The Sustainable Clothing Purge

Last month, I worked up the momentum to purge 15 garbage bags full of clothing. About five of those bags were my kid’s stuff, outgrown in one growth spurt or another. The rest was mine.

Why so much stuff? About three years ago, we had a fire in our house. As part of the remediation, they sent all of our clothing to a special cleaner to remove the smoky smell. I have no idea what kind of cleaning process they used, but many of my cotton and wool things were suddenly inches too short or had holes in them. My guess is that the process involved hot water, a dryer set on ultra-high, and folding by Edward Scissorhands.

Now, a logical person would have tossed all of these items immediately. I mean, I wasn’t going to get any shorter, and those holes weren’t going to go away. And yet somehow, with all of the disruption, I found myself strangely emotionally attached the stuff.

On top of that, two years of marital arts classes have broadened my shoulders, making even more of my clothing unwearable. It was time to make a no-holds-barred assessment of my closet, and purge what I could.

Strategic Wardrobe Planning

Post-purge, I had to consider how I planned to replenish my wardrobe. I don’t need a ton of stuff, but I do need approximately a week’s worth of wrinkle-free, travel-friendly professional and/or business casual clothing.

Fit is always an issue for me. I’m not only tall for a woman, but at 6’1” I’m also a solid three inches taller than the average American man. This means that I can’t just roll into the local Target and expect things to fit.

Sustainable Replacements

With my work in sustainability, I’m trying to improve my efforts toward living sustainably. I’m acutely aware of the impact that apparel has on the environment, as well as working conditions for women. I wanted to make sure that I chose either very well-made, timeless pieces with high value, or selectively purchase used garments to minimize my environmental impact. And much to my surprise, I’ve gotten some good thrift shop finds. In fact, a local thrift store actually emphasizes the importance of reuse for keeping textiles out of the landfill.

The Outfits

With some clever pairings, I’ve managed to assemble some good outfits.

A $7 trench coat, paired with an existing Athleta dress. Bonus: the coat is machine washable.

This $4 men’s white shirt, paired with my closeout Vermuelen & Co. trousers and my own handmade scarf. I clearly got my money’s worth; someone said I looked like a model!

A $3 blouse paired with my $0.01 after-Christmas sale pants from Nordstrom Rack.

The magical penny pants from Item 3, paired with an existing tank and a $10 kimono-sleeve cardigan.

Finally, a $5 blouse (with Nordstrom tags still on) and existing skinny pants.

Most of these outfits are perfectly fine for everyday or general travel. And considering how much travel I have on the horizon, I’m looking forward to putting them to use.

I’m not naive enough to think that this is enough to change the course of the world. But it’s a start, and even small efforts add up.

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