Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tips for Making Fashion Greener

For a change of pace, I thot I'd address the idea of eco-friendly fashion. See, a big part of my job is editing Yahoo! Green (the #1 source for environmental content on the Web, according to ComScore). So environmental concerns are top of mind.

And yet, I have always adored style, clothing, & self-expression through what I wear. This necessitates a certain amount of using resources that are not always that kind to the planet. I was raised by hippies, but I'm not going to live in an off-grid yurt any time soon.

I'm all about balance in my life. I do a lot of very eco-friendly things -- like the fact that I have never had a driver's license despite living in suburban California since I was 5. I get around by foot, public transit, & carpool, & our one household car is a Prius. So right there, my carbon footprint is smaller than most Americans. Thus, I don't feel too bad about buying a bit of lipstick & some cute shoes, especially when I sometimes find the shoes at the thrift store ;-)

With this in mind, here are some of my steps towards making fashion greener, which mostly don't have to do with shopping...

1. Wash your clothes carefully.
Often overlooked in discussions of organic cotton & fair-trade labor is the simple concept of making the clothes already in your closet last longer. Reduce your need for new clothes by taking good care of your wardrobe now.

Learn how to treat your garments right. Start by reading care labels, but also do some research. Many items may say "dry clean only," just because that's easiest for the manufacturer to list. What is the fiber content? Do a web search & find out how to best treat that material. Test how water & gentle detergent react on a small, inconspicuous part of the garment. Dry-cleaning is a chemically intensive process that's pretty nasty on the environment, plus it's expensive! You may be able to hand-wash an item at home.

Consider washing garments less often. If you don't see stains or dirt, do the smell test -- if clothes don't smell like the last person who wore 'em, they don't need to be dunked in water (if you're really concerned, have someone else smell the garment; we get used to our own smell).

Also, when loading clothes in a washing machine, button up buttons, zip up zippers, and turn inside-out anything with decorative trim or beading or a screen-print. All of these tricks will help clothes last longer. Cold-water washing saves energy (& money, if you own the washer itself) & helps dye colors from fading, so black garments stay dark & brights stay bright.

Don't over-dry clothes in the dryer because heat is damaging. Use the lowest heat setting for the shortest time possible. Take clothes out immediately & hang up items (this prevents wrinkles & saves your time from ironing). Line-dry anything delicate, such as lingerie, silks, anything that can snag, & non-synthetic sweaters.

Here are more laundry day tips from Yahoo! Green.

2. Repair the clothes you already have.
Learn to make small repairs at home. Sewing on buttons, mending small tears, fixing zippers -- these are relatively easy fixes that anyone with fingers & eyesight can learn to do. If you don't have someone nearby to teach you, search YouTube for a video tutorial. The tools are far less expensive than buying a new shirt! I'm not into patching up truly tattered garments (& I won't socks), but many little repairs can extend the life of clothes.

Don't forget about shoes either. Clean & polish those babies every so often. And if the soles are worn down to almost nothing, take the shoes to a cobbler. New heels cost the fraction of a new pair of shoes -- especially for high heels which often have the tiny end heel worn away. That's a fast, cheap fix. I've already written about the joys of cobblers!

3. Organize your closet.
Knowing what you have & where to find it can keep you from buying more stuff. Admit it, you've bought the same type of garment over & over again. Or worse, you've stood in front of the mirror on a workday & felt like you have nothing to wear even tho' your closet & dressers are stuffed.

Take a weekend to go through what you own, edit out what you're not really using, & organize the pieces you love. When you can find everything, you won't buy repeats & you won't feel like your clothes are fighting you.

Go a step further and plan a few staple outfits. If necessary, write these down. Or just put the items together in one place. This top + that bottom + those shoes + one awesome accessory = perfect outfit for a manic Monday. Done.

Check out these excellent posts on organizing your clothes from Already Pretty: Grouping items in your closetaccessory organization, shopping in your own closet, & effective wardrobe inventories.

4. Update your current wardrobe with stylish makeovers.
This is an advanced extension of #2 -- replace all the buttons on a top (which I do all the time, best seen on this sweater), and it will look like a whole new blouse / jacket / sweater. Sew trim on a skirt hem for a different look (like I did here). Belt a sweater that you've never worn belted. Trim trousers into walking shorts (as shown on Academichic, among other places). Cut a long jacket into a cropped jacket. Sew old jeans into a jeans skirt. Overdye a pale shirt to a dark color (or tie-dye!).

If there are items in your closet you're dissatisfied with, adding trim or cutting them up can only improve them. You may have to learn some new skills, but making over garments can be very satisfying & provide a creative outlet. You might get hooked!

Check out this article I wrote for Yahoo! Green about refashioning clothes (the article also has links for clothing repair how-tos).

6. Shop thrift stores.
Everyone knows this by now, but it's worth repeating. Scour Savers, Goodwill, Salvation Army, & whatever local thrift stores you can find. You do have to hunt, & there's no guarantee you'll find something for you or in your size. But keep going back.

Look for upmarket labels because you'll get longer life out of them. Avoid Wal-Mart & Target brands at the thrift -- if it originally cost $8, why pay $5 for it used? I don't see the point, unless it is literally new with tags. But Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, & the like are good deals at thrift stores because the styles tend to be classic & the quality is more dependable. These are also styles that lend themselves to making over (see #4).

That's just my top six. I'm open to more ideas. Whatcha got?


  1. Well, how about that? I was going green with my clothes and I didn't even know it! Some awesome tips here, Trystan!

  2. I'm just jumping up and down about your tips. More please

  3. Delurking to say... I love this post!

    This is excellent and easy to follow advice. Thank you for pointing out that living green can be simpler and thrifier than people assume.

    (However, I will thrift Target if it's Isaac Mizrahi or the designer lines, like Tucker. Otherwise, why bother?)

    I did a "look at what you've got" post a few weeks back. My main tip? Try on everything you own, preferably in front of friend whose opinion you trust. That way, you can truly weed out the unwanted items, and recognize what works for you and your figure.

  4. Gah. I meant friendS. Typos drive me batty.

  5. Target actually has a very nice line of Merona brand LBDs. I've got a couple of them. Mine cost anywhere from 20-40 dollars, but they are almost all lined and made from very nice fabric. If you can find Merona dresses in thrift shops I say go for them. They have a very natural fit and are excellent for those of us who are unfortunate enough to be short waisted.