Build Your Sustainable Wardrobe
It seems like everyone and their mother is jumping on the sustainability bandwagon. But, what the heck does it actually mean?
As defined by dictionary.com, “sustainable” means:
“the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”
So, it would stand to reason that a “sustainable” wardrobe means choosing items which are well-made with top-quality material and craftsmanship. Items which will last for decades, if not longer, and never go out of style so they can outlast the trends.
Okay… now what?
Keep reading to find out how you, yes you, can build a sustainable wardrobe.
It’s a lot easier - and more interesting - than you might think.
The first place to start is by knowing what to look for when selecting the items. This is crucial for setting the foundation of your sustainable wardrobe, and these steps will serve as an invaluable guide along the way.
Although it might not be possible to find all of the information, at least you can give it your best shot.
What to look for when looking:
Do you really know who you’re buying from?
Research the brand as much as possible through internet searches with such phrases as (replace “Brand Name” with the actual brand name):
“Brand Name reputation”
“Brand Name manufacturing processes and practices”
“Is Brand Name a fast fashion company?”
“Where does Brand Name source it’s raw materials from?”
“Environmental issues connected with Brand Name”
“Workforce violation and Brand Name”
You can also access retail industry reports and analyses which breakdown these issues into granular bits of information.
This is a great way to get to know the brands, and make informed decisions before buying (or continuing to buy) from them.
Sourcing and Materials
Digging deeper into this area, research what kind of materials the brand uses, and where it is coming from.
For example, if they make leather goods, are they using corrected leather or full-grain leather? Is it high-quality?
Or, if they create wool garments, where are they sourcing the wool from? The same goes for cotton and blends.
Find out if the manufacturer uses natural or synthetic dyes and waxes.
It’s as important to understand the brands sourcing practice as it is to understand their manufacturing process.
Craftsmanship / Construction
After you’ve done the preliminary research, it’s time to examine the garment.
If you’re ordering online, look at customer reviews and conversation forums, like Reddit, for comments from people with real-life experience.
If you are in a shop and able to really examine the garment (or after you get it in the mail), consider the following:
Every garment has its own considerations, but there are commonalities you should look for:
It doesn’t matter if it’s a shirt, a jacket, pants or shoes, this is the first thing you want to look at. Without proper stitching, the whole thing can fall apart rather quickly.
For example, on a quality dress shirt, you want to make sure there are between 12 and 25 stitches per inch (SPI). This amount of stitching is an indicator that the threads won’t fray, or come undone.
It’s also a good sign that the manufacturer took time to make a quality shirt which should last a long time.
There are other areas that should be examined, such as the collar, buttonholes and the gusset.
Make sure the fabric is good quality, made with a tight weave, doesn’t wrinkle or tear easily. Of course there are exceptions, such as linen which is a high-quality fabric known and appreciated for its tendency to wrinkle.
Yes, most of us have gotten something trendy and enjoyed it for whatever time it was in fashion. But, what then? When the trend has gone, we still have the garment.
Look for timeless styles suited for your body type which will stand the test of time. This isn’t always easy, especially when the stores are stacked with the latest look, but some things never go out of style.
Think about classic blue jeans and white t-shirts for example. Or, a well-fitted button down, collared shirt, or a polo top.
There are also many classic shoe styles to choose from.
Of course some things will need to be on trend, such as the lapel width on a sport jacket or suit, but for the most part, you can’t go wrong sticking to timeless design.
Obtain items you will wear at least 30 times. (Most of my wardrobe has been worn many more times than that.)
But in order to do that, you first need to understand how to identify quality pieces that will withstand multiple wears, cleaning and trends.
Consider donating at least one item every time you buy something new. This will help keep your closet fresh and lean while helping someone else out.
Buy things that can be mixed and matched, and easily combined with a variety of clothes. Doing so will enable you to piece together multiple looks and increase the wearability of each item.
Depending on your personal style (and the climate you live in), the amount and design of each item might change, but the essentials are the same.
Remember: versatility and adaptability are crucial.
Two to five pairs of pants is a good amount. That includes jeans, chinos and trousers you can dress up or down.
Five to ten shirts should be sufficient, including a minimum of two button-up dress shirts, a couple of t-shirts and at least one polo top.
A lightweight crew-neck sweater in a neutral color is essential as it can be worn most of the year, and can adapt to different looks. If you need heavier sweaters, make sure they are made of an excellent wool.
