Wednesday, 5 August 2015

7 Reasons Wearing Vintage Clothing can make you a more Ethical Shopper (And 3 reasons it might not)

Four years ago, I read Lucy Siegle's "To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World" and my exploration of ethical fashion began. I haven't talked much about this on my blog, although you may have gotten a sense of my passion for recycling materials through my hat makeovers and use of old clothing for fabric.

Recently I re-read "To Die For", and then watched the documentary "The True Cost", and I have strengthened my resolve to change the way I relate to my clothes.

I'm not going to argue the importance of ethical fashion. That would be beyond the scope of my entire blog, let alone one post. If you need convincing, read To Die For (or I believe "Overdressed" by Elizabeth L. Cline is a very similar book with an American viewpoint), or watch "The True Cost."

What I am going to talk about are some specific thoughts I had about how vintage fashion fits in.

Having an ethical approach to your wardrobe comes down to how you shop, how you look after your clothes, and how you dispose of them. Wearing genuine vintage clothing and being a part of the vintage fashion scene doesn't automatically convert you into an ethical fashion hero, but it can provide you with skills that allow and even encourage you in ethical fashion habits.

Here are my suggestions for 7 ways that this can happen:

1. You don't just buy new clothes

This is the obvious one, and the only one really discussed in the ethical fashion literature. Buying vintage means you aren't supporting the fast fashion machine. But it also gets you into the habit of looking beyond the shopping centre for your clothing purchases. You turn to vintage shops, online and in person, but also op/thrift/charity shops, Ebay, clothes swaps etc. Just being open to these options can make you a more ethical shopper, even when you aren't shopping for vintage.

2. You know your fabrics and fibres

Vintage shopping encourages an awareness of textiles. They tell you the quality of the item, the care it will require, how well it will last, and can help tell a genuine vintage item from a later item "in the style of".

This awareness can help you be an ethical shopper too. You know that there are both natural and man made fibres that have a similar appearance, and you know to check and find out which it is. You can make sensible decisions about buying a fabric that will wear well for many years, and that has a lower environmental impact.

3. You are willing to make a few minor mends...

Buying vintage often means that buttons need to be resewn or popped seams repaired. So you've probably gotten used to the idea, and it is an accepted part of your life. Sometimes clothes need to be mended.

This is an important part of an ethical approach to clothes in general. You are willing to make the effort to keep your clothes wearable, rather than just throwing them out as soon as there is anything wrong with them. Indeed, it may take a more serious flaw for you to consider something as really damaged, too, because you have gotten used to the idea that one small flaw or mark on an item isn't in fact the end of the world.

4. ...and maybe some serious alterations

Whether you do it yourself or pay to have it done, you have probably at least considered having some changes made to your clothes. Maybe a hem taken up, zipper replaced, size adjusted, or a new lining inserted.

Naturally, these same tactics can keep all of your clothes wearable for much longer, and help you get the most life out of them. You can also make the most use of your second hand shopping, clothes swaps or hand-me-downs this way too.

5. You are more likely to take up dressmaking

This may be a stretch, but compared to the average person, it seems like those involved in the vintage fashion scene are often very crafty. And the temptation to join those vintage lovers who are making their own amazing dresses, skirts, blouses and even jeans is very strong! And those patterns everyone keeps posting, with their swoon-worthy illustrations? You know you want to.

Which of course opens up a world of ethical options, and improves your ability to alter and mend your clothes too!

6. You know the value of clothes

You can appreciate the handiwork and you enjoy the specialness of clothes. They are not just a throwaway item for you. That detailed embroidery? You know how many hours it must have taken, and that it makes the item more valuable.

This opens the way for you to be aware of what clothing should really cost. When you see that detailed embroidery on a new item for $20, you might stop and think about how it got there for that price.

7. You don't throw your clothes in the bin

That clothing, especially wearable clothing, ends up in landfill, is an appalling part of our modern life. Being used to buying clothes that have worn before, you know that unless something is really really dead, someone else will probably want it!

By donating your clothes to charity, or selling them, you are stopping them ending up in landfill, and giving them the opportunity to keep being worn. (And if they really are dead, you can salvage nice material for craft projects, and use the rest as rags, right?)

But what are the possible downsides?

Again, these aren't necessarily true for every vintage fashionista, but they are things to be cautious about, or consider. And I'm not saying that you should change your behaviours, just make sure you've given these things some thought.

Here are 3 reasons that a love of vintage might steer you away from ethical fashion:

1. You don't buy new clothes

It's a plus and a possible minus. You may not be supporting the fast fashion machine, but you also may not be supporting the slow fashion makers and innovative eco and fairtrade companies.

That's ok, there are plenty of buyers to go around, I guess, and you certainly don't have to change the way you like to dress and shop. It might, however, be worth checking out some of the companies that are making big positive changes in the fashion world, just to see what they are doing. If you make your own clothes, you might get some serious inspiration!

2. It's easy to forget about the issues with fast fashion

If you are hardly ever buying new clothes, it might be easy just to say "Oh I wear vintage, so that isn't my problem." So when you do need something new (maybe underwear or sporting clothes or pyjamas or something else you don't buy vintage), you aren't aware of the ethical issues. Without facing them frequently, it is easier to remain ignorant of them.

