I just finished writing a reflection about Rethinking Apparel. In light of the harm that fast fashion does to self, others, and the environment, I’ve decided to change my clothing habits and do better. I promised to let you know what I’m doing to create a more beautiful, healing and holistic wardrobe.

Buy Less.

Related to the issue of reducing waste (which I’ve discussed here), the fact remains that even though I want new jeans, I have a pair. Envy and gluttony are two of the deadly sins that bear on the clothing conversation. I need to learn to admire without owning. A piece of clothing can be good and lovely and appealing without me purchasing it. Can I take joy in a thing without possessing it? Not always. But I’d like to learn.

Spend More.

Marc Bain, writing for Quartz, says that “your next item of clothing should be so expensive it hurts.” Because that will make you think about the piece: about why you’re buying it, who made it, where it fits into your life, and whether you actually need it. Another friend, Mary, recommended this podcast interview with Marc. He has a luxurious threshold of spending $150 per piece of clothing. That’s more than I earn in some weeks. I can’t adopt his threshold, and I can’t regularly spend more at this stage of life, but if you can, consider doing so. What I can do is save up for clothing like I would save for any other major purchase.

Shop Secondhand.

Secondhand clothing helps to break down the cycle of capital grossed by abusive companies. As a petite person who struggles to find correctly sized clothing, I hate sifting through thrift store shelves. Enter ThredUp, an online secondhand store that allows me to sort searches by size. Hallelujah. I recommended a friend or two and earned referral money. Extra savings to soothe my internal bargain hunter. Tag sales, yard sales, moving sales (or whatever your favorite moniker for personal secondhand sales) are good ways to find nice used clothing. I haven’t seen tag sales in Belgium, so the tag sale may be an American phenomenon.

 Thrifted outfit for the win.

Thrifted outfit for the win.

Support Ethical Companies.

Yes, new clothing made using ethical processes and fair pay costs more. But rather than buy a crazy cheap shirt and donate to charity, why not buy a more expensive shirt and thus support a craftsperson? And even ethical clothing companies have sales. The documentary introduced me to People Tree. I’m currently reading over the policies at Boden to see if they align with my values. Free People is another conscious company. I’ve followed Amani Ya Juu on Instagram for years. Then there is Oxfam and also World MarketDestiny Rescue doesn’t produce much in the way of clothing, but my wallet solicits more compliments than other other single thing I own. I plan to keep asking friends and getting recommendations.

DIY & Make Do And Mend.

As a nurse, my sister Lauren has sewn her own scrubs, which are simple to make and can save cost and reduce harm. I dread sewing, but let me tell you: sewing just one or two items will help you appreciated your sisters in the textile industry more than you can imagine. I sew the buttons back on my shirts and mend the holes in my socks. The ability to hem or make small repairs also opens up additional thrifted items that I might otherwise overlook.

Learning how to clothe yourself is a lot like learning how to feed and nourish yourself. It’s a humanizing skill. Reconnect to the process of clothing yourself and learn how to use a needle and thread, or if you have access to one, learn how to use a sewing machine. Learn to knit or crochet so that you can make your own winter gear. Teach your sons and daughters how to knit and crochet as well. Make gifts like quilts, napkins, handkerchiefs, coasters, or banners out of upcycled fabric. My friend Martha makes rag rugs out of old textiles.

I decided to make a rag rug for our van home today. This is the result thus far.

A photo posted by Martha Mackey (@mackeymartha) on


Care For Clothing.

Also worth mentioning is clothing care. I have a pair of boots that were a costly gift from my husband. I care for those boots differently than I care for other articles of clothing because the price and sentimental value are dear, but also because I want them to last forever. Careful and eco-conscious laundering, hand washing delicates, air drying, shoe polishing, insect-proof storing… these are techniques that easily extend the lifespan of apparel.

Host A Clothing Exchange.

Sometimes called a swap party, a clothing exchange is an event where friends bring clothes in good condition that they are tired of and exchange their pieces for someone else’s. No cost involved! Unclaimed clothes can be offered to anyone willing to upcycle them (again, quilts or tee shirt rugs, etc.) or to a charity. When Jenna invited me to a clothing exchange, I was hesitant. I’m petite and struggle to find clothes that fit me well. She reassured me that she had invited LOTS of friends to this exchange, so I went and was thrilled to walk away with several pieces of clothing that I still have today. The Sunday following, there were lots of giggles as various partygoers turned up wearing their “new” clothing—all of us were in on the secret.

I keep imagining how effective this method could be for families who have infant and baby clothes!

Talk To Santa.

I’ve asked for shoes for the past several Christmases and birthdays and I’m so grateful for the shoes I’ve received. My sister gave me a raincoat, one that I wanted but couldn’t quite afford, which is an indispensable wardrobe piece in Belgium. This Christmas, try requesting a gift card or piece of clothing from a manufacturer that aligns with your values.

Ask Tough Questions.

  • If I met the person who made this, would I be pleased that I’m wearing their handicraft and proud to have supported their work? Or would I be ashamed to hear of the conditions under which this was produced?
  • Do I need this clothing?
  • Does this give me a spark of joy?
  • Would I buy this if it cost more $/€?
  • Did I research this clothing like I would any other significant purchase?
  • Do I like this material? Is this a natural fiber or a synthetic?
  • How long will this last me?
  • Is this versatile?
  • Does this require dry cleaning (an expense and an environmental hazard)?
  • What is my emotional temperature? Am I anxious or angry, distracted or stressed?

Practice Gratitude.

Marie Kondo writes about gratitude and mindfulness in her book The Life-changing Magic Of Tidying Up. I’m amazed at how carelessly I can throw on an outfit or cast it aside at the end of the day, without taking note of the service that the outfit has rendered. Generally challenging my mindfulness and dwelling gratefully on my clothing is a growth point for me. 

I also want to express more gratitude for clothing items that I don’t own. Normally, I pass by bedazzled shoppers on the streets of Leuven, I think, “I like that blouse. I want that blouse.” But today I tried to whisper an expression of gratitude instead. “Whoever designed that dress deserves a promotion.” “I’m so grateful that someone embroidered that blouse. It’s beautiful.” “I’m glad she’s wearing that scarlet headscarf because it lights up the entire street.”

It feels weird, but then again, so do my incessant “I want/I need” thoughts. 

These are some things that I’m working on, friends. I’d love to learn from your wisdom. When it comes to apparel, what have you learned about yourself, others and the world? Do you have any practical tips to share?