Buy suits from higher-end retailers and don’t be afraid to spend some money. Remember, you are looking for quality that will last, not a cheap suit that will wrinkle as soon as you look at it. You want to look for as classic a design as possible so that it can last through the years. If you need to get a warm weather suit, and a cold weather suit, do it. It might also be possible to mix and match the jacket and trousers with other pieces in your wardrobe.
Sports Jackets and Blazers
Again, versatility and longevity are key. Fortunately, these garments usually experience only subtle design adjustments, depending on the direction of men’s fashion. So, if you get a classic navy blue blazer and a tweed sports jacket you should be good to go for a while.
Underwear and Socks
Extremely important, but often overlooked. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boxers or briefs guy, you must get excellent quality underwear. That means a breathable fabric, a high stitch per inch, elastic that won’t warp or break. And, of course, comfort.
The same is true for your socks. Athletic and dress socks should be made from a good, strong fabric like wool or mohair. Cotton blends are great too. The material should be dense and the sock should have reinforced toes and heels.
Even though this article is about paring down, you can never have too many socks or underwear.
Different seasons require different jackets. You might need a light windbreaker for the warmer months, and a nice overcoat and a parka for the winter. Choose brands with excellent reputations in these areas. Examine the jackets and coats very carefully before making your decision. Does the material breathe? Does it wick away moisture? Does it offer self-regulating temperature control? How good is the insulation?
Make sure your leather shoes are made with full-grain leather for durability, comfort and longevity. Ideally they will be fully lined as well to provide temperature and odor control. The soles should also be leather for flexibility and the mark of elegance. They should also be and stitched on, not glued.
The design should be classic, yet suited for contemporary looks. If you can tick all these boxes, you know you have shoes which will outlast seasons and trends for many years.
For your wardrobe choose at least one style, like a Cap-Toe Oxford, that can be worn for work and formal occasions. Choose a second style, like a Derby that can be worn for more casual settings.
Boots follow a similar track, especially if they aren’t workboots. Solid construction, timeless design, and incredible durability. If you need something more rugged, then choose a material like pull-up leather which wears extemely well and can get handle most terrain. One pair of well constructed boots should be all you need.
Sneakers are a broader field. Leather sneakers with rubber soles are amazing. Not only do they look great, but they can also sometimes double as dress shoes. For more athletic footwear, make sure they’re made with breathable materials and constructed so they won’t fall apart after a few wears. You need buoyancy, support and longevity. You might only need one pair of sneakers, but if you do a lot of sports, look into getting trainers created specifically for that activity.
Proper Care and Maintenance
How do you wash your clothes? Throw them all into the washing machine all at once? Carefully separate colors and types? Bring everything to the dry cleaner?
Usually, you’ll find a care label with clear instructions. The manufacturer includes those instructions for a reason: to protect the life of that garment. So, it’s a good idea to pay attention to what they say.
If it doesn’t have instructions, research the material and understand the particulars of how that material should be handled and cleaned.
When something is ripped, damaged or stained, instead of throwing it away, take it to a tailor or cleaner who can fix the problem. Remember, these are not disposable clothes.
Repair, Replace, Recycle
Ideally, you will be able to have any damage, such as rips and tears, repaired (or, you can do it yourself if you have the skill). If not, look for a garment recycling program near you. Old clothes and shoes are sorted and processed into bins for reuse, cloth scraps, rags and fibrous material. This process is gaining traction around the world, and it’s a great way to ensure your old garments find a new life.
You can also recycle old garments yourself. For example, a friend of mine turned an old denim jacket into the coolest guitar case.
To Donate or Not
Donating is a tried-and-true way of giving your old clothes a new home. And, you get to help people along the way.
But, you can’t just throw everything into a bag and drop it off at the Salvation Army. Here are some tips on donating Do’s and Dont’s:
- Items you haven’t worn in over a year.
- Things that are too tight or too loose (which you can’t have adjusted).
- Styles that no longer suit you.
- High-end suits, shirts and trousers.
- Footwear that is in good condition.
- Undergarments or socks. These are too intimate and need to be bought new.
- Garments that smell bad, have stains, are ripped, have missing buttons or broken zippers.
Remember: The donation bin is not a garbage dump.
There you have it - an easy to follow guide on how to build a more sustainable wardrobe that isn’t only good for you, but it also helps the environment and other people.
Change isn’t easy, so take it one step at a time and let us know how you will incorporate these tips into your life.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
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