If you’re anything like me, chances are that at some point in your life you’ve despaired over not having anything to wear right before going out. You’ve ripped your closet to shreds trying to come up with never-before-seen outfit combinations, the Laundry Chair™ is becoming taller than you are, and nothing looks right. At this point, my Pisces moon urges me to shed an unnecessary tear and I go back to ol’ reliable: a t-shirt and jeans.
So… What Now?
At this point you might be waiting for me to tell you, “Don’t despair! If you throw all of your old clothes out, I can tell you the best places to buy your new wardrobe!” But I’m not here to promote consumerism. I know it’s tempting to go on a shopping spree and do a clothing haul when you feel like you have nothing to wear, but for the sake of our planet—and your wallets—the best thing to do is wear what you already own.
The Problem With Over-Consumption
Today, folks are buying more clothing than ever. Fashion production has doubled since the 2000’s and along with it, the production of polyester, a form of plastic. Online shopping has made it even easier to mindlessly buy new outfits. It’s available 24/7, many brands have constant deals, and fashion companies like Shein drop “700-1,000 new styles daily,” enticing new customers who seek the latest trends. On top of that, with social media at its peak thanks to the pandemic, the fashion cycle has also rapidly sped up, supercharging trends to stay relevant for mere months or weeks as opposed to several years. The rise of influencers has made it so that we see a saturation of specific clothing items or styles; this pushes people to buy to stay trendy, but also pushes them to quickly get bored and move onto the next thing.
Maybe you remember “The Strawberry Dress” by indie designer Lirika Matoshi that went viral on Instagram and TikTok during the pandemic. While I consider Lirika Matoshi a sustainable brand because each garment is made to order (which ensures that there is no overproduction or unnecessary waste), the issue lies in how often the dress got knocked-off by mass-market manufacturers like Aliexpress. Its popularity was its eventual downfall, and with rich influencers making up the vast majority of those able to actually buy the $500 gown, many people who wanted it settled for a cheap imitation with little regard for ethics. And what happens when the hype is over? On average, people throw out clothing after wearing them only seven to ten times. Of course, this new supercharged trend cycle has been absolutely devastating to both the environment and its workers, creating an enormous influx of waste and forcing workers to operate at inhumane speeds; it’s not unusual for a fashion factory worker in China to work upwards of 75 hours a week. To make matters worse, of the 75 million factory workers around the world, the vast majority of whom are in developing countries, only two percent earn a living wage.
Is Cheap Fashion Worth It?
So, while we may be getting a deal on clothes, we’re paying the price elsewhere. The cheap cost of a five dollar bodysuit on sale from Forever21 is a reflection of the garment quality and poor treatment of factory workers who produce these clothes. Many fashion houses have started responding to backlash regarding environmental impact and worker exploitation by launching sustainable collections such as H&M Conscious and releasing sustainability reports that promise to use more recycled materials or reduce carbon emissions by a certain year. While this all sounds great, reports have shown that these “sustainable” collections are most often greenwashing tactics and that they do little to make a positive environmental difference. H&M using some recycled materials in their clothes won’t make up for the fact that it produces 3 billion garments each year and averages $4.4 billion worth of unsold merchandise.
Around 60% of new clothing is composed of synthetic fabrics like polyester that take hundreds of years to break down in a landfill. These synthetic fabrics and cheap dyes also create microplastics and make the fashion industry one of the biggest polluters of the world’s clean water. With all this in mind, this is why I always encourage shopping from your own closet first.
Where to Start
To shop from your closet, you first have to curate your closet. Chances are, there’s some good stuff hiding in the back that you’ve forgotten about. I took inspiration from Marie Kondo and came up with these steps to help maximize your wardrobe:
1. Set aside a day (or two) to do this. It should take some time.
2. Pull out your entire wardrobe (clothes, shoes, hats, the whole shebang) and lay it all out on a bed or any large surface.
