What is a thoughtful wardrobe, and why should we care about what we wear?

‘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.

Pinterest fashion, style mood board, wardrobe inspiration

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.’

Lucy Siegle writing for the Guardian

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!

style inspiration, fashion 2014, slow fashion, ethical fashion, Everlane, Bibico, Stella and Dot, statement necklaces, Shop by Monika, Sseko ribbon tie sandals, ASOS boho mint maxi dress, floral print maxi dress, Breton stripe top, silk shirt

Bibico // Sseko // Stella & Dot // ASOS // Everlane // SHOP By Monika

 

* Americans, there’s a USA version of Vinted here, and other similar great sites include Bib + Tuck (for your fancier clothes), and ThredUp.

 

Made to last | PYLOT Magazine

A few months ago I wrote a piece about ethical fashion, vintage clothing, and loving, caring for, and passing down treasured pieces of our wardrobes to the next generation for a new magazine called PYLOT. They’ve kindly given me permission to publish the piece here, and if you are an arty type who’d like to explore some Photoshop-free fashion photography and features on the theme of ‘Craft’, you can buy the magazine here.

All the photographs here are by my talented little sister, Rose-Marie Caldecott.

ethical fashion, vintage fashion, PYLOT magazine

When I was younger my sisters and I used to love taking my grandmother’s 1950s ball gown down from its box in the attic. We would reverentially peel back the tissue paper that swathed it, eager to glimpse the constellations of crystal beads lying clustered in pools of gathered black chiffon.

My grandmother, Pamela Crampton, died when I was twelve years old. I remember her as she was in her later years; a larger than life presence in her small Kensington flat, with her overflowing hat boxes, and stories from her modelling days in Paris. With whom, and where she wore the ball gown that she passed on to us are things I can no longer ask her, but wearing it I feel a connection between us more tangible than our shared DNA. This dress links us; the boning in the bodice pressed the same faint lines into our skin, the same chiffon tickled the backs of our knees. This is the magic of passing on treasured pieces of clothing.

When I think about my own wardrobe, I realise that the legacy I leave my daughter is pitifully small. I am part of the fast fashion generation, the generation of Primark, Zara, and H&M. It is a generation of plenty, of quick fixes, and of waste. We buy cheap, poor quality clothing, worn a few times until it falls apart, thrown away without even an attempt at repair – because, after all, the cost of repair is often higher than the item’s original value. According to a study into the rates of supply and demand by Textrend.org in 2008, British consumers now demand roughly four times the number of clothes that they did in 1980. Each person in the UK consumes roughly 20 kilos of brand new clothes on an annual basis, and almost the same quantity is dumped.

The durability of vintage clothing is impressive, aging much more gracefully over many decades than brand-new modern pieces do in a few months. Rifling through the rails at any vintage clothing shop, it is easy to see how prevalent excellent craftsmanship and good quality were before the phenomenon of fast fashion took off over the past thirty years. Up until the late eighties, trends moved slower. There were essentially two seasons that matched nature’s cycles – Spring/Summer for warmer weather, and Autumn/Winter for colder weather. Aesthetics and utility worked in unison, and clothing was an investment. Where once it was a rare luxury for products to be made abroad, it is now a rare luxury for products to be made locally, by hand.

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Somehow, while we were caught up in all the fun of tulip skirts, military jackets, and flowing boho dresses, the fashion industry underwent a radical change. Realising styles that changed every other week and low prices meant that they could get us to buy more, retailers sold us the lie that our wardrobes need constant updating. In the nineties, Marks & Spencer was one of the last major British high street chains left with factories in England before seeking cheaper labour abroad like everyone else.

Where industry dies, jobs are lost and crafts are forgotten; in 2002 Chanel created the luxury embroidery house of Lesage in France, specifically to preserve specialist skills that are under threat from outsourcing to countries such as India. Indeed, France is famous the world round for its beautiful underwear, when in fact these days most of it is manufactured abroad. Etam now only makes 0.02 per cent of its lingerie in France, Lise Charmel and Chantelle produce most of theirs in Bulgaria and Tunisia, and in early 2012 Lejaby announced the closure of their last French factory. It isn’t any better for the workers in the countries that these companies have outsourced to, either; their wages are approximately five times lower, they are forced to work inhumane hours to meet demand, and as the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh a year ago demonstrated, their working conditions are often critically unsafe.

Lucy Siegle and Elizabeth L. Cline write about fast fashion as if it’s an addiction, and they are right; it is, at least, a psychological one. Recently I’ve been trying to change the way I think about buying clothes, adopting Vivienne Westwood’s mantra of ‘Buy less, choose well’. It doesn’t mean spending more money on expensive clothes all the time, but rather resisting the urge to impulse buy and saving for better quality, ethically produced fashion. I’m still struggling, but it helps to think about the long-term, and what I’d like to pass on to my daughter when she grows up.

It would be sad if our generation was remembered for its’ badly made fashion that snagged and unravelled and left nothing behind except an almighty piece of landfill. If we let them, clothes have the potential to become pieces of living history. I hope that one day my granddaughter will take boxes of my dresses down from the attic and have her own adventures in them.