If you're serious about sustainable fashion, then protecting our garments is just as important as buying ethically.
Taking care of clothes properly is a key component of the sustainable fashion movement. After all, if we're not treating our clothes the way they're meant to be treated, they will not last as long as they could. And if we're spending money on higher-quality garments (as we're supposed to), then it is in our best interest to take care of them properly so as not to lose out on that investment.
But there is more to caring for clothes than just laundering them correctly. It's also important to protect them, and this can be done in a very simple, straightforward way, even if it isn't terribly fashionable. Laura Lovett pointed this out to me on Twitter:
Love the series on sustainable fashion. I keep thinking that one of the real tools for smaller, more lasting wardrobes from the past were aprons. If only it were possible to get them into mainstream fashion trend. Really practical and cute, like the Japanese cross linen apron.— Laura Lovett (@LovettLaura) July 23, 2019
Consider the apron, an old-fashioned accessory that's just as useful today as it was a hundred years ago. Women used to tie aprons around their waists before starting to cook or bake because their single everyday dress had to last until washing day. It made no sense to expose it to food splatters and flour marks.
While aprons are still used in commercial kitchens, it's time for a comeback in home kitchens. I started using one after sizzling oil ruined several shirts and since then it has become indispensable. It's convenient, too, because my heavy black full-front apron is like a tea towel, perfect for wiping my hands during meal prep.
But protective clothing isn't limited to the kitchen. We should all have 'home' clothes that we change into once we return home from work. These are clothes that we use to garden and to clean. We can get sweaty shovelling snow in them, raking leaves, or hopping on a bike to run an errand. We can pick up mucky children without worrying that they'll leave marks on our outfit. We can have a spontaneous wrestle in the grass with a child or a pet without fearing a stain.
Children should go back to having play clothes, too – designated pieces that can be worn for days on end without laundering because dirty is their accepted state. Upon returning home from school, they should change out of those nice clothes and into their play ones, which relieves the parent of having to worry about how the clothes are being treated. When bedtime rolls around, the play clothes can be aired out instead of washed. Similarly, bibs should be a dinner table staple until a child can eat neatly.
The same goes for footwear. I marked up a few too many nice pairs of sandals while working in the garden, until I realized I just needed to wear the same pair of hiking boots or rubber boots every time I did yard work.
Not only does protective or 'ugly' clothing prolong the life of the 'good' clothes, but it reduces the amount of laundry one has to do, which is good for the environment (fewer microfibres, less water, detergent, and energy). Perhaps most importantly, though, it allows us to relax into our chores and playtime a bit more. When getting dirty no longer matters because we won't have to deal with it in the laundry room later, it takes a weight off our shoulders. We'll encourage our kids to head for the mud puddle; we'll crank the heat to sear that glorious eggplant; we'll lie in the grass to look up at the blue sky whenever the urge hits. We'll live a little bit more, unconstrained by our garments.