3. Create three piles: Keep, Upcycle, and Donate.
4. Take out each item one by one and notice how it makes you feel. It might seem a bit silly, but see if a certain item makes you feel confident or good about wearing it.
A dress that you adore and feel extra cute in? Put it in the keep pile. Your favorite pair of sweats that you love to put on after a hard day at work? Keep pile. A belt that goes with everything and serves you well? Keep pile!
An old pair of jeans that you used to love but haven’t worn since high school? Can you see yourself happily wearing it regularly again? If the answer is no, but it’s still in good condition, into the Donate pile it goes.
But, maybe you think the jeans just need a bit of love. If you think, “I’d totally wear these again if only they fit me properly!” or “I love this shirt but I hate the color!” Throw it into the Upcycle pile (or call a tailor) and make it happen!
Do this with every item of clothing! It’s a long process, but it’s worth it in the end.
5. Once you have your piles, it’s time to re-organize your closet in a way that makes sense for you. I like to organize my closet by weather and then group similar colors together.
If you’re so inclined, consider putting lesser-worn items in the front so that you reach for them more often. Everyone has their favorites, but you might forget about a cute pair of shoes that you love if they’re hiding in a corner!
6. When you’re done putting your keep pile in your closet, try to notice the type of clothes that you tend to gravitate to the most. I never realized that I loved wearing color so much until I did this method!
7. Pat yourself on the back, take your Donate pile and bring it to your local charity shop, thrift store, shelter (so long as the garments are in good condition), or even your friends! You can also try reselling on thrifting websites, if that’s your thing.
Upcycling and Thrifting
Whether it be something as simple as cropping a shirt or as complex as creating a jacket out of old clothing scraps, the possibilities are endless when it comes to DIY.
Here’s some beginner-friendly ideas to get you started:
Crop your pants, tops, sweaters, etc.
Bleach, dye, or paint/ draw on something– denim works especially well.
Add safety pins, patches, rhinestones, lace, or other embellishments. A classic!
Create a distressed look with scissors.
Embroider on canvas shoes, sweatshirts, and anything else!
“Thrift flips,” a combination of thrifting and upcycling where you create something new out of existing clothes, is also a fun option if you want something more advanced. Searching #thriftflip on TikTok will garner several videos of people making two-piece sets out of t-shirts, maxi-skirts out of button-ups, and so much more! There are also countless tutorials on altering your own clothing if you want to learn to sew.
The rise in thrifting among Gen-Z means that there are more opportunities than ever to buy secondhand clothing instead of new. Online thrifting platforms like Depop, Poshmark, and ThredUp make it easy to search for specific brands or styles, and curated consignment stores like Buffalo Exchange ensure that you won’t find anything boring on your next thrifting adventure. Consider checking out secondhand options before heading to the mall next time!
“Buy less, choose well, and make it last.”
Sometimes you see something at the mall or online and instantly fall in love. It happens to me all the time, and there’s no shame in it! If you must buy something new, just try to do so consciously. British designer Vivienne Westwood said it best: “Buy less, choose well, and make it last.” Really think about why you’re buying something and ask yourself questions before you do it. Does it go with other items in your wardrobe? Do you have something like it? Is it good quality? Can you find something similar secondhand? If it’s on sale, would you buy it if it were full price? Perhaps most importantly: How many times will you wear it? Asking these questions each time you shop should curb impulse buying and keep your closet from getting filled with things you won’t wear. Just remember that the best clothes are the ones that you already own!
Clothes have power— they can make us feel safe, confident, sexy, vulnerable, or powerful. Whatever you choose to do with your clothes, make sure you feel comfortable and good about what you wear! How do you want to refresh your closet?
About the Author:
Natasha is a first-gen Mexican-American student at UNLV pursuing a BA in English Literature. A creative in many fields, her dream is to inspire others through writing and art, and hopes to write and illustrate a children’s book series one day. Outside of school, she is passionate about fashion, A24 movies, Sailor Moon, animals, and banana crepes.