Clothes that cost the earth

I don’t like the word “sustainability”. It sounds patronising, “Yeah, she’s started a new exercise regime but is it sustainable?”

It also has connotations of guilt. For example sustainable tourism makes us feel guilt ridden as we explore a planet that has become more accessible through air travel for every air mile that we rack up. And when it comes to our clothes the hot coals are heaped upon us! Our wardrobes are bursting with little-worn or ‘BNWT’ clothes, manufactured in countries with dubious policies on child labour.

But looked at from another a different angle “sustainable” could be a beautiful word. Rather than considering sustainability from a harried, stressed-out place we could just ease into our personal sustainability. Choosing sustainability rather than being bullied into it can be a positive and liberating move forward. I often quote Genevieve Antoine D’Ariaux who wrote in her book, A Guide to Elegance,

One of the most striking differences between a well-dressed American woman and a well-dressed French woman is in the size of their respective wardrobes. The American would probably be astonished by the very limited number of garments hanging in the Frenchwoman’s closet, but she would also be bound to observe that each one is of excellent quality, expensive perhaps by American standards, and perfectly adapted to the life the Frenchwoman leads. She wears them over and over again, discarding them only when they are worn or outmoded, and she considers it a compliment (as it is meant to be) when her best friend says, “I’m so glad that you decided to wear your red dress – I’ve always loved it!”

This was written in the 1960’s when many Americans drove in tanks for cars and plastic WAS fantastic. Yet the value of well-chosen clothes was recognised as being greater than the conspicuous consumerism of bulging wardrobes.

It is the simple and small changes in our attitudes that could make an incredible difference to the size and sustainability of our wardrobes. Rather than wear 15% of the clothes in our wardrobes we could have a much smaller wardrobe and wear 100% of its contents. It does involve becoming informed about the correct shapes and colours of clothes that work specifically for us and this can take time. But as we choose to make changes that will be of benefit to our appearances and our budgets the progress made will be sustainable, lasting a lifetime – now that sounds good!


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