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What comes to mind when you imagine a professional wardrobe? Sleek suits, slip-on loafers, and power blazers are probably at the forefront of your thoughts.
These wardrobe choices are great for conveying a professional, fashionable appearance, but they usually need replacing with every passing season and aren’t great for the environment.
Now try to imagine an eco-friendly wardrobe. You’re probably thinking of vintage sweaters, tie-dye, and varsity jackets — hardly office material.
However, professional wardrobes are on a collision course with eco-friendly clothing — and all to the benefit of consumers like you who want to look great at work while keeping up your commitment to sustainability.
So, here are a few tips to help you build an eco-friendly professional wardrobe that helps you look great and feel guilt-free.
Some styles lend themselves to sustainability, while others will age poorly and end up on the donation pile. When looking for eco-friendly professional wardrobe items, it’s important that you side-step clothes like skinny jeans and cold-shoulder tops as these items will wear through quickly and may fall out of fashion in the same year that you purchase them.
Instead, do some research and create a business casual style that will last. Ideally, this will be comprised of harder-wearing items like blazers, suit pants, and slacks. Unfortunately, these items usually come with a hefty price tag — particularly if you’re buying new from an “eco” brand.
If you do want to buy some clothing new, consider investing in color-neutral basics like t-shirts, button-down shirts, and turtlenecks. You can get away with wearing these items more than once a week, and sustainable brands usually provide higher-quality materials so your everyday shirts and pants won’t start to sag or look worn. These basics are usually cheaper than statement pieces, too.
Instead of breaking the bank at a high-end sustainable retailer, try your hand at thrifting when looking for blazers, suit jackets, or dresses. Thrifting is a great way to keep clothes out of landfills and you can find some unbelievable deals. Typically, the best day of the week to thrift are Monday and Tuesday mornings as many folks drop their clothes off on Sundays.
Repurposing and Adjusting
Building an eco-friendly wardrobe is all about closing the loop from supplier to consumer so that nothing goes to waste. This kind of zero-waste approach to clothing is called “circular fashion”, and is currently in vogue among high street brands and runways alike. While creating a circular fashion economy is largely up to corporations, you can also do your part as a consumer.
Start by taking better care of your clothing, as extending the lifecycle of your clothes by nine months can reduce your carbon, water, and waste footprints by 20 to 30 % per garment. You can also upcycle your clothes by doing some DIY or taking them to a seamstress who can reimagine your current look and give you a whole new wardrobe from your existing clothes.
You can also minimize waste by learning to adjust your accessories like glasses, belts, and shoes.
You can easily and safely adjust your glasses by looking in the mirror and assessing the fit of your eyewear — are they wonky? Do the nose pads sit correctly? Are they loose? You can adjust the plastic arms of glasses by heating them over warm water, and gently bending them to your desired fit. Fixing loose hinges requires a little more effort, as you’ll need a specialist tool kit to screw the hinges back in place. However, the required effort is worth it, as repairing your glasses will ensure that you look professional while keeping your eyewear out of landfills.
Belts play a pivotal role in any professional wardrobe. Most business casual outfits require you to tuck your shirt in, and the belt can be a great statement piece between your upper and lower body. However, belts get worn out quickly, and cracked or split belt holes look shabby. To overcome this, you can switch out your buckle for a larger option that covers the split and adds an understated flair to your professional look.
If you want your shoes to last, get well acquainted with your local cobbler. These days, most people view cobblers as artisans, but you should visit them more often than you probably do. Cobblers can save shoes from recycling depots, and can usually uplift or replace almost every part of your shoe. However, cobblers can’t perform miracles, so if your favorite loafers or work boots are starting to fray and split, take them in ASAP.
Beauty Products and Sustainability
A professional wardrobe is made up of more than clothes and accessories. Beauty and skincare products also play a part in building your overall look and should be scrutinized just as thoroughly as a new pair of shoes or a tailored suit.
Unfortunately, the beauty industry is filled with trumped-up claims and red herrings that make a product look “green” while it actually does great harm to the environment.
You can spot greenwashing by doing a little research of your own before your purchase. At the moment, faux eco-friendly beauty trends include things like “bioplastic,” bamboo remover pads, and “clean” palm oil. In reality, these trends are little more than empty marketing ploys, designed to catch out busy, eco-conscious consumers.
One of the best ways to avoid unsustainable beauty products is to shop locally or with transparent suppliers. Local beauty businesses will typically have a lower carbon overhead, as their operations are conducted on a smaller scale and don’t need as much power to produce your beauty goods. Additionally, local beauty businesses are more likely to work with you, so you can match everything from foundation to eyeliner with your overall style.
Building a new professional wardrobe shouldn’t harm your wallet or the environment. You can find plenty of like-new professional clothes at thrift stores or can repurpose old clothes by working with a skilled tailor or seamstress. You should also do your best to adjust and fix any old clothes or accessories like glasses or belts which have seen better days.