‘I consider it to be absolutely normal to care deeply about what we wear, and detest the puritan moralists who affect to despise fashion and those who love it… As if appearances don’t matter when, most of the time, they are all we have to go on. Or sometimes all that is left in the ruins of a life. So I no longer take seriously those derisory accusations levelled against those who are interested in clothes. You might as well accuse Proust, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot – all of whom wrote about clothes and thought about clothes. I certainly won’t take it from those men who judge and condemn us women for the various failures of our appearance while simultaneously barking that only feeble shallow creatures such as women would pay any attention to how they look.’
– Extract from Linda Grant’s The Thoughtful Dresser
I’ve written recently about how having a baby totally threw off my sense of style, both for practical reasons (rapidly/dramatically changing body shape, the difficulty of finding nursing-friendly clothes to my taste) and for slightly more complex emotional reasons (how do I want to dress in this new phase of my life, what do I want to look like, who am I now etc. etc.). The last post I wrote on this blog was also about my resolution to try and be more thoughtful about what I buy, and to practise what I preach about participating in a culture of slow fashion and thereby having less of a negative impact on the world.
As I start to wean my baby and connect with my need to rediscover my personal style, I want to rethink my wardrobe, and am resisting the urge to thoughtlessly buy the first things I come across in the sales. I thought that maybe by sharing this journey with you, we can open up a discussion about what a truly ‘thoughtful wardrobe’ looks like, and why what we buy and what we wear are not just superficial concerns, or meaningless luxuries.
First of all, I need to work out what my overall goal is – that is, which styles I like, and how I’d like to dress. For the Pinterest lovers amongst you, this means a lot of pinning, and mulling over which styles I think would actually work for my lifestyle, daily needs, and body type. I find collecting my favourite images and collaging them together into a kind of style ‘look book’ to be very helpful in focusing my preferences into something a little more coherent than just lots of random ideas. Browsing fashion blogs and magazines helps show how different wardrobe staples can be styled, which colours work well together, and how one piece can be used in multiple different ways.
Next, I will be taking a good, honest look at my wardrobe. Which pieces do I wear? (Did you know that the average woman only wears around 20% of her wardrobe regularly? That’s crazy! Turns out we really don’t need as many clothes as we think we do.) Which pieces make me feel good when I wear them? After reducing down my wardrobe in this way to the essentials, I will try selling or swapping my unwanted clothes on this great website, Vinted*, organise a swish (a clothes swapping party with friends), and donate anything that’s left over to charity shops. For more information about what a capsule wardrobe is and why you might want one, read this.
Next, I’m compiling a wishlist (below) based on what is still lacking in my wardrobe. I can’t afford to get all of my wishlist in one go, because I’ve tried to select ethically sourced products that aren’t necessarily the cheapest versions of the style around (with the exception of the ASOS dress, which I just fell in love with – although ASOS do have a good ethical arm to their business). This is where my problem arises, and where I wish brands would do something for us consumers:
Dear fashion industry, please stop moving your stock around so much. If we’re going to think about what we buy and break out of the cycle of fast fashion (see, want, buy – because it’s cheap and we know it will be gone from the shops tomorrow – wear, throw away, see, want, buy, repeat…), we need to know that we’ll still be able to buy that cute dress next month, or the month after, when we’ve had a chance to think it through, make sure we really want it, check it goes with what we already own, and save up for it.
Look, I get it, I do. You have to make a living, and it’s just the way most of the industry works at the moment. But it’s wasteful and unsustainable:
‘Fast fashion condenses the 101 processes of making a garment into six to eight weeks. Instead of the old rhythm – spring/summer, autumn/winter – a fast-fashion brand can introduce two mini-seasons a week. A piece of fast fashion will last five weeks in the average wardrobe.’
Some brands are bravely taking risks to do things differently, and I believe they have made the good and right choice. I’m not asking for the impossible, I know you need to keep your stock fresh and current to keep making sales, but look – brands like Bibico and Everlane know that there are certain timeless classics that can evolve more slowly than the rapidly changing stock of brands like Zara, which shifts every few weeks, deliberately training customers to think we have to ‘buy now or regret later’. As a matter of fact, often when we do buy with this mindset, we do also regret it later, regardless.
I have been so grateful to Bibico for the discovery I can return again and again to their website and see both lovely seasonal things, while also being pretty sure that I’ll be able to find variations on something I’ve liked and wanted before – even years before. I wish all brands functioned like this. In the end, it would mean we could spend more money on fewer things, knowing that we would really use what we buy, investing in good quality pieces produced to high standards in every sense, and take the time to repair them, love them, and pass them down to the next generation. Let’s dream big, people.
What’s on your wishlist? Here’s mine!