do list, and just take it one project at a time.

Pippa K said...

I don't know what it is with winter but there is a lot of stuff flying around the blogosphere about sustainable wardrobes etc. I personally have been looking at this too, I think that in winter you pull out all of those 'trusty' warm clothes but summer is for new summery clothing...

I have just had a bit of a purge, having semi moved (I still have boxes of clothes at my old house) and am planning on purging the stuff I have here as I do or don't wear it this winter. I am also consciously looking at what I make to try and fill in gaps rather than just make something because it looks pretty.

Sara in Stitches said...

Embarrassing fact: I actually keep a spreadsheet to track how much wear I get out of my handmade items. Not cool, self.

I have a pretty significant wardrobe. It's my main "stuff" indulgence. I used to stress about having too much and what that said about me, but I'm leaning a bit more gestalt now. Since sewing is my main hobby and clothes are my most singular indulgence, I cut myself a bit of slack.

Your point about '80s wardrobes is fascinating, though. Is it just the availability of fast fashion? I wonder if the ubiquity of cameras and documentation is a component of it as well.

Jamie said...

Thank you for your thoughtful writing Zoe - I'm a long time reader but first time commenter : )

I've recently been on a bit of a mission to achieve sustainability around my wardrobe and consequently started to sew handmade again after quite a few years sabbatical. Now, whether choosing what to sew or what to buy I am really conscious of choosing garments with longevity, both style-wise and quality-wise. I prefer classic, transeasonal styles in fabrics with higher eco-credentials - and because of the increased cost per garment, I tend to buy/sew less, but now with more thought as to how those items fit into my existing wardrobe and lifestyle.

I also agree with Sarah from Fabric Tragic that knit fabrics and TNT patterns ensure garments that will be worn regularly and with less wasted fabric/time.

All that said, I'm not a big mender but partial to a bit of refashioning.
Jamie : )

vintagerockchick said...

A Brilliant post Zoe - so good I read it twice! After the first read in the week I ordered the book you mentioned, plus Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L Cline, both from my local library - only 60p each to order, and I get to return them when I've read them.
Then today I read the post again and it galvanised me into decluttering action (something I do fairly regularly anyway). My wardrobe started off the year quite full, but as I have stuck to my NY resolution and haven't bought any new clothes, and after numerous declutter sessions it's looking better and more wearable. So today there were a few more things for the charity shop, two tops that have been taken off hangers and put into a drawer with my 'layering long sleeve tees which I fancy will mean they get worn and not overlooked, and two shirts are in the refashioning pile. I like the idea of shirts but I never wear them - then yesterday I finished my first Aster, with long sleeves, and I love it, so I've decided the problem I have with shirts is the collar. I am therefore going to 'Asterize' my shirts - get rid of the collars and see if I can tailor the shape more with darts.
Finally - I watched BBC2 programme tonight Robert Peston Goes Shopping, and I realise how much we've all been conned into the whole shopping lark - why did it ever become "a leisure pastime for the whole family"?? I realise I don't enjoy clothes shopping anymore, and surprisingly I'm not wishing the year gone so I can start again. I think I'd rather stay home and sew. Of course, that does mean buying fabric, but I think next year's resolution might be to use what I've already got before I buy any more.
Anyway, thanks for the influence, inspiration, and motivation! Gill x

JustSewJenna said...

As ever, an extremely thought provoking post. I have a wardrobe full of things I don't wear, half of which I stopped wearing 6 years ago when I gave up my office job. They would be much better off in someone's wardrobe who does need them. I have had two house moves this year and have just moved everything without sorting it first which is surely a lot more effort than it should have been. I am going to book a day off work in the next few weeks to finally tackle my clutter. I acknowledge that I am a hoarder, now to do something about it!

Jessica said...

I love this post, Zoe! I recently did a ruthless purge of my closet, getting rid of more than half of my clothes and I really don't miss anything I gave away. I found the Marie Kondo book on decluttering helped me adopt a new perspective on 'stuff' and would recommend it if you haven't already read it.

Lovenicky said...

I know exactly what you mean! My closet is full of me-made or me-refashioned clothes that I cannot bear to part with. One of the worry I have is that if I just donate it to the local charity store, they don't know what to do with it (no tag for brand or size) and they may just throw it into the rubbish bin. That would defeat the purpose of donating the garment for someone else to enjoy. I don't have any friends or family members that has the same unusual body proportion as myself to share the clothes with. So I'm stuck with my very full me-made wardrobe that I can't pare down to a manageable size. Any ideas? ;-)

Jo said...

I started to let go of me made items that didn't cut the mustard. I either cut them down and made my girls things from them or donated them to textile recycling. It felt harsh but if I want to continue to improve my sewing skills and make new things to wear I have to keep things moving - I hate too many possessions too, it is overwhelming. It actually felt harder with knitted items but if I had been wearing them for say 4 years and the elbows were bobbly then I put them in the rag bag, chose some more wool and enjoyed another journey of making an item that would hopefully last another 4 years.

Really loved your post today. Jo x

saralasarta said...

Great post!
I recently wrote about the (new for me) joys of planning my wardrobe, and how I try to make it sustainable also for my wallet. If you want to have a look it's here: http://harmonythroughimperfection.blogspot.fr/2015/11/where-we-talk-about-cost-of-sewing-for.html


Unknown said...

I have been working on this lately. I felt I was drowning in stuff, so I have been trying to ruthless. So hard with hand mades though. I try and use them for gardening or painting to wear them out!

Hazel_Myope said...

I've been realising how many clothes I have and hardly ever wear recently, especially since I bought a washing machine and could throw in a load whenever I needed to. If you have a small palette of colours you favour you only need one more outfit than fits in the washing machine. (Less if you have other things that need washing like pet paraphernalia).

Are you going to turn some of the refashionable stuff into children's clothes like in the make do and mend mentality?

Joo Mi said...

I would like all my future purchases to be free from synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic, and nylon not to mention mule sling wool and GMO cottons. Right now H&M offers affordable organic cotton T-shirts for me but I wouldn't mind buying fabric and other supplies from an American textile company that specializes in organic cottons just to start making my own stuff again "fresh" rather than altering something.

In southern California the local Goodwill thrift stores (second hand stores) have $1 sales every Thursday where a certain color tag goes on sale for a buck with no sales tax.

My next major sewing project will be adult diapers due to my problematic fibroids and that I hate contributing used Depends diapers to landfill. I know, what a fun topic.

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