What is it about shopping that’s so satisfying? It’s the promise that finding the perfect item holds. The boho dress that will lead to lounging hotel poolside in LA. The quirky Commes des Garcons jacket that you’ll wear to the “can’t miss” art opening of the season. The head-to-toe citrine outfit by the up-and-coming designer that will signal that you’re a fashion insider and have the street style photographers flocking to capture your look.
I will admit to having entertained all these ideas. And before you start scoffing, stop and think about your own fashion fantasies. Because while they might be different, we all have them.
Which is why many of us also have our own mini-clothing landfills. Whether it’s closets stuffed to the gills, neatly labeled storage boxes under the bed, or dresser drawers dedicated to leggings, our lives are filled with more clothes than days to wear them. This article isn’t about getting rid of things –we’ll save that for later– but shopping smarter.
What do you want in a friend?
When you look at fashion editorials or scroll through Instagram, all those images are like kids in the lunchroom vying for the attention of the most popular girl. And that girl is YOU.
What do you value in a friend or partner? Honesty? Loyalty? Fun to be around? A shared sense of values or an aesthetic? Dependable? What do you avoid? Toxic in nature? Duplicitous? We’ll start with these steps to finding better
Sometimes it’s easiest to start with what you don’t want
1. Avoid the Toxic
When I think about toxic relationships, the classic movie “All About Eve” comes to mind. And if you haven’t seen it, you must. In this film Eve, the seemingly innocent ingenue, goes after Margo Channing our star played by Bette Davis. Eve seems so harmless and likeable, but underneath her charming veneer, there is pure poison.
If Eve was a fabric, she’d be polyester.
Like friends who can party all night and still function the next day, polyester clothes hide all the toxins behind a bright, durable front. But don’t be fooled.
Not only do they shed microfibers throughout their lives, but polyester garments never die, existing in landfills long after you’re gone. But just as bad, to get that color and performance ability, they are often treated with harmful chemicals that we absorb through our skin.
In the US, there are no federal standards for what can be put on clothing and sold to adults. Recently, the Center for Environment Health (CEH) has found high levels of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in socks, sports bras, and athletic shirts. These are “trusted” brands like Under Armour, Nike and Patagonia. I don’t want to freak you out, but BPA is known to cause developmental and reproductive harm and is quickly absorbed through our skin.
So what should you do? Don’t just toss all synthetics. DO ensure you wash them frequently in cold water to dilute the strength of the chemicals. And avoid buying new synthetic clothing –especially if it hugs your skin. Intimate wear and (ahem) leggings for example. Or ignore this warning for the sake of fashion. It’s just your health.
2. Establish Who Is in Your Tribe
Brands are always trying to convince us that they “get us.” But remember: in this scenario, you’re the ‘it girl/boy/person’ and you’re not letting just anyone into your posse. (See #1 avoid the toxic)
If you see something you like, look at the brand’s website. What is their sustainability statement? How do they treat their workers? If these things aren’t mentioned, that’s a hard pass for me. No exceptions.
Why? Because there are so many brands that are actually doing the work. For brand recommendations look at our NKM finds and sites like Good on You and Remake. But ultimately, there’s no “perfect,” so once you’re familiar with better brands, make your own list of where you’ll shop.
3. If you Can’t Pick One…Just How Polyamorous Can You Be?
As you go through life, you’ll find many people attractive. But does that mean you need to hook up with all of them? Probably not. On the other hand, you don’t necessarily want to limit yourself while you’re looking for “the one” Or Two. Or three. –You do you!
Our clothing equivalent of dating is rental. While clothing rental is relatively new, it’s gaining popularity from brands working to keep clothing in circulation by starting side rental projects. But Rent the Runway is the OG of clothing rental. A subscription to RtR or another service will allow you to sample styles you might otherwise avoid because of price point.
Have a fashion fling! That red micro-mini and printed silk blouse might be your version of the perfect one-night stand. Rent your dream vacay wardrobe instead of buying it and spend the money you saved upgrading your actual vacation.
4. Embrace the Quirky Ones – aka Vintage
In many teen movies, there’s the quirky friend of the main character. This tells the audience that our main character is more expansive and free-thinking than her peers, and chances are, the quirky friend will challenge our star to step out of their comfort zone somewhere in the plot. Think Ducky in the 1980s classic Pretty in Pink. Or Kimmy in the 1990s sitcom Full House.
Consider vintage your quirky friend. Wearing up-to-the-minute trends is a safe way to fit in. Wearing vintage is a way to stand out. Our favorite vintage girl, Amy Abrams, says The Future of Fashion is Vintage. And we couldn’t agree more. Choosing vintage is making a commitment from the beginning. You have to try it on in real life to know it fits. There’s only one in that size available. Finding the perfect vintage piece takes time, but it’s beyond worth it.
5. Getting Serious –aka The Investment Piece
This is a serious relationship. We’re talking marriage. You want to look at your chosen garment and ask, “Will we still be together when I’m 80? Can I hand you down to my children?” Now when you read “investment piece” in fashion magazines, you know they’re actually saying expensive. But just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. We’re looking at values as well.
It’s like if you were marrying into money, you wouldn’t want to discover the fortune was made by selling highly addictive opioids and pretending it was all good.
Our fashion equivalent is brands built on modern-day slavery in sweatshops and made from shoddy material. (See: who’s in your tribe) A designer label doesn’t guarantee quality.
Look at the material, construction, and fit. If it checks all the boxes and makes your heart sing, go for it.
I hope this helps you shop a bit better.
The next article will share how to care for what we wear.