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Friday, May 31, 2013

Fashion Friday: Green Your Work Wardrobe

I'm going to start off by saying that I don't know a lot about fashion. I don't really consider myself a terribly fashionable person. If you're looking for advice on how to color block or match your nail art to your trendy bubble necklace or wear clashing enameled bangles all over your body, I'm not going to be very helpful. However, one thing I do know how to do is appear professional, proficient, and generally well put-together while maintaining my secret hippie ways. If you want to learn some simple ways to go green and stay green when it comes to office attire, read on.

Despite living in a notoriously hip, eco-conscious city full of social media start-ups and boutique marketing companies, the office where I work maintains fairly traditional, business/business casual dress expectations. I'm expected to wear things like slacks and blouses and close-toed shoes (whatever those are) while everyone else in this town is donning flip-flops and fashionably worn-in band shirts. Let me put it this way: they technically can't tell us not to wear jeans on Fridays, but the boss will not be impressed if it happens.

I'm also a young professional, only a few years out of college and recovering from several months of unemployment, so with rent, food, bills, and debt to worry about, my budget is fairly limited. Maybe there are folks out there who can ditch all of their collared shirts and navy pencil skirts for organic hemp harem pants and bamboo pashminas, but I am not one of them. I'm pretty sure you're not one of them either.

Yeah I can't wear this to work

The point is, office dress code and budget can really get in the way of being a dirty hippie when it comes to clothing. So here are some easy-to-follow steps (as well as some good food for thought) to follow to build and maintain a planet- and human-friendly wardrobe:

1. Reduce
I think that the first step to any wardrobe overhaul is to take a good, long look at all of your stuff and figure out what you actually need. Disregard the little voice in your head that's telling you it's actually good for the earth for you to go shopping because you need to buy a new organic, sustainable, free-trade wardrobe. First you gotta focus on what's already on your bedroom floor in your laundry basket. There's a lot of great information out there about how to successfully purge your closet -- I recommend How to Embrace a Minimalist Wardrobe by Kristen D. Smith. It's a very quick read with a lot of great tips. Here's how I did it: take all of your damn clothes out of your damn closet and divide them into three piles. One pile is the stuff you absolutely love and want to keep, one pile is stuff that's crap (whether because of wear, quality, or how it looks), and the pile in the middle is stuff you're unsure about. Put all the stuff you love back in your closet and get rid of the other two piles. Yeah, you heard me. It's not always easy, but it's worth it. Having less stuff makes your life less cluttered in more ways than one and it allows you to truly appreciate what you do keep around. Plus, it's a lot easier to get ready in the morning when you only have five shirts to choose from rather than fifteen. So now that you've reduced your wardrobe, let's move on to the next step.

2. Reuse
Favorite blouse missing a button? Expensive Ann Taylor slacks too long to be fashionable any more? Whip out a needle and thread and fix it your own damn self. Don't toss something that's otherwise useful because of a problem that can be fixed. Mending is a lost art that needs to be revived. Also, tailoring. It's especially useful when you're sticking it to the man by shopping at thrift stores or vintage shops or your grandmother's closet. Take a look at The Refashionista for inspiration/feeling bad about yourself because you're not that cool. Experiment with turning things into other things. Got an old t-shirt? Now you have some super handy kitchen rags. Worn-out sweater? Make a scarf and reminisce fondly of that time it was actually chilly enough for a scarf. Got a bunch of clothes to get rid of from step one? Hold a garage sale and use the money to buy something more useful, or donate the money to people/animals/whatever in need. Or heck, just donate those clothes to your local women's shelter. The point is, getting rid of things is good, but don't just send it to a landfill. Try and find some other way to use that clothing that doesn't involve storing it for the winter.

3. Rethink the Cycle
Now that you have a nice clean closet and maybe some spare cash in your pocket, we've come to the most complex step. You need to actually think. Think about what you're wearing on your body, think about what you're buying, think about why you're buying it. The Story of Stuff (if you haven't already seen it), is a good place to start to get those gears grinding.

It's easy to fall into a cycle of buying something cheap, having it wear out, throwing it away, and then buying some new cheap thing. In case you haven't figured this out already, companies design products like this on purpose. They want you to have to buy a new one, whether it's because it's poorly made and breaks easily or because it becomes out of style or obsolete. The most important thing you can do is break that cycle.

Instead of throwing something out, try to fix it, as mentioned before. If you can't fix it, try to use it for something else. If all else fails, donate or recycle it. Instead of succumbing to the urge to buy something for cheap, invest in high-quality, well-made items. There's a lot of good info out there on how to pick out clothing that is going to last. So suck it up, save your money, and buy stuff that's decent. A good pair of slacks can be worn with countless different outfits in the office. Better yet, drop by a thrift store and pick up quality clothing on the cheap. You won't be putting money into some invisible CEO's pocket and vintage items tend to stand the test of time.

Buying clothing made from organic, sustainable fabrics or hip little green boutiques is great, but if you can't do that, at least spend that money on something that won't go into a landfill in a month or two. You may spend more money per item this way, but you won't have to buy nearly as often. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind when clothes shopping the hippie way:
  • Go for natural fibers. Not only are they, well, more natural, but they tend to be more breathable and last for years.
  • Consider where the clothes are coming from. For example, many people choose not to buy clothing made in Bangladesh or to only buy American-made items.
  • Go shopping online. It saves gas and you don't have to interact with people. If you don't want to shop online, carpool with friends. It saves gas and makes you look cooler.
  • Make a list. Impulse buys are great and all, but you may find yourself wasting a lot of money or regretting that teal tube top.
  • Research. Decide who you want to buy from and stick with it. There are a lot of resources to find out which companies aren't as evil as the others. Check out how they treat their employees, how they dispose of waste, and whether or not they use sweat shops.
  • Go local. Not only will you save gas by going to that shop down the street rather than the outlet mall, but you'll support small businesses and keep your money in the community.
  • Resist super trendy items. Even if they're well-made, they won't last. That floral printed crop top and those pleather leggings may be in right now, but one day you'll regret them and won't be able to pay someone to take them off your hands. That day might be tomorrow.
  • Check out companies that give back. Everyone's heard of TOMS, but there are a lot of other companies that support charitable causes, too. Don't forget about fair trade, either!
  • Think outside the box. That's it. Try something a little different and see if it works for you.
Whew! I know that was a lot of knowledge to throw at you, but I hope you find it worthwhile. Just remember the three steps: reduce your wardrobe, reuse your clothing items, and rethink your relationship with the cycle of consumerism. You can do it!

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