Wardrobe Essential Basics: Reducing Consumption While Covering Your Shame


woman with scarf around face - wardrobe essential basics

Geography affects closet contents. So does income. And budget. And personal taste. And, increasingly, the sustainable mindset.

Selecting additions to our wardrobes that don’t literally cost the Earth requires a bit of sleuthing, but this task is becoming easier and easier with each passing fashion season as garment manufacturers wake up to the fact that the average consumer cares about sustainability. Indeed, they care so much that they are closing their wallets to clothing produced in the toxic traditional ways.

Now how does one achieve a guilt-free wardrobe? Not in one fell swoop…unless your credit card is matte black. No, this process of consumption reduction and replacement has to happen over time as pieces disappear from your dressers and closets through attrition. You outgrow them, you donate them, you consign them or regift them to members of your posse. You most assuredly do not pitch them into a landfill.

Homework First…

Perhaps the most onerous task in building a sustainable wardrobe will be determining what pieces you truly need. Be honestnobody has to have 24 scarves or a dozen black dress shirts. (Well, maybe well-accessorized assassins.) A periodic culling of your closet’s contents will reveal your true go-to pieces, the workhorses of your clothing stable. 

Okay, the time has come when you must replace those favourite items. Hmmm. Where to begin? Labels. Always look for the certification labels and investigate those that remain a mystery to you. Keep this handy list on your phone and check for updates a couple of times a year.

…Then Shopping!

Let’s start on the inside and work our way out. And no, a little black dress is not an essential despite what fashion marketing tells us. Repair it or pass it on. You merely want a newer version of the cocktail crowd uniform. For now, we are all about your daily body coverage needs.

The Bare Essentials

Intimates simply must feel good to the touch as they maintain contact our most delicate skin throughout the day. Thankfully, modern textile producers have devised eco-friendly fabrics that are soft and breathable, and lingerie designers are snapping up their supply. Sustainable panties and briefs are readily available in abundance, so limit yourself to a two week supply max.

Bras are such onerous foundation essentials to fit that it really is understandable if you go off the path of self-restraint and buy two of a version you like/can stand.

Hosiery is a marvellous and simple opportunity to express your true character. Quirky socks and funky tights are an easy way to personalize an outfit.

The Workhorses

T-shirts are the backbone of so many ensembles. Remember when Sharon Stone wore a black one on the Oscar red carpet with a full floor length skirt after her planned outfits (two) failed to arrive in wearable condition? She was clocked by many fashion reviewers and T-shirt sales soared as women realized their versatility.

Absolutely everybody needs bottoms: dress and casual pants, skirts of various lengths for various occasions, leggings because we will not give up their incredible comfort and versatility and the ubiquitous pair of jeans.  

For those favouring a feminine silhouette, a frock fills the bill. Dresses can be for work or play or formal occasions. The best ones withstand the test of time, cut along classic lines that flatter and fit well. Look for natural fibre content in all instances.

The Layers

Oooo – a cozy sweater. Just wearing one makes you feel cossetted and cared for. Nowadays there are numerous sweater producers using reclaimed wool to make their knitted creations.

Businesswomen, you just have to hunt a very little bit to find sustainable office wear. An ethically made blazer over dress pants or a skirt or even a dress keeps you looking professional and can be found during your lunch break with just a click or two.

There’s nothing like a denim jacket to top your street wear look. Look for organic hemp or cotton versions or even those made of reclaimed denim. This is a piece you will reach for regularly, so do not be shy about making the investment. 

Lust for a leather coat, but can’t reconcile your hunger with your cruelty-free practices? Fret no more – more and more reclaimed leather garments are hitting the store racks as the world reduces its meat consumption.   

Fend off winter’s icy blasts with a sustainable winter coat. Puffy and practical, woollen classic cut or high tech mountaineer’s dream, ethical cold weather gear is here.

The Masculine Staples, for Gents of Any Gender

men's shoes and pants in store - wardrobe essential basics

People who identify as gents, your dressing needs have not been overlooked by the industry, not by a long shot.

It is understood that men’s clothing costs more and its buyers tend not to question this for a variety of reasons: impatience with the task at hand, higher level of disposable income, and the prestige of wearing a big name. Score extra points with a vintage necktie.

Top off your office casual look, fellas, with a blazer to keep things appropriately smart. Special occasion coming up? A suit and dress shirt are definitely de rigueur, especially those with a very low environmental impact.

Of course, men need casual everyday wear and pieces made of hemp will prove to be the best investment because of the fibre’s durability, softness, and sustainability.

Hemp trumps organic cotton, but any organic fibre source is better than conventionally grown crops. Do not let best be the enemy of better. Any improvement is a step in the right direction.

Power to the People

First-world shoppers have the power to steer the fashion industry in the direction necessary for human survival. All human survival.

Simply say no to fast fashion. Limit your consumption. Challenge the practices of industry giants by contacting them directly with your concerns. Be vocal on your social media platforms. Purchase only certified fair trade and sustainable garments.

Your practices become habits and provide a model of behaviour for those watching. You can get what you want from manufacturers and retailers by being unyielding with your clothing demands/choices. You will be literally solving the problem of toxic fashion by throwing your money at its greener future. It’s more commonly referred to as shopping.

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By Jane Thornton

Feature image: Manga Verde; Image 1: Terje Sollie