What’s in your closet?

What's in your closet?

Have you ever looked in your closet and decided you have NOTHING to wear? Turns out, you are not alone. According to a 2018 survey done by Nordstrom Trunk Club, 61% of the 2,000 Americans they surveyed experience “wardrobe panic” despite having a closet full of clothes. The average person has 53 items in their closet, 28% of which they have never worn or haven’t worn in the past year.

In addition to the stress our closets may cause us, they also come with a pretty steep economic, environmental, and social price tag.

The world’s largest online consignment and thrift shop, ThreadUp, recently launched a Fashion Footprint Calculator that allows users to calculate the carbon impact of their closets and identify tangible ways to make more sustainable fashion choices.

With nearly 230,000 tons of clothing and textiles disposed of each year here in Massachusetts, 95% of which could have been reused or converted in other products including shop rags and insulation, it’s clear we need to rethink our relationship with our closet.

It’s time to fall in love with our clothing again.

Our relationship with our closets is complicated. What we wear is one way we express our identity and values. “Retail therapy” is a very real thing and with a lack of transparency on the quality and impact of our clothing, we rely on prices, the influence of our social circles, and marketers to help us make clothing purchase decisions. 

At the end of the day, many of us have clothes in our closets that don’t fit, don’t “spark joy,” or we just don’t actually wear. It’s time to fall in love with our clothing again.

Less is More

It may seem counterintuitive, but the solution to “wardrobe panic” is a closet with fewer clothes that you appreciate more. This means clothes that fit correctly and that you feel comfortable and confident in. This means clothing that aligns with your values and style rather than what just happened to be cheap or on sale. Here are just a few questions you can ask yourself when purchasing new (or new to you) clothing:

  • Do I like it? Or do I LOVE it?
  • Am I comfortable? Does it fit well? Can I see myself wearing this regularly?
  • Is this item well made? Will it last for many years or is it only intended to make it through one season? (Here are some tips to know if your clothes are built to last)
  • Is this garment made of recycled content or sustainable materials (i.e. organic cotton)?
  • Is this a pre-loved garment that I am able to give new life to?
  • Am I supporting a local business or a company that aligns with my values?  (For example, is the brand committed to providing fair wages across the supply chain? Do they regularly report and make strides to reduce their environmental and social impact?)
  • Is this something I only need to wear for a special occasion or a handful of times? (If yes, consider renting or borrowing from a friend rather than purchasing new. There are many outlets like Rent The Runway, Caastle, or ForDays that offer clothing rental services.)

(Secondhand) Retail Therapy

We get it. Shopping can be a form of therapy, especially during this difficult time. But instead of shopping those Black Friday sales and stocking up on a bunch of cheaply made clothes you don’t really need or want – treat yourself to some good ole’ classic thrifting. Shopping secondhand, whether at your local thrift or consignment store, or online – you can find one-of-a-kind gems at a fraction of the retail price tag.

Many thrift stores have adapted to COVID by turning to online e-commerce shopping options. Smaller local consignment and vintage shops have largely re-opened with strict safety guidelines in place such as limiting the number of shoppers at a time, requiring masks or in some cases even allowing you to shop via a video call and pick up the items curbside. These are great options to support local businesses, many of which are struggling with the ongoing pandemic.

Prefer to shop online? No problem. There are also a growing number of secondhand retailers online including ThreadUp, PoshMark, Ebay, Kidizen, Swap.com, Etsy (just search vintage), and even Urban Outfitters (see the Urban Renewal line of unique vintage pieces).

In it for the Long Hall

In addition to purchasing durable clothes from the outset, there are several other ways you can make the clothes you love last longer. The 2015 documentary The True Cost, sparked the #30wears movement which encourages people to wear items at least thirty times before discarding. Taking good care of your clothes and repairing garments are key ways we can meet this challenge.

Take good care of your clothes.

The way you wash, dry, and store your clothes can significantly extend the life of your wardrobe. By washing your clothes less often, opting for shorter, cooler wash cycles[1], using eco-friendly detergents, washing clothes inside out, and opting to air dry when possible – your clothes will not only last longer but you will also reduce your environmental footprint and lower your energy bill in the process.

Sew in love.

Missing button? Broken zipper? Need to alter your pants for a better fit? Knowing how to mend your own clothes is a valuable skill.

Option 1: DIY
Zero by Fifty Missoula has curated a great collection of videos that guide you through many different common repairs you can do at home. Need a little more hands-on guidance? Check out one of the upcoming virtual repair events to connect with a volunteer repair guru that can help guide you through the process.

Option 2: Support local jobs
If a DIY repair is above your skill (or patience) level, seek out one of the local repair professionals near you. Not sure where to look? Ask the folks at your local dry cleaners; they often have staff who can do simple alterations or clothing repairs and likely have recommendations for more specialized repairs such as for shoes or leather items.

For more tips on how to care and repair your clothes – from removing crayon stains to cleaning lace garments, visit: https://www.loveyourclothes.org.uk/

Give your unwanted clothes a new life

When it does come time to part with your clothing, for whatever reason, you have the chance to give it a new life. Remember, textiles should NEVER be put in your recycling bin, but they can get a second life even if they are worn, torn, and stained! As long as the item is not wet, moldy, or soaked in oil or hazardous materials – they can be donated to your local thrift store, the textile collection bins at your church or school, or even in some communities, by placing in specially marked bags at the curb. See the Recycle Smart newsletter “Make Every Thread Count” from last October to learn more.


[1] Lucy Cotton, Adam S. Hayward, Neil J. Lant, Richard S. Blackburn. Improved garment longevity and reduced microfibre release are important sustainability benefits of laundering in colder and quicker washing machine cycles. Dyes and Pigments, 2019; 108120 DOI: 10.1016/j.dyepig.2019.108120

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