17 In Shopping Tips/ Wardrobe Wellness

How to Have a Wardrobe of Sustainable Fashion

Older jacket, new year

As I’ve been reaching regularly for my Per Se pearlized leather jacket, I’ve been thinking about sustainable fashion. On a lark, I decided to Google Sustainable Fashion and found myself down deep in a rabbit hole. Do you ever hear a term and feel you know exactly what it means, but then you find out you don’t?

After reading several articles about sustainable fashion I hadn’t found a simple enough explanation. I decided to go old school and look up the word sustain in my three-inch thick desktop American Heritage Dictionary. I found just what I needed to satisfy me in the first line:

Sustain. 1. To keep in existence; maintain

That’s what I’m talking about! Having clothes in your closet with the plan of them sticking around. To me, sustainable fashion includes taking responsibility for the repair and preservation of your well-thought-out wardrobe.

As a style and wardrobe consultant, I help my clients consume fashion in a responsible way by creating sustainable wardrobes.

Slow fashion

Another term associated with sustainable fashion is slow fashion. We know what fast fashion is about: buying clothing in stores that offer current looks at low prices with the intention that you’ll wear it for a few months, toss it, and be back for more. Fast fashion has made it easy to be a weekly shopper.

With prices so low, I fear women are speeding up their consumption of clothes and not slowing down long enough to think about the big picture. We are guardians of our wardrobes. We are the ultimate gatekeepers. We allow things in and out of our wardrobes. Staying conscious about the lifespan of our clothing may be hard to do if we’re binging on fast fashion.

Focusing on bargains can leave you with not much to wear

This reminds me of a client I had super early in my career. We weren’t talking about fast fashion back in those years, but there were places to buy clothes for cheap. I found them in this client’s closet. I helped her go through her closet to discover what she already had that suited her style, fit well, and flattered her coloring. Only after that step would we consider what we needed to go shopping for.

We began the process. Clothing that didn’t pass the CSF Formula (color, style, and fit) was gingerly put on her bed with the plan of donating those items. I watched the pile grow and grow. Mind you, they all had discounted tags on them. By the time I’d gotten through her wardrobe, the bed was sky-high with donation pieces and only two suitable items remained in her closet. She looked at the heap of clothes on her bed and said, “I never liked any of those. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

When we went shopping we found a few things that looked fabulous on her. None of them were bargains. But this is something I’ve noticed throughout my career: It takes far fewer clothes to make a woman ten times happier when the pieces are right, right from the start.

It’s a topsy turvy fashion world

Have I purchased fast fashion? Oh, ya, you betcha. It was such a novelty when fast fashion showed up in stores like H&M and Zara. My first visit to Zara was in New York City years ago. I walked in and decided to try some things on. It turns out most Zara cuts don’t fit my frame well. But I was happy for the experience because I had to stand in line for a dressing room and got to observe other women in their high-end designer labeled clothes with armfuls of low-end things to try on. It truly was the beginning of high-low fashion and the styling fun of cleverly mixing expensive things with inexpensive things.

There are other ways to practice sustainable fashion. One can shop at consignment stores—easy for me because my daughters own one—and find affordable fashion that stopped working for others but may work on you. One can shop at thrift stores or vintage stores and practice recycling. One can shop in their own closet which is a great way to curb one’s consumption especially when there are treasures in there that could have been forgotten. I often pull out a wonderful piece that’s been overlooked in a client’s closet and she’ll say, “I totally forgot about that!”

My Per Se metallic leather jacket through the years

Honoring sustainable fashion as best I can

In hindsight, I can say, ‘Wow, Brenda, you were so smart to have purchased that leather jacket way back when. Look how you’re practicing sustainable fashion!’ But my closet isn’t filled with clothes that are this age or older. I’ve gone through weight gain, weight loss, weight gain, weight loss. My style has changed over the years and my clothes have too.

But one thing I always do when I’m assessing my wardrobe is to keep the things that don’t seem to go out of style, are of good quality, and if not useful this season, well, maybe they’ll be useful next season. I give clothes the benefit of the doubt.

