8 Rules for Smart, Ethical Clothes Shopping

Or, how to avoid making bad clothing choices ever again.

woman looks at a rack of clothes
Woman looks at clothes on a rack.

@criene via Twenty20

Who hasn't made a bad choice at the clothing store? You know how it goes – you see something that looks good on the mannequin, but doesn't feel quite right on you, and you buy it anyway. Or maybe it's a great deal on the clearance rack for something that's less-than-perfect, but you can't resist "saving" that much money. The item ends up languishing in your closet, taking up space and sparking guilt every time you see it. You wish you'd spent your money on something else. 

It doesn't have to be that way! Expert mender Kate Sekules comes to the rescue with a fabulous list of "magic shopping questions" in her new book, "MEND! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto" (Penguin Random House, 2020). While the book teaches how to repair one's own clothing, Sekules understands the importance of making smart clothing purchases in the first place. She offers many valuable pointers, some of which I'd like to share with readers. These are questions you should ask yourself when deciding what to buy.

1. Do I want to wear it out of the store? Would I buy without expedited shipping (if shopping online)? If the answer is no, leave it behind.

2. Does the fabric's name end in -ene or -ester? If it does, it's poisoning someone or something, and you don't want that to be you. If it's super stretchy, it won't rot or biodegrade fully at the end of its life. (More on the damaging effects of synthetic fabrics here.)

3. Do I want this at twice the price? Forget about it if not because, as Sekules writes, "an unworn bargain is pricey."

4. Is it suitable for right now, in terms of sizing and usefulness? In other words, do not buy anything for your alternate personality or your future dream body type. 

5. Are you shocked at how cheap it is? Consider that someone else has paid its full price, probably with their sweat. (Higher prices don't automatically mean more ethical production, but you should seek out companies that are transparent about how their clothes are made.)

6. Does it have holes? Anything that's pre-ripped or stained is an "abomination," in Sekules' eyes. Don't pay for that.

7. Does this store have more than 10 branches? Have you seen the brand advertised on TV? If so, it's too big. Go shop somewhere small, local, privately-owned.

8. Are you willing to take care of this item? Read the care label carefully. Once you buy it, "you owe it a nice life."

It is crucial that we break out of the fast fashion mentality that allows us to consume clothes rapidly, cheaply, and treat them almost as if they're disposable. This requires us to slow down, to retrain ourselves to view clothes as an investment, and to commit to purchasing things that truly flatter our bodies. These questions are helpful at guiding that process and will help to fill your wardrobe with great pieces that are built to last.

Learn more about Kate Sekules' work at visiblemending.com.