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Buying Less is More: Three Simple Rules for Sustainable Fashion

As climate change heats up the world, the responsibility to curb it rests in the hands of ordinary people.

Sustainable fashion has been on the rise in the fashion industry as an effort towards implementing more environmentally friendly manufacturing methods and rising consumer awareness towards the connection between climate change and the clothes on their backs.

Yet, such efforts feel fruitless because they are effectively canceled out by the rate of of the fashion industry’s growth and its another way for businesses to make money while claiming to be environmentally conscious. Fashion brands have to scale back production while improving quality in order for them to truly be sustainable.

From the consumer side, buying secondhand clothing through retailers that act as vintage clothing curators is the best way to combat the pollution the fashion industry creates, but its not valued enough in mainstream society and is only popular as a niche culture for people looking for vintage streetwear and high fashion clothing.

Vintage clothing culture surrounds the hype for older but sought after brand wear and is actually a modern continuation of a historical practice of people buying an article of clothing and handing it down to the younger generation because its high-quality construction made it last the original owner's lifetime. In the present, the mass production of low-quality, inexpensive clothing from fast fashion brands has permeated into people’s buying habits, making clothing easier to obtain and easier to throw away.

High-quality manufacturing still exists, but it takes more time and research to know how to obtain such garments.

Ordinary people can still make a difference by harkening back to the way of how their great grandparents bought clothing: buying durable, timeless clothing and wearing it for its full life cycle rather than spend it on more clothing for vanity’s sake. In an effort to lower your ecological footprint, save money, and look good at the same time, here are three rules to live by before clicking that checkout button.

Rule one: know basic knowledge of fabrics and common clothing manufacturing methods

Rather than look at price as the ultimate factor to the quality of a garment, product specifications can make the difference in making your purchase last as long as possible in its life cycle. Durable clothing are the real premium choices when it comes to buying smarter and can be determined by what kind of fabric they’re made of and how the garment in question is manufactured. Since there are so many types of garments that use different types of manufacturing methods and fabrics, cotton t-shirts will be used to exemplify rule one for brevity.


One hundred percent cotton t-shirts are an excellent choice for general everyday wear. Cotton is a natural, strong fabric that is breathable and is able to absorb perspiration from the body allowing it to pass through the fabric and into the air. Cotton will last wash after wash because its molecular structure is built to make the fabric stronger when wet unlike many other fabrics. Opting for heavier weight cotton t-shirts would be the best choice when shopping with mid-weight options tending to start at 6 oz and heavyweight options starting at 8 oz.

In regards to manufacturing methods, most cotton t-shirts are cut and sewn, but more premium choices have loopwheeled or tube knit construction. Though the latter types of construction are more durable choices because they have no seams and are essentially one piece of fabric, the difference is nuance because modern stitching technology has the ability to make seams have adequate strength and not affect much of the lifespan of the garment. Buying sustainably is reflected in buying lasting products because the consumer will ultimately be buying less, and knowing more about what you’re wearing will empower you to make the smartest product choice.

Also be aware that some fabrics are inherently stronger than others because of their weave pattern, making the standards for what is heavyweight differentiate from fabric to fabric. Depending on the garment, knowing the fabric weight is sometimes unnecessary being that they are traditionally manufactured in a durable fashion. Garments that fit into this category include woolen coats, reverse weave sweats, and denim (if you’re not particular in the details towards your jeans).

It’s also notable to mention that not all garments will be wholly made with a certain fabric because of the common practice of blending different types of fabrics together in a mixture of synthetic fabrics, such as polyester or nylon, and natural fabrics, like cotton and wool. This doesn’t degrade the durability of the garment and may even strengthen it, however it might affect the care instructions. 

When in doubt, suspend the purchase and check with yourself if you really need the item or if your attracted to it because of hype.

The key principle to this purchasing rule is that price doesn’t always equate to quality as lower priced items can be manufactured at similar or even better standards than a more luxurious option. In the end, there is no best fabric for every occasion, making this next rule helpful by narrowing down what kind of garment and fabric you need at the right time. 

Rule two: purchase using TPO (time, place and occasion)

TPO’s concept was created by Kensuke Ishizu, the man who single handedly popularized western style in Japan. It states that people should choose outfits based on the time of day, setting and the nature of the event. More traditional jobs like a banker or lawyer will require a matching suit and tie, but someone in a creative industry can pay less heed to conservatism and has more leverage to be more casually dressed.

Purchasing using TPO will help inform you what type of garments you need rather than want and can reduce excessive spending. Being aware that it would be more beneficial to stave off buying a new jacket even if you can afford it is TPO in action because it saves you more money. These types of small, anti-consumerist efforts are little deeds that add up toward a positive future for the environment that doesn’t require marching in the streets.

Buying with utilitarianism and context in mind, TPO can also be applied to the first rule by purchasing fabric that will best perform a garment’s intended function. If it is raining or there is a chance of rain, opting for a 2L waterproof fabric would be best to block the wind and rain. When dressing for physical activity in a hot climate, polyester athletic apparel would be the better choice over cotton because of its superior sweat wicking ability.

Buying clothes that can be used in multiple environmental situations also helps towards owning less. Many brands offer traditionally formal garments like pants and collared shirts in technical fabrics and can be used for traveling or hiking because of their breathable, athletic material.

Rule three: knowing how to style different garments together to make an aesthetically pleasing outfit is part of using clothing efficiently

Using clothing efficiently to cover the body comfortably and handsomely is about knowing how they visually interact with each other. Some colors and patterns match with others you wouldn’t even think about until you see it in pictures and others just lead to a boring or gaudy combination.

 A monotheistic club look can be nice but not when everyone else in Ibiza is wearing all black on a sunny day. Playing with textures like wearing a black chambray shirt that is both lightweight and appropriate for the clubbing occasion would be an excellent statement piece to have that would also be durable and able to match with many other colors and patterns. 

A classic go-to outfit like white sneakers, blue jeans and a white t-shirt is great, but next time mix it up to bring more variety into your style by wearing more elegant footwear like boots and your alma mater t-shirt for a rugged and relaxed casual look. A dotted shirt under a herringbone suit, an army green bomber jacket and brown houndstooth checked pants, the list goes on and on for how many good combinations there are when it comes to styling yourself.

Referring to your favorite celebrities airport style on Google Images is always a great start for style inspiration because they hire professional stylists that are at the forefront of what is fashionably relevant. Other sources for inspiration are fashion focused subreddits or a brand’s seasonal lookbook are also good references. Whatever your style is, one should feel comfortable and confident in the clothes they’re wearing.

It is also important to point out when purchasing new clothing that a new, single garment adds a new outfit to every other article of clothing that could accompany it. Buying clothing with the pieces you already own in mind will make your wardrobe ever more comprehensive and will enable you to match the new garment with the clothing you already have in your closet. 

In short, being more conscious of the lifespan and fabrication of your next clothing purchase and how it relates to your other clothes can significantly lower your impact on the environment. People don’t realize how much clothing they own and don’t think about how much they actually need. Ultimately, these three rules encompass the idea that by making infrequent, strategic clothing purchases, they can get more out of their money and the world at large because they aren’t feeding into the consumerist culture that fashion brands rely on which continues to contribute to the ruination of our planet.

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