Eco-Friendly Fashion: Bringing the Past into the Present
I used to think “dressing like a grandma” was a bad thing. But as more and more people yearn for timeless and sustainable wardrobes, my appreciation grows for the handmade dresses of my grandmother’s youth. Improve your wardrobe and stay green with these lessons from fashion’s past.
1. Know Your Way Around a Sewing Machine
When sewing machines gained popularity during the latter half of the 19th century, they were celebrated because they gave ordinary women the ability to make and alter stylish clothes within their own homes. Women’s magazines referred to the machines as the “Queen of Invention”. No matter where someone lived they could create their own duds.
Sewing machines are great, but with the rise of cheap store-bought clothes we’ve kind of forgotten about them. This is a shame. Even if you’re a sewing novice, it’s easy to transform old or thrifted clothing with simple and stylish alterations. Once you’ve had a little practice, you can start to create your own garments with patterns and eco-friendly fabrics. Learn how I made a mod shift dress with a 1960’s vintage pattern here.
2. Take Care of your Clothes.
Because clothes are so cheap these days, people often don’t take the time to care of them. I’ve carelessly thrown delicates in the dryer, worn wrinkled dresses to business meetings, and let holes get huge instead of stitching them up. But I’m trying to take better care of my clothes. Not to be a nagging-mom type here, but garments will last longer when you take the time to hand wash, iron/steam, hang up, and properly mend them.
Two best investments for preserving your wardrobe? A simple sewing kit and a steamer. In my opinion, steamers smooth out wrinkles and refresh garments much more easily than irons do.
3. Be Picky About Fabrics
Until the middle of the 20th century, manufactured fibres were rarely used for clothing. Then came “wash and wear” dress shirts made from cotton-acrylic blends. Within decades, people were wearing polyester jumpsuits and suspiciously stretchy “denim.”
Considering the high levels of toxic waste caused by synthetic fabrics, going back to natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk, hemp and wool seems like a no-brainer. Not only are these fabrics more breathable than their man-made counterparts, they are also biodegradable.
4. Not All Rules Are for Breaking
I’m all for horizontal stripes and wearing white after Labour Day, but some styling principles should not be ignored. In her book The Lost Art of Dress, Linda Pryzbyszewski explains that before the 1960’s, fashionable women had a strong understanding of the artistic and social principles behind dress. Then, with the emergence of pop culture, “youthful dressing” took over “sophisticated dressing”; outlandish outfits replaced timeless and thoughtfully-constructed wardrobes.
While youthful dressing is nothing to scoff at, there’s no reason you can’t apply old fashioned rules of fit, fabric, and emphasis to modern styles.
Learning lessons from fashion’s past is more than opting in to vintage styles. It’s about embracing a slower, more thoughtful attitude towards clothing. Please share your old-fashioned tips for a sustainable wardrobe in the comments below.
About the Author
Maggie Schafer is the founder of Chic & Eco, a sustainable fashion blog where she shares information about ethical fashion brands, upcycling and smart styling. Maggie is a freelance writer who writes blog posts, articles and websites for clients in travel, health & fitness, fashion and education. When she’s not typing away, this Chicagoan is practicing yoga, cooking vegan meals and exploring different neighborhoods.