How does a man go about building an ethical wardrobe?
The short answer is slowly. If you’ve decided to adopt a more ethical style, then you must accept that it will take time. It is not called slow fashion for nothing! Nor is it cheap fashion so just creating an entire new wardrobe overnight is beyond most men’s budget. Furthermore, you should realise that suddenly dumping every last item of clothing you own and replacing it with suitably environmentally friendly items is not in itself environmentally friendly. Doing so is just creating a large amount of unnecessary waste.
I am writing this article for men like me, older men on a budget, but the guidelines apply equally to any man, or woman, or any woman wanting to improve her man’s wardrobe on ethical lines. I am also assuming that you have some idea of the menswear style that you want to adopt and develop. If you don’t, I recommend starting with my post on selecting a personal style for the older man.
1. Work towards a capsule wardrobe
The idea of the capsule wardrobe has been around in women’s fashion for 40 years and has become quite popular, if a little misunderstood, in recent years. Basically, this is the idea that a small wardrobe of quality items that work well together is all that one really needs. On the face of it, it should be easier to build an ethical capsule wardrobe for men than for women. We have a smaller range of clothes to deal with, menswear is less susceptible to fashion, and men can get away with wearing the same outfit more often.
I will look at the capsule wardrobe concept in more detail in a later post but, for now, consider paring down your ideal wardrobe to a core of items that you can build your style around. Once you have some idea of what your wardrobe should contain you can start listing out what you need. Work through your existing wardrobe and decide on what to keep, see point 2 below, and what you need to acquire over time, see points 3 and 4 below.
2. Maximise your existing wardrobe
Always start by working with what you have. Go through your existing wardrobe and make two piles from it. You are aiming to have a selection of items that will be central to your new ethical wardrobe and a second pile that will be gradually retired and/or replaced over time. Anything that does not fit into either category should be disposed of in a sustainable manner, which is by upcycling, recycling, or even gifting. Right now, though, you are trying to get the maximum benefit from your existing accumulation of menswear.
There is another popular idea in ethical women’s wear that you should try and wear all your clothes at least 30 times – the thirty wears challenge – usually credited to Livia Firth. By only owning clothes that you really like or need, you are incentivised to get more wear from them. In the meantime, you should be trying to get as much wear and value out of your pre-ethical wardrobe collection.
3. Used clothing can be green clothing
Recycled, thrifted, or vintage; call them what you will but old clothes are still an ethical choice. Every year the fashion industry is churning out more and more new clothing which rapidly becomes old clothing, is thrown away, and starts working its way back into landfill and the oceans with potentially disastrous consequences. By rescuing used clothing you are extending the life cycle of the existing garment mountain and making a positive contribution to the environment. Ideally, you are looking for clothes that fit with an ethical ethos but saving anything from disposal and squeezing a little more use out of it is a good thing. For the man on a budget this is also a good way of stretching the pennies and acquiring big ticket items such as coats, tweeds, or vintage denim at an affordable price.
4. When you are buying new, buy green
When you must buy new clothes, buy green. Some items need replacing more often than others; basics such as underwear and socks will wear out. Always try replacing them with environmentally friendly choices. Fortunately, while ethical menswear ranges are still limited, there are reasonable choices available for men’s basics.
As you begin developing your new ethical wardrobe, spend time seeking out and purchasing quality sustainable items. If you must buy something, look for an ethical alternative. I will be looking at various brands and making suggestions in future posts so do please keep checking Ethical Style Matters for more suggestions on building an ethical wardrobe for men.
Building an ethical wardrobe is an ongoing project
As I said at the start, building an ethical wardrobe takes time. It requires changing the way you think about what your wear. It is about changing your lifestyle so that your style acts on and reflects your commitment to a greener world.
I hope you will join me as I try to restructure my wardrobe on sustainable lines. If you would like to join me in the endeavour or tell me about your own experiences in building an ethical wardrobe, please contact me or leave a comment below.