8 Ways to Wear Green

Last weekend I went shopping for a new dress.  Having taken a break from buying clothes for a few years while sharpening my eco-intelligence, I had a reasonable (or so I thought) expectation that my first shopping spree of 2010 would yield some great green finds.  Imagining the perfect garment, I set out for something sewn from organic fiber, preferably “Made in the USA” in an energy efficient factory (or if made elsewhere, then at least by happy, well-paid employees). I wanted a sophisticated silhouette with a timeless design and quality construction – all at an affordable price.  After scouring on foot and online, I’m here to report that this idealized ensemble does not exist, at least not anywhere I've found.<!--break-->

Thanks to directories like EcoFashionWorld.com, you can find loads of talented designers whose fabulous creations are ethical or sustainable. Still, even in 2010, shopping for eco-friendly fashion is a challenge unless you have a lot of money to spend, an adventurous spirit and/or a taste for the relaxed or unusual styles typically created from eco-conscious designers. 

Although it’s difficult to find everything we want in a single set of threads, we can improve our ecological footprint a little with each shopping spree.  For an easy green update to your wardrobe, try working in at least one of the following every time you shop for clothes:

1. Buy on consignment.  As much as ninety percent of the resources that go into manufacturing any given consumer product end up as waste on the factory floor, which is a very inefficient use of resources.  When you buy something that is already well into its life cycle, you bypass the waste and pollution created through manufacturing.  You can also get a great bargain on some nice clothes!

       2. Look for the “Made in the USA” label.  In 1960, 95 percent of our clothes were made here.  Now only 5 percent are.  You help keep jobs at home when you buy “Made in the USA.”  You also support a new generation of American entrepreneurs, such as my friend Anna Brindley. See what she’s creating with her Suitable Pajamas high-fashion, low maintenance, American-made lounge wear. 

       3. Research the environmental commitment and corporate social responsibility background of clothing companies.   Eileen Fisher and Patagonia are several of the leaders in this arena.

4. Eco-accessorize with recycled jewelry, shoes and scarves. Check out Etsy to search among hundreds of entrepreneurs who are finding artistic ways to recycle old materials into new creations.  One of them is my friend Suzanne Jordan, who sells precious (and inexpensive!) necklaces made out of bottle caps and Scrabble tiles through her store TrendyShoppes.com.

       5. Develop a vintage aesthetic.  Starting from zero, this was difficult for me. So I called my friend Jill who is a personal stylist with a flair for vintage.  She introduced me to a perfectly preserved Bienen-Davis black leather handbag from the 1960s, still in its original box and of which I am now the proud owner. It's beautiful, very Jackie Kennedy.  Finds like this make me want to hunt for old treasures first before I run out and buy something brand new.      

       6. Borrow a bag.  Companies like Avelle Bag, Borrow or Steal allow you to rent designer bags, jewelry or accessories for any occasion or duration.  You can also get great deals on these if you choose to buy.

       7. Buy what you love and keep it for as long as possible.  I still have handbags that are a decade old and a pair of boots I bought in Spain 17 years ago during my junior year of college.  Sure, these were all expensive when I bought them, but I love their classic styles and elegance.  When you buy quality items and take care of them, they can last for decades.

       8. Wear the color green.  It lifts your mood.  I realize this doesn’t do anything better for the environment, but sometimes girls just want to have fun.   For some great ideas for how to wear this color, check out this article.  Again, if you buy a classic timeless style and hang onto it for long while, your green frock will become a little greener with each year.

In case you’re wondering how my shopping spree turned out, I did end up finding the perfect green dress.  A designer cotton little number marked down by 40% at Saks Fifth Avenue. True, it lacks eco-credentials, but it is so quality that I’ll keep it for a decade.  I plan to accessorize with vintage jewelry and a little cotton and linen cardigan that I picked up for $11 at Buffalo Exchange, a hip second hand store and vintage boutique.  Turns out that Buffalo Exchange has stores all over the country. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list of ways to buy green, but it you haven’t tried these ideas or aren’t doing them on a regular basis, they are the easiest place to begin. For an easy way to remember these these principles, think “something old, something new, something borrowed and something green.”

Anna Clark is an author on sustainability, leadership and creation care. Visit www.annamclark.com for more on all things green.

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