How I’ve worn this jacket in the last four weeks

Last month in Mill Valley

Sustainable fashion
This outfit worn last month in Walnut Creek

I’ve been using my Per Se leather jacket as my third piece with jeans and corduroys these last weeks. I love popping it over a blouse and a jean jacket. Can you spot two recent purchases in this last picture? It’s the polka dot blouse which I suspect will have longevity in my closet. Besides being a polka dot fan, the print is so classic! The sandals are also a recent purchase and I’ve worn them in several different outfits already.

Practice having sustainable fashion with these three shopping tips

You’ve gleaned a few of my sustainable fashion tips already, but let’s review.

  1. Buy what you love (even when it’s expensive like this jacket seemed to me ten or so years back).
  2. Go for a good fit. I know fit can be fickle; we gain, we lose, our body shape changes. Never start out with something being too tight. Do your best.
  3. Choose colors that flatter you. When I bought this jacket I had auburn hair (somewhat artificial) and now I have my older, wiser, natural hair color. This jacket seems to make my skin look happy no matter what I pair it with. I’ve changed but it’s kept up with me.

For other posts on shopping tips that can help you have a sustainable wardrobe, check out shopping with Keith Urban and using the YES test for shopping success.

How I purchased this jacket

It only seems fitting to end this post with a picture of how I originally bought this leather Per Se jacket. It was part of an ensemble with this sequined dress that I wore last month. When I bought it I thought it would make a great wedding dress, plus it would fill a hole in my wardrobe. I don’t dress up much. It’s just not part of my lifestyle but when an occasion comes up, I panic. I have nothing to wear! This was investment dressing in that part of life. It was a bit risky, but as you can tell, I have no regrets. I haven’t worn the dress many times, although it does come out on Oscar night every year, but as you can see, the jacket has been a wardrobe star and a staple. It makes any outfit look better.

With my friend Julie Maeder last month in Chicago

Do you have clothes in your closet that you’d consider part of a sustainable wardrobe? I know some of you will tell me about a bargain item you found that has sustained many years of use. Terrific! I want to hear all about it. Sustainable doesn’t have to mean expensive. Let’s discuss this!


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  • Reply
    May 7, 2019 at 8:21 pm

    Love this post, Brenda. A sustainable wardrobe is making clothes last. This is the best definition I’ve heard so far. It comes without the burden of moral and ethical dilemmas that pervade the fashion industry.

    • Reply
      May 9, 2019 at 5:15 pm

      Brilliant comment! Yes, it is as simple as that: making clothes last. Thank you!

  • Reply
    May 7, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    I have in the past bought a cheaper “substitute” item rather than the more expensive “perfect” item and regretted it because it was never quite right. Now I would prefer to spend more on less and get what I truly love and will wear for years. The cheaper items never survived wardrobe culls.

    • Reply
      May 9, 2019 at 5:13 pm

      Interesting to note! I’ve done the same and once I learned that lesson, I’ve been able to pass it on to my clients. Three kinda, sorta, okay blouses will never equal a fabulous one!

  • Reply
    May 8, 2019 at 6:26 am

    I bought a lovely cropped print St. John jacket a few years ago that coordinated well with black pants/skit/theory tank dress for the warmer months. I have now retired and will not be dressing up as much, but will keep this jacket that always drew compliments and just made me feel polished every time I wore it. I think I paid less than $200 for it on sale, but it’s been very low cost per wear.

    • Reply
      May 9, 2019 at 5:11 pm

      That cropped style sounds like it will go on forever! Good for you!

  • Reply
    Anne Johnson
    May 8, 2019 at 6:41 am

    I love the post and the polka blouse. Regarding the latter – is it available ?

    • Reply
      May 9, 2019 at 5:10 pm

      I would think so. I bought it maybe a month ago at Nordstrom. I’m away from it right now and don’t remember the name of the label.

  • Reply
    Mary Ann Pickett
    May 8, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Yes…so smart and really that jacket is probably a bargain in the price per wear department. I think that way about my 10-year-old bone handled YSL purse. 🙂 You look gorgeous in that jacket.

