Want a more sustainable wardrobe? Take better care of what you have
What does it say about fashion that I’ve been writing about clothes for more than 20 years, but my favourite T-shirt has a hole where the collar has come loose at the seam and I have no idea how to mend it? That I have a cupboard full of fashion show notebooks, but my sewing kit is the kind you find in a hotel room? I’m sure it’s not anything good, right?
Yet I love my clothes. Throwing any of them away seems to me scarcely less bleak than burning books. Call me an incurable romantic, but I believe I could live happily ever after with the clothes I have now. I’m not ruling out the odd moment of weakness – I’m only human, and occasionally lose self-control in the presence of hoop earrings or anything leopard print. And sometimes stuff wears out and needs to be replaced. But I’d love my wardrobe to live for ever.
So what is standing in the way of eternal life for my clothes? Well, the aforementioned lack of maintenance skills, for a start. Moths. Poor napkin discipline when eating spaghetti arrabbiata. Teenage children who “borrow” things. But the most dangerous enemy of the perfectly nice clothes you already own is fashion. I love fashion, always have and always will. Getting dressed is a celebration of being alive. But fashion as a modern industrial complex has a dark side, which is about making you fall in love with clothes, then quickly killing them off so you buy new ones.
Look inside a dress before you buy to see if it is made to last. Details like a hook-and-eye fastening at a zipper are a sign of a piece made with care
Buying fast fashion is like eating Pringles. You start and want to keep going. Click-to-buying cute sundresses online is a slo-mo version of this. It’s not the dress you want, not really; it’s the rush of buying something new.
Nothing personal, Ms Kondo, but enough already with the clearout fetish. It is insane that sending clothes to landfill can be labelled a “wardrobe detox”. Chucking out good clothes to make room for slightly shinier ones is a feedback loop that takes you nowhere. Now and again, fashion comes up with something that you probably don’t already own (jumpsuits in 2010, say), but when a new look lands, it is almost always about how to wear clothes you have. It is changing the silhouette by cinching a belt over a blazer, or switching from matchy-matchy bright accessories to dressing in tonal colours.
Seeing your wardrobe as a permanent collection rather than a conveyor belt puts a brake on impulse purchases. Being terrible at repairing clothes incentivises me to make sure what I buy isn’t going to fall apart. This isn’t just about expensive stuff. Look inside a dress before you buy to see if it is made to last. Details like a hook-and-eye fastening serving as a double lock at a zipper opening are a sign of a piece made with care; stray threads that threaten to unravel are the opposite. It is common sense stuff – although tricky if you are buying online, which I guess is part of the problem. And if you buy secondhand, you are doing more to make clothes live for ever.
Clothes repair is a growing wing of the fashion industry. There are chic ateliers devoted to restoring shoes and bags, such as The Restory. Make Nu has embroidery fairy godmothers who will cover a snag in your favourite sweater with a daisy or a monogram. Want to connect with a tailor who can alter your new vintage treasure so it fits like a glove? Sojo has an app for that.
Forget the celebrity personal trainer: the hot restorer is the number to have in your contacts. Maybe, just maybe, the fashion industry is on the mend. Even if my favourite T-shirt isn’t.