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.
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?
Don't forget the newsletter, if you haven't signed up already. There are new products going into my Etsy shop this week that you'll hear all about!