    • Reply
      May 9, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      Thank you, Mary Ann. You’re right. The cost per wear is really low. I think I can picture the YSL purse you’re talking about! Show me next time I visit you.
      P.S. You look so great in clothes!!

  • Reply
    Linda B
    May 9, 2019 at 5:41 am

    I have a somewhat alternate opinion to express. I do try to buy quality, for sure, and often it needs to be done by shopping second hand. But now and then I also find myself buying clothing at the cheap places–Target, or H & M. This is sometimes an internal conflict for me, as I try to buy “sustainably manufactured” stuff. However, I don’t have a large income, and this is the way to get my “basics” covered. And sometimes, I have found truly wonderful pieces that are so pretty, and decently made. I keep them for years, just like a more expensive piece. An example: yesterday I wore one of my best skirts. It is a white skirt with a black polka dot pattern that is artistically printed. I feel like a million bucks in this skirt, every time I wear it. It’s from Target, the Who What Wear line. I will keep it forever! My motto is to keep my eyes open, wherever I am, for beautiful and well made designs. There is a lot of dreck out there, but everywhere, there are hidden gems.

    • Reply
      May 9, 2019 at 5:05 pm

      I’m with you 100%. After posting this piece I was thinking of going into my closet to see what I’ve purchased at lower end stores that have been sustainable. It’s true that with a trained eye you can find the thing that really works, looks quality and will stick around even from H&M. Early in the beginning of H&M I discovered that their pants fit me perfectly. I was with a consultant from New York one day and was wearing them. She asked me if they were Prada. They weren’t but they looked that good. I wore them for years and years before they lost their luster. I love your share!!

  • Reply
    La semaine d'une gourmette
    May 9, 2019 at 5:55 am

    When I was 17 (end of the seventies!), living in Paris, I loved to visit stores, even the rather expensive ones where I couldn’t buy anything. I visited Agnes B. once and stumbled on a beautiful straight honey-colored linen summer coat, I just fell in love with it. Alas, the price… Impossible! A few weeks later, it was discounted, but still too pricy for me. At the very end of the sales period, it was discounted again, deeply, and even thought it still was expensive by my standards, I could buy it. Well, more than 40 years later, I still have and wear that coat… (it’s testimony that fashion at that time was all about loose clothes, otherwise it would be far too small for me now, ahem…). Talk about sustainable!
    That said, my problem is that my tastes don’t change much, so I still love what I bought eons ago, but then I buy more… You see where this is going, right: a closet bulging with items I love. Hard to pare down! Oh well, first world problems… 😉

    • Reply
      May 9, 2019 at 5:01 pm

      Wow, now that’s a story of sustainable fashion! Thanks so much for sharing. One thing I do look out for when I’m shopping with my clients is whether or not they continue to buy the same thing over and over. Some classics get a makeover with fabric or construction and are worth updating. But heh, you’ve got a lot of things going in the right direction! Thanks for sharing!

      • Reply
        May 11, 2019 at 7:30 am

        Agnes B made so many beautiful clothes! I’m not surprised you still wear this coat… I was really fond of its little sweater-cardigan and its leather jacket in the 80-90’s…You made a very good decision to finally buy it 😉 !!

  • Reply
    May 11, 2019 at 7:25 am

    This elegant jacket reminds me a silk coat that my grandmother bought for my mother’s wedding (in 1962! 😉 ) it was made in a beautiful dark green thick silk fabric and the cut was elegant and simple, quite the same of your jacket. Years later, my mother has inherited the coat that still looks very nice! I hope I will be able to have it next!!

  • Reply
    May 11, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    Question – Brenda you mentioned fluctuating weight over the years. Well, I have recently lost about 10 lbs., without trying. Just shrinking I guess, maybe from aging? I am finding that my clothes are swimming in me, and my pants are falling down. So my question is this… when you are dealing with weight loss and culling your wardrobe to make room for new things that fit, do you keep a couple pair of old jeans just in case you regain the weight and need that size again?

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