Shopping is a favorite go-to activity for me. I’m a visual person and can find great admiration in materialistic items that others may simply consider “practical needs.”
But I never once gave a thought to who was making my clothes or what materials I was pressing up against my skin all day long; as long as the price was good and the material soft, into my cart it went.
The True Cost
Then, I got into natural living. I learned about toxins in our everyday products, mainly focusing on beauty goods like makeup and skincare that I deliberately smeared over my face and let seep into my bloodstream. I cleaned up my act and switched my entire hygiene and beauty routines to non-toxic, green beauty and felt pretty good about myself.
It wasn’t until I watched the Netflix documentary The True Cost a couple of years ago that I learned about not only the toxins in our clothing, but the horrible conditions in which they are made.
The True Cost shows the ugly side of the fast fashion industry and is a video I believe everyone who buys clothes should watch. Seeing how the workers in countries such as Bangladesh are treated, how marketing agencies play on our vulnerabilities to make a sale, and how cotton farmers are dying of cancer because of pesticides disgusted me.
When I learned many of these pesticides remain in fabrics for 15+ years, I realized it wasn’t only my beauty products that I needed to transform.
Quickly convinced that I needed to start paying attention to how I bought my clothes, I became passionate about thrifting.
There are a few ways to stop buying fast fashion, but the most accessible option is thrifting.
Thrifting is a better choice because you are not directly supporting poor working conditions, mistreatment of workers, and environmental hazards. Instead, you give life to clothes in great condition that would otherwise ultimately be thrown into a landfill. And if you thrift vintage, you also have a better bet for buying quality materials, such as 100% cotton rather than a modern plastic blend.
I’m not perfect. I still thrift sweaters will polyester blends and will buy shoes from commercial retailers. And the cotton pieces I buy at thrift stores aren’t usually organic cotton! But I do my best to be conscious about quality, versatility, and functionality. This way, I’m not cluttering or bringing items into my wardrobe that fall apart within six months.
Last year, in keeping with my goals to become minimalistic, I executed a major closet clean out which left my summer wardrobe rather bare and sad. I knew I had some significant gaps to fill, but also had a budget. Between this and desiring not to support fast fashion, I set an intention to thrift as many of my needed pieces as possible.
Goal accomplished? YES.
I’m proud to say I thrifted probably 90% of my new summer wardrobe. A few pieces came from a local savings store similar in distribution to TJ Maxx. These stores buy their pieces at a discount from the original retailer. While these stores may not be the best alternative, I do think they are a better option than directly supporting fast fashion retailers. Personally and for now, I’m okay with buying the occasional item from these stores.
So, what did I buy this year and how have these items worked for me?
I had three main wardrobe goals I kept in mind while shopping:
- Comfort — with my chronic pain, I needed soft fabrics and looser styles to epitomize my comfort level
- Easy — I didn’t need anything fancy as I spent most of my time at home this season. Plus, what’s better than simply throwing on a favorite pair of shorts and tank top in the summer heat?
- Good quality — softer fabrics often mean rayon, but I tried to focus on cotton + modal blends. I also determined not to skimp on quality sneakers.
My three main needs were:
- basic tops,
- and sneakers.
In total, I added 10 tops, 3 bottoms, 1 dress, 2 pairs of shoes, and 1 accessory to my wardrobe. I never wore two items from these pieces and one has since been removed from my closet.
How did these items work out?
- Tops — my most-worn tops were comfortable, lightweight, simple, and had crew necklines. The tops I hardly wore (or didn’t stay in my wardrobe) were tight in the stomach and arms and/or low-cut, something I dislike but ignored in the dressing room.
- Bottoms — I love the two pairs of shorts I thrifted. I feel the most comfortable and confident in an inseam of 4-5″ and listened to that as I shopped. While I spent more on a thrifted Madewell pair of shorts, they were high quality. I bought a pair of capris that will be donated after the season; they were fairly comfortable and worn often but I, once again, ignored fit issues in the dressing room. And the capri style isn’t versatile.
- Dresses — I was originally on the hunt for a simple, casual black dress, but found a blue printed L.L. Bean dress at the savings store and fell in love with it. The fit and quality are superb and it’s the only dress I wore this season.
- Shoes — I prepared to buy shoes straight from a retailer when I found a new pair of Adidas on Ebay for 50% off. I also bought a pair of IPanama sandals from ThredUp, an online consignment shop. I honestly only bought them because I needed something without heels for church; the comfort level isn’t what I would want for an all-day sandal, but considering the price ($6) I’m satisfied for now.
- Accessories — a new bag wasn’t on the shopping list. But I realized I wanted a zippered crossbody bag for travel and that could fit my foldable cane. I found a Target brand bag for $10 on Poshmark in a cute blush color. The quality isn’t something that will last, but I get good use out of these bags.
All in all, I created a little collection of quality, versatile clothing that I can see lasting for years. Throwing together an outfit was a breeze this summer and, most importantly, I always felt comfortable in what I wore.
What Mistakes Did I Make?
- Budgeting — I never sat down to determine a limit on how much I could spend on new summer clothing. Because of this, I sometimes ignored the price of something when my gut told me to keep looking. I didn’t “break the bank” over this season’s new clothing, but I think I would’ve felt more confident as I shopped if I had better guidelines set for money.
- Distraction — It wasn’t until the end of this season that I realized how scattered my shopping brain had been. I shared with you the items I bought for summer — but scattered in between were many, many items that I also bought for my fall/winter wardrobe. It’s difficult to remain focused when you’re at a thrift store shopping for summer clothes but see a really great deal on a beautiful sweater. I’m thinking of creating specific regulations for myself on when I can shop for certain seasons. Doing something like this will build excitement for seasonal shopping and in turn help the budget so you’re not spending too much at once.
- Compromising/Not Paying Attention — from the previous list, you’ll notice I mentioned a few items didn’t work out because of their fit. For years I’ve cultivated a bad habit of compromising on clothing that doesn’t fit quite right because it’s been hard to style my petite frame. But there ARE clothes out there that fit me well, and I need to stop ignoring when something doesn’t fit my waist or my arms right, and thoroughly look over a piece (especially when thrifted) before dishing out my money.
Overall, though not a perfect collection, this turned out much better than my typical blind shopping.
I didn’t go into the season specifically thinking of creating a summer capsule wardrobe (if you don’t know what a capsule wardrobe is, it is a small collection of versatile, staple wardrobe pieces that is often separated by 2-4 seasons — the goal is to build a base wardrobe that will last a long time and never go out of style); I merely wanted to fill a few gaps in my closet and add staple pieces so a future capsule might be possible. However, at the end of the season, I pulled out all the pieces I wore on constant rotation this summer.
There were only 16 items!
Granted, my slow summer consisted of little activity, so my more comfortable, relaxed pieces obviously received major love. But I proved to myself that I can get away with less by enjoying a few, quality wardrobe elements. I look forward to consciously creating a true capsule next summer.