I love beautiful things, but I abhor waste. And if you’ve been reading TFI you know that “buy less, buy better” is a mantra I return to again and again. The reason I do this almost ad naseum is I think we are teetering on a critical mass situation. Last week after reading that fast fashion retailer H&M has $4.3 billion of unsold clothing I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Obviously H&M needs to control their inventory, but at the same time, consumers like you and I need to be acquire less stuff. Full stop. We also have to get more comfortable with repeatedly wearing the same dress or shirt and pants combo. There is nothing wrong with this.
All of this might seem the antithesis of business (especially since I constantly highlight things to buy on my site), but everyone from fashion editors to designers to stylists to fashion die-hards needs to take a critical look at what makes sense going forward, before we deplete our natural resources creating trendy items no one wants to wear six months later. (It is also something we need to teach our children.) With that in mind, this is an updated post on one I wrote in September. As I clean out my closet for spring and find myself dreaming about what dresses I see myself wearing for an upcoming summer vacation, I will keep the following in mind.
- Make Two Lists: Clothes I Need + Clothes I Want. Clothes you need should include basics you need to replace, everyday shoes, and items you need to wear to work/meetings or the like. Then make a list of clothes you want; these should be standout items that you love, love, love and know that wearing them would make you happy. Then give yourself a reality check. If your basics list is long, this is what you should prioritize, even though shopping for say a pair of slim black pants is hardly exciting and often tedious. Your fun list should be short—five items max. If it isn’t, think hard about which items you will realistically wear often. Do not fall victim to shiny object syndrome and forgo basics for fun ones; you need a wardrobe of pieces that work together, not a mish-mosh of standout items that worn all at once make you look like a desperate street style wannabe. And if you’re unsure about buying an item, hold off for 48 hours. At that point you’ll know if it qualifies as I-can’t-life-without or is already yesterday’s news. If you buy it with the thought of returning it, you might talk yourself into something you don’t need.
- Spend Money on the Right Pieces. Luckily spring and summer clothing is a lot less expensive than the chunky cashmere sweaters, boots and coats you need for fall. Where to spend the money? A good lightweight transition jacket or trench coat, a standout dress or two, a couple of blouses that work day or night and dressed up or down, one pair of tailored pants, classic runaround flats and elegant wear-with-everything sandals.
- Save Money on Others. Things I don’t believe in spending a lot of money on—jeans, shirts and handbags, especially for summer. Frankly I think the days of wearing-whatever-you-want-as-long-as-you-carry-a-nice-handbag are almost over. A wardrobe of investment handbags seems tired. Perhaps you need one good luggage-colored leather tote for work, but bags cut from lighter materials (canvas, rattan, etc) seem more appropriate. I prefer button-down shirts to clingy t-shirts once it warms up and trade out your dark jeans for lighter washes.
- Find Your Signature Pieces. This to me is the hardest idea to follow through on, especially if you love fashion and like to mix things up on occasion. But women who have a couple of key signature items—say that handbag, a pair of cuff bracelets, always a blue button-down or ponytail or a monochromatic wardrobe, are the ones whose style I am most drawn to. Signature style in no way equates to money spent. Rather, it’s about being a rigorous editor. Finding those items, ways of dressing or grooming, and not getting bored by the routine of it make it all a bit challenging. I also find that the warmer it gets outside the tougher this idea is to adhere to. This is where sticking to a palette and certain silhouettes becomes even more important. I strive for this and still struggle, it is not easy.
- Don’t Throw Away the Old. How many times have you heard “If you haven’t worn it in one or two years, throw it out”? I disagree. As you get better at shopping strategically, even if you have something in your closet that you haven’t worn yet or put on in a while, chances are you might go back to it. Maybe it’s a gorgeous silk shirt that sat with tags on for two years you finally started wearing with regularity. Or it’s a piece you wore so much, it (and you) need a rest. As your wardrobe evolves, older items can have a renewed life by pairing them with more recent pieces. Of course if you look at it and think “why did I ever?” you should donate or sell it. But I am going to guess that those items you tend to discard from your closet are the cheaper pieces you bought on a whim (because why not?), were super trendy and are now super not, or fell apart. Another reason to buy less and buy better. Then you can begin to create a zero-waste closet.