3. Clothing lust

Ethical fashion isn't just about buying clothes with an ethical back-story. It's also about our unnecessarily high consumption. And we all know the blogging world is full of beautiful images of people wearing amazing clothes, and these images make us want ALL THE CLOTHES. All the pretty dresses we never need to wear. A totally new outfit no one has seen for our blog pictures.

Resist it!

I know that I personally love to see bloggers wearing the same clothes again, especially if they have changed up the combination of separates, the accessories, or the styling. It shows your readers the versatility of the items in a real way, and actual wardrobe inspiration that is more applicable to their lives than just a desire for more clothes (that maybe they can't afford anyway).

I would love to hear your thoughts on these points! Do you agree? Can you think of any other ways that a love of vintage inspires or helps a relationship with ethical fashion?

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  1. This is terrific! I love the way you have made connections between how vintage lovers can build on their strengths to build ethical habits. I struggle with this because I have very little disposable income, so I thrift just about everything I can. But then I am guilty of just what you have said - if I need underwear, etc., I buy cheaply made things that I'm sure were produced in a sweatshop. It's embarrassing!

    1. Thank you Emily! I am a huge fan of the thrifting (op-shopping to the Aussies) experience, but it doesn't help for everything! It is tough if you don't have the money to spend on ethically made clothes, but at least you are thrifting the rest! It all adds up :)

  2. It also seems to me that vintage lovers tend to have a clearer idea of what they like, and buy fewer "mistake" pieces that never get worn. But that may be a view from the outside!

    1. That's a really good point! I would certainly agree that there seems to be a lot of interest from the vintage community in dressing for your taste and body type, maybe partially because some people are drawn to vintage to pursue a silhouette and style they love, regardless of trends, so they go together well. I'm sure there are still mistakes made though :P

  3. Also: I've read Cline's book. It is a bit more upbeat and less intense than Siegle's. I found it accessible and inspiring too though.

    1. Ooh good to know. Thanks! It is true that Lucy Siegle doesn't pull any punches! Honestly this time around I skipped the chapters on fur and leather, because I didn't need convincing, or the mental images.

    2. I have it as a kindle book and I think can lend it to you if you have a Kindle app registered.

    3. I don't...might have to ask you about this in person sometime! (So you can explain Kindle-y things to me)

  4. I wear vintage fur and definitely have gotten some nasty looks and comments and I do get it BUT quite a few of the commentators where leather. I think vintage fur is recycling, sane with vintage leather

    retro rover

    1. Well that is a whole can of worms that I think I'll leave alone, but I certainly agree that vintage fur and leather are better than buying new.

  5. Very interesting points, especially the point about not thinking about where that cheap underwear came from (etc.) and purchasing it (I will have to do better on this point). I never really thought about many of these points before beyond the "landfill"one. So this has gotten my brain going, so thank you.

    I can safely say though, that getting into vintage has NOT turned me into a dressmaker. I did 4 years of Fashion marketing in university and I can 100% beyond a doubt tell you that I can't sew or pattern make etc. etc. etc. I will send my money to people who do and they can make me something :) lol.

    Great post!


    1. I'm glad it got you thinking :)

      Well, I guess the dressmaking point is not true for everyone!

  6. Really, really excellent post and points, dear Tanith. For me certainly one of the biggest perks, and most important elements of wearing vintage is that it helps me to be conscious of the worth and value of my wardrobe and possessions in general. I didn't grow up, and have never been, wealthy and as a child it was a genuinely big occasion to get a new garment, even something small like a pair of gloves. I've never lost that sense of appreciation for my clothing, no matter how my wardrobe has grown over the years, and when I purchase (or receive something) be it vintage or modern, for as long as I keep it, I want to use it and ensure that it isn't taken for granted. If I can't do that, I'll rarely hold onto something for long. When I do part with it though, unless its in tatters, it goes to charity, is sold or given away. I do everything I can to keep my closet's contents from ever seeing a landfill - unless I'm there dumping genuine household trash off!

    Again, fantastic post. This is a subject that really needs to be discussed often across the fashion realm, in the vintage corner of it very much included.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. It is very important to appreciate our clothes, absolutely. I have been quite guilty of not looking after my op-shopped clothes properly because they were cheap and because they are already second hand. It's something I need to work on. But I absolutely wear everything to death or donate it back!

  7. Really loved this insightful, in depth post. I know for myself, a love for vintage has definitely inspired me to take up sewing, but on the same page, I know I am quite guilty of spending the majority of my clothing budget on vintage pieces, only to buy cheaply with things I can't find in vintage/don't want to wear vintage. It's a tough thing to balance I feel.

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

    1. It is always tough to find balance on any issue. I feel the key is for each of us to just take stock of our current choices and shift them one step. After all, the more ethically you are acting already, the more confusing and conflicting the choices become anyway.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this, you make so many interesting points. I am going to need to read those books too. Obviously I agree with you on the crafting, sewing and knitting your own clothes puts you in charge of what goes into them and where you source that from. I also think it gives you an appreciation of how long things take to make, so that when you see a very cheap top up you can easily work out that whoever made it is getting paid next to nothing. I have a list of shops that I absolutely won't buy from as I know they are unethical but I always feel I don't know enough to make a completely informed choice. I agree about repeat wearing of clothes, always very happy to see that, it gives me real life ideas for ringing the changes.

    1. Thank you, and I'm glad you found it interesting. That is very true. I know my own fumbling and slow sewing attempts make me extra-appreciative of the work involved in making clothes! Making an informed choice is really hard, but we can at least try!


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