Creating a minimal functional wardrobe

Waste goes beyond trash bin. If there is an industry that is surprisingly destructive to the planet and the people, it’s the fast fashion industry. The story of fast fashion is plain horrible from the beginning to the end:

  • Clothes are manufactured with synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and acrylic. Basically, they are plastic and will never completely degrade.
  • Manufacturing consists of chemical and energy-demanding processes, which require a lot of oil and water. For example, one typical pair of jeans takes 7000 l and one T-shirt 2,700 l of water. While cotton, especially organic cotton, might seem like an environmentally friendly choice, it can take up to 20,000 l of water to manufacture a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Cotton is also a tricky plant that requires a lot of pesticides and herbicides.
  • At the same time, the manufacturing by-products (various hazardous chemicals found in dyes) heavily pollute the water sources. Most of the wastewater is discharged illegally. The World Bank estimates that almost 20% of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles.
  • An awful lot of material is wasted in the cutting process. Sewing takes place in an unregulated working environment in third world countries. Fashion Revolution non-profit dares you to ask the question ‘who made my clothes?’.
  • The shipping of clothes is a big source of carbon emissions. Clothes have become insanely cheap, retailers are restocking at a higher pace and the demand has been rapidly increasing in the last decades. Most of the clothes have a really short lifespan after which they are improperly discarded.

So what can an individual do? To quote the designer Vivienne Westwood: ‘buy less, choose well, make it last’, the solution might be as simple as that.  I plan on having a minimal functional wardrobe, deciding what I love and need, plan more, avoid stupid purchases and appreciate what I already own!

1.Get rid of what you do not wear (sell, swap, upcycle, donate, recycle) 

A rule goes that most people wear just 20% of their clothes and are keeping everything else for various (false) reasons. That could include the “just in case” scenario clothes, ill-fitting clothes, the ones that don’t match anything else,  clothes that we keep because they were a gift or were expensive, sentimental ones,  duplicates,  the ones that are all torn but we are keeping for home/sleeping/painting/sports, the ones we think we have to own, bygone trends, and so on. The first step is to figure out what you wear from what you already have and take everything else away for awhile.

2. Love what you have, wear it and take care of it

I owned nicer pieces of clothing that I rarely wore because I figured I have to keep them for a certain special occasion, which never came. Instead of discharging, I started wearing those pieces regularly because this is what they are for. As a matter of fact, I started to wear only clothes I really liked all the time, while trying to figure out why I do not wear certain clothes and learn something from my mistakes.

3. Quit shopping (cheaply, on impulse and without a plan)

I wore only pieces I like for a while and did not buy anything else for a couple of months in order to quit impulse purchases and start planning my wardrobe with more intention.
There were some clothes I never wore because I could not match them to anything, but I still wanted to keep them. Slowly I started to see the holes in my wardrobe. For example, at a certain point, I did not have any comfortable pants even though I was spending most of my time working at home. I started to identify the missing pieces that would finish my existing wardrobe.

4. Figure out what suits your style and life

There is a list of pieces of clothes we (especially women) are supposed to own. I had some items that I never wore but thought I just need to have. However, I realized I actually do not wear many skirts, fancy shorts, blazers, dark jeans, flip flops or heels. I also realized that I am annoyed by certain classics (cliches) like the trench coat, ballerinas, leather pants or graphic T-shirts.

Rethink what you think you need to have in your wardrobe just because everyone else seems to have it. Avoid trends because you will get tired of them quickly. I hate ripped jeans for example.
It is important to be aware of what you actually wear, what your lifestyle needs are and what kind of clothes your climate requires. Are there any special events you like to attend? Do you actually do sports? I mostly wear long pants year round and some summer dresses when it is hot. I work from home a lot and it is cold where I live most of the year.
What suits your body shape, what kind of cuts and colors do you feel good in? My brother used to criticise me that I only wear blue. However, a limited color scheme is actually a good idea. If you want to have a minimal amount of clothing they should match. It also helped me a lot to ask myself how I want to feel in my clothes.

5. Fix what you have

I fixed a couple of things like shredded shirts and buttons and took care of stains that needed extra attention. But besides the obvious, I also fixed a lot of clothes, after I realized why I don’t wear them. I turned my linen dress into a T-shirt because I didn’t like its form.

6. Find a different source for your new clothes

If you realized you need some missing pieces to finish your wardrobe, start small and take time. Try swap shops or organize a swap party yourself. Go second-hand shopping, consider handmade clothes on Etsy or research sustainable brands.

The goal is to have a smaller coherent wardrobe of high-quality pieces, which suit your lifestyle and personal aesthetics. That way you can focus on what matter most in your life, whatever that might be.

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