It isn’t always easy to reconcile one’s passion for fashion with the desire to live a sustainable life. Contemporary fashion is largely dominated by strong corporations. These companies have a clear interest in getting us to buy as many clothing items and accessories possible in order to “look good”.
Even the famous “frugal fashionista” concept revolves around buying. Basically, the difference between a “regular” fashion lover and a “frugal fashionista” is that the frugal fashionista invests more time and energy into the shopping process, looking for deals, spotting bargains, and scavenging sales for “hot finds”. It is smart consumerism, sort of, but still, very much consumerism.
Now, we all know that fashion and style aren’t the same. Coco Chanel already said decades ago, that fashion goes out of fashion, but style never does. This, I think, should be the main guideline for anyone who wants to be fashionable without adopting senseless shopping habits. Of course, style is a highly personal thing.
Know thyself is the first rule in my book. Getting to know your body shape is much trickier than just the apple/pear typification. How tall are you? How much do weigh? Where are your small part and where are your larger parts located? Which fabrics feel nice on your skin and which ones you can’t for the life of you tolerate? What kind of message(s) do you want to send with your style? (professional? playful? serious? subdued? wild? unique? etc.), What is your favorite color, and does that color really look good on you? Are you usually hot or cold? Do you work under freezing air-conditioning or do you spend a lot of time outdoors? What do you like? How do you want to look like?
There are the basics. Get a good haircut, one that is perfect for your face and your life style.
Get your teeth cleaned, your eyebrows plucked, and your nails done. This is obvious.
Invest in fashion staples. There are hundreds of lists of fashion basics around the ‘Net. Not all items that appear in those lists are right for every body type. For example, I’m very short, and my body is usually “lost” in a long trench coat. Women with generous busts and big tummies probably wouldn’t feel comfortable in buttoned-up shirts/jackets, etc. The idea is to make a short list about 10 clothing items (including shoes!) that make perfect sense to your body type and your self, your personal taste and your life style. The questions above may help, but there are dozens of other considerations too. I usually try to stick to clean lines, comfortable light fabrics, quiet/neutral colors, and cuts that I know for sure will flatter my body.
Invest only once. It is oh so very tempting to buy 5 little black dresses in various styles, a dozen of white buttoned-up shirts for work, and enough curve-hugging jeans to fill a bedroom. However, the whole idea of investing in classics is that you only need one, maybe two of each item in the list. THAT’S IT. The rest is good old mixing and matching. No hours-long bargain-hunting, no weekly shopping trips, no regular money spending on fashion.
Which is my next point. Mix and Match. In order to mix and match, of course, the aforementioend staples you’re buying are supposed to be not only classic but also versatile. They should be easily to adapted from workwear to eveningwear, and should even more easily be mixed and matched with other items you own.
After that, only buy other clothes that you know you’ll wear more than once, and preferably over more than one season. Not saying that it isn’t fun to buy something insane every once in a while (polka dots? bright yellow? sequins? plaid!). However, if consumerism’s what we’re fighting, this really should be kept minimal.
Remember that this is a process. Finding the right basics for you may take a long time. The perfect jeans, for example, is an elusive creature, almost as rare as a unicorn. Same goes for the perfect winter coat, or the perfect black dress. Don’t spend an entire pay check on a long list of randomly chosen “basics”. Look for perfect fits instead, and be patient.
As much as possible, try to make your own accessories. Speaking of investments, one of the best investments I’ve ever made was a purchase of beads, pendants, crystals and jewlery parts of various materials and styles. I make my own jewelry according to what’s hot right now, then take stuff apart and reassemble when fashion changes. I always get asked where I bought the unique pieces I wear, too. The same process can be repeated with bags (if you can sew), scarves (if you can knit), etc.
If you’re not a creative type, or if, like me, your craft skills are good for some things but not for others, set a (low!) budget for accessories and stick to it with no exceptions. My rule is no more than x $/month for fashion fads/accessories. Most months I spend zero on accessories (because I have a lot already, and because I try to make my own), but when I do spend, I usually buy stuff from “cheap shops”, local artisans, or more rarely, from various artisans on the Internet.
Of course, just like clothes, it may be smart to invest in useful, versatile accessories rather than spend all your money on the latest fad. Pearl necklace, red belt, camel bag, etc. are safe choices that can serve you for years. They’re so timeless than in fact, you may not have to buy them at all. Raid your mother/aunt/grandmother’s closet. Usually they’ll be happy to get rid of some fabulous “old thing I haven’t worn in 20 years”.
Eat well and exercise every day. Had to put that one here as well, because really, that’s being fashionable for the long-term. Generally, and excluding special medical cases, if you live a healthy life, you’d be able to maintain your natural figure, and won’t and not move back and forth between clothing sizes. You won’t have to constantly buy new clothes, because old ones would fit just perfectly.
Take excellent care of your clothes, shoes, and accessories. Treated well, they can look polished even after years of usage. Store items properly, fold neatly, don’t throw around the house/bedroom, and of course, wash gently and according to instructions. Actually, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of good laundering practices for fashion frugality. Bad laundry can ruin clothes for good, making it necessary for you to shop again and again for the same thing, essentially (how many times did you have to buy black pants in the past few years? or a white shirt?)
Try to replace the fun of buying stuff to wear in the fun of getting dressed. It’s a fine line, I know, but it’s there, and if you manage to build a solid base of items to play with over the years, you can then play for months and months without spending even a cent.