Blogger / 16 October, 2023 / My Baba

Tips And Tricks For Building A Sustainable Capsule Wardrobe

Are you ready to transform your closet into a sustainable capsule wardrobe? Journalist Rebecca Newman recruits a stylist to help her do exactly that. Here’s how you can build an eco-conscious closet.

“So, tell me what you have: what you hate, what you need, what you love, what you’re missing?” Stylist Emma Harding has thrust open the doors of my closet. Brimming with energy, empathy and ideas, she’s taking on the task of recreating my wardrobe – in a way that is kind to the planet (and even my wallet).

Essentially, my relationship with my clothes never recovered post-lockdown. When I emerged from months spent living in Lululemon, and was ready to go back to proper dressing, nothing in my cupboard seemed right. Matters weren’t helped by then moving from Clerkenwell to North Oxford and gaining a dog. Everything I have feels a bit dated or just wrong.

Once, I might just have hit Selfridges. Moving house has definitely drained the budget, but more than that, I’m also conscious of the environmental issues around fashion. One day soon, I’d like to adopt the Rule of 5 (committing to only five new purchases each year). I was therefore hopeful that finding a stylist who could put the clothes I owned together a bit differently, adding some key pieces – essential basics but also items with serious flair – in order to truncate the shopping list. I also wanted to find someone who was chic, yes, but critically also empowering (it’s an intimate process) and who understood what I actually needed: nude mesh ballet shoes may be en vogue, but not so fitted to my new life.

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Emma fitted the bill marvellously. Having always worked in the fashion industry (on the design side as well as in retail), “the part that really brings me alive is making people look great,” she says. “My real fulfilment comes from the empowerment that clothing can bring: transforming your appearance can transform your energy and confidence.”

Circular fashion and preloved shopping

She’s also deeply into circular fashion, which is core to building a truly sustainable capsule wardrobe. She’s superb at sourcing vintage, as well as re-tailoring clothes to bring them up to date. For those items that are on the outheap, she works with resale specialist Sophie Golden, who runs preloved shopping site Threads and Fibre. By selling things that no longer work, I can use the proceeds to fund some more exciting items.

I had heard about Emma through a satisfied friend. Having her work through my wardrobe was like the best kind of therapy. She really took the trouble to hear what I liked (and not laugh at the 20-year-old clubbing gear I simply cannot part with). She equally was frank about things where I was on the fence: “What do you think this oatmeal colour does to your complexion?”

As she rearranged my garments, it was joyful to see my life, literally, becoming sorted. Winter and summer, short and long, dark through to light. We could start to see gaps, such as layering camis (silky and fun, but practical for winter), better belts and opportunities like shortening the strap of a bag to make it hang at a more contemporary – and comfortable – height.

Having interviewed me beforehand, she had brought a trove of pre-loved suggestions: I was much taken by a denim jumpsuit and bought a silk dress there on the spot (£20, thank you nicely).

As we went, Emma rattled out wisdom. “Be yourself, don’t be a sheep. If you love something, wear it. Take pleasure in self-expression.  Rock the ring or the culottes that make you feel great.” She’s hugely encouraging, ready to foster your own ideas – while helping them flatter your colour and frame. “Finally, your clothes are the armour that will take you out into the world.”

It was interesting how quickly we could find new combinations: layering a fine gauge polo or a shirt under a dress suddenly brought it up to date, recognising that, for example, the beautiful top I’d never worn was begging for some wide-leg trousers, or that the tuxedo jacket I lost at a party was a real linchpin – and we need to get onto the second-hand sites to replace it.

She was also kind about the outcasts: rapidly, we developed a pile for my daughter, a pile to adjust (“Can you see how this top just needs to fit you here around the waist…” she’d say, and show me with pins so I can take to my dry cleaner to adjust), a pile to charity and a pile to sell.

This is where it started to get really exciting: we now have the fun of finding pieces (vintage, well-made high street pieces, the odd splurge) and also customising things. “This jacket: we will dye it black and add liberty print sleeves.”

Ten top tips for wardrobe re-styling

Fibres

keep an eye on what fibres you are buying, thinking about comfort/our climate and durability. Merino, for example, breathes when it needs to but also packs a punch when the winter really hits.

Workhorse pieces

Find a few good ‘workhorse pieces’ that can really stick an outfit together. This will create more ‘outfit combos’. For example – a fine polo neck with fitted underarms will bring into play sooo many more dresses in your wardrobe.

Consider price per wear.

Yes, something may be beyond your budget, But will it still be your “friend’ in a few years’ time? If the answer is yes, it’s a no-brainer: buy it, and make the saving somewhere else.

Have a wild card!

Be yourself and follow your bliss. Buy the shoes that you adore and wear them!

Find your “brand tribe.”

If you are petite and, say, perhaps under 5’5, French brands excel at crafting garments with more petite fits, accentuating nipped-in waists and offering timeless classics.  Scandinavian brands usually have longer lengths, and sizes can be usually more generous.

Organise your wardrobe

A clutter-free wardrobe will give you so much more clarity and extra time for other things. It’s obvious, but when we look well put together, we feel good.

Sustainable fashion

Spend time researching smaller, more sustainable brands. The quality is usually so much better and these little guys really care about their brand’s ethics and customer service.

Body shape

Think of your body shape as an egg timer. How can you balance and enhance it to your best self?

Outfit combinations

Think of three new outfit combinations each season. This will keep fresh the pieces you already have but also bring a few new ones into play. Keep it fun, keep it fresh, push your boundaries and turn down the negative, boring friend in your head!

Stay true to your fit.

This sounds obvious, but if it’s a bit too small or just a bit too big – leave it behind; it isn’t for you. Bargain or no bargain!

Blog by Rebecca Newman, Freelance journalist, Contributing Editor to Financial Times, HTSI 

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