As someone that likes (well, tries) to look stylish, but also is concerned about the negative effects of consumerism, I have an inconsistent and contradictory interest in fashion.
I'm often impressed by the creativity from designers like the late Alexander McQueen and I enjoy street fashion photography as a hobby, but I also know that the industry helps generate an unsustainable cycle of planned obsolescence and contributes to a great deal of wasted money and resources.
I recently attended New York's Lincoln Center for the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week where I saw some great leading edge fashion -- a lot of it very interesting, beautiful and creative -- but I was more interested in spotting the classic looks that demonstrated how I prefer to dress.
Below are some photos I took using Instagram and my notes on what there is to like (or dislike) about the clothes from a sustainable fashion point of view.
Trends to Pass On
Fashion Week is held in cities around the world in the Fall and Spring to display the new styles designers and brands want you to buy. Media swarm these events to tell consumers what's going to "be in" next season. It goes without saying, but this system of changing your style or wardrobe every season to fit what the designers want to sell isn't really sustainable. But there's a better way!
This is Catt Sadler and I have to say I think she's beautiful and looks great here. But, since we're talking about sustainable fashion, I thought these pants were a good example of something that you may want to avoid. Bold patterns and prints can be great, but they go out of style quickly. The black tank top on the other hand is something a woman could probably use for many seasons in a variety of ways.
Like everyone on our team, I care about the environment and make a lot of conscious decisions to reduce my impact in life, but none of us are perfect and when it comes to clothes, I haven't always been leading a good example. We all probably have or have had items in our wardrobe that we never wear and wonder, "why did we buy that?" Well, that has happened to me a lot over the years.
In the past few years, I've donated to Goodwill boxes and boxes of printed t-shirts, embarassingly patterned dress shirts, cheap, ugly ties and pants that were way too baggy for my body type. When I became more informed about the environmental impact of consumerism, I began analyzing these bad habits to understand my purchasing mistakes. Everything I ended up not wearing and getting rid of was purchased either on impulse, to fit a fleeting trend, or because it was so inexpensive. And all of these items were purchased without consideration of the impact on the environment.
Learn to Spot Quality
In the past couple years I've also started learning about clothes from sites like PutThisOn, which bills itself as a site for "learning to dress like a grownup." Check out their right-hand rail where they list some helpful guides on how to find quality shoes, how to tell a good suit from a cheap suit, what basic pieces a guy should have in their wardrobe and so on. I think learning to spot quality was an important step in learning to shop sustainably.
Shopping Criteria to ConsiderNow, I consider a different criteria when shopping:
- First, do I really need it?
- Second, am I sure I really need it?
- Third, do I need it right now?
You get the idea.
Once I decide I do need something, I ask these questions:
- Is it high-quality and built-to-last?
- Is it a classic piece that will remain in style for many years?
- Is it built in a way that allows it to be repaired? (ie. leather-soled shoes)
- Is this an heirloom piece? Could I pass it down?
- And, of course, I will consider the origin of the materials and the circumstances under which it was manufactured.
While Dandy Wellington has taken on a persona to fit his sense of style, with so much of it depending on vintage pieces, you could argue this is one of the more sustainable ways to dress. While you may not want to go so decidedly retro, the lesson here is to spend money on a good suit. Wear it forever.
Sometimes sustainable fashion just means using what you have. If they fit, vintage beat up jeans almost always look good. Suede shoes are a good investment, because they last forever if you take care of them. And a nice leather portfolio or briefcase is another item that you can either find in a thrift store or invest in and pass it down to your son.
I liked this look because it just looks so damn smart. As I commented on Instagram, "if I ever need to rescue a kidnapped heiress, track down stolen historical artifacts or travel in time to solve a murder mystery, I want him on my team."
One way I like to think about these types of looks was if they are "time machine-ready." If you're wanting to buy clothing that will look good through a number of seasons, you should think like this. Could you jump in a racing Delorean and look okay wherever you ended up? If you swap in a white shirt, this is time machine ready.
When you break down this look, it's really just a good pair of jeans, a shirt, boots and a vest. Oh, and a good hat. That's not much. But investing in high-quality (or vintage) for these pieces will give you pieces that can be used in a number of ways for a number of years. And never go out of style.
Again, like a good hat, a good vest is a good long-term investment. You can wear it in a number of ways and it will last a long time.
This was solidly retro, but still time machine-ready. The idea here is he could wear this 50, 60, 80 years ago or that far into the future and probably look okay.
Another way one can dress is to establish a personal "uniform." I was fortunate enough to spot the legendary photographer Bill Cunningham. Cunningham is always wearing the same blue jacket. It has helped create his legendary status, but it has also saved him a lot of money and time not wasted deciding what to wear.
How do you balance your concern for the environment with your sense of style? Share any tips you have in the comments!