Let me start by saying that I love capsule wardrobes. They’re minimalist, and are a perfect starting point for decluttering and disengaging from unhealthy materialism. They make decisions easier; with less options that can still combine in multiple ways you can pick and plan outfits fuss free. They’re more financially efficient, encouraging mindfulness as we list out our items and invest in one or two things we might need, freeing us up to invest our money into small, sustainable businesses instead of sinking it into fast fashion. Capsule wardrobes are great!
And yet, I don’t have one.
I have simulated the capsule wardrobe experience a few times. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 I went on tour for two month periods. The first year I took a big suitcase and multiple options, and it was the worst. So heavy, so inconvenient, some things I didn’t even end up wearing because they were just packed too far down in the case. After that I stripped back, choosing to travel with enough to fit in a carry on, a decision which I also applied to a month long trip to New Zealand, two long trips to Japan and some other bits and bobs of travel along the way. Each time I’ve found that, while it can at times be a little frustrating to feel so limited in your choices, it’s actually not hard to create a lot of outfits from one small collection of pieces.
The reason I don’t have a capsule wardrobe is actually quite simple: I haven’t grown in 10 years.
While it seems these two things shouldn’t be related, they actually are. Even before I started switching to a more sustainable, ethical lifestyle I wasn’t really big into fast fashion, mainly because I was a poor student. I also grew up in a pretty small area with some amazing charity shops, so the bulk of my wardrobe was secondhand since around the age of fifteen. With nearly ten years of experience also came some expertise when it came to materials and durability. If something makes its way to a charity shop, often it has passed the first durability test of not falling apart in its first period of being owned. But after my first few years of thrifting I learned which materials would last and which wouldn’t. I gravitated towards cottons, linens, and jumpers, avoiding things like polyester and cheap jersey. I also avoided most items that originally came from fast fashion fashion sources, because they didn’t feel like enough of an achievement. If it was originally from H&M and then I got it in a charity shop, where was the victory in that? I maybe saved £3. If it was a Levi’s, a DKNY or a Ralph Lauren and I got it for a fiver, now that was a find to take pride in.
Over five years I unwittingly ended up putting together a wardrobe that was mainly comprised of quite durable, good quality items, because of being both stingy and a bit too smug. I’ve since done some work on the smug part, and I try and keep my thrifting feelings to more internal pride these days. At this point the ethical switch up came into play, and my lingering cheap fast fashion purchases (not that there were many) have either been phased out when they fell apart and had to go to textile recycling or demoted to the ‘dance drawer’, where they can be worn for classes or rehearsals despite being kinda beat up and falling apart. When new sustainable pieces come my way they often fill the gaps left by these items. If they do replace something in my wardrobe, I usually give the original item as a gift to someone, or take it to a clothes swap. If I’m gifted something sustainable and there’s really no home for it in my wardrobe, it also goes to friends.
So now I find myself in my current position. I have a wardrobe filled with mainly secondhand or sustainable, ethically made items, all of which have either already proven themselves to be durable, or are deliberately designed to be. And because I haven’t grown since I was maybe 14, some of these items stretch back a decade or more. In fact, I just rifled through my wardrobe and can specifically name my oldest items. In reverse order: a vintage jacket from Ebay that I’ve owned for 12 years, a vintage faux fur coat handed down from my grandma that she got in the 1950s and a 100 year old winter coat/kimono that I got in Nara, Japan.
And you know what, I’m actually really good at wearing everything in my wardrobe. I make a deliberate effort to rotate through my clothes because it’s a better way to care for them, and for every minimalist simple piece I’ve got a fun little pattern or print somewhere, so I’ve got something for every season and mood. Because most of my pieces were discovered, and because I have a ridiculous memory, I can also put a story and place to everything. Want to see the blouse I got in Paris at a vide de grenier 5 years ago? How about the four pairs of secondhand Nike shoes I’ve acquired since 2013 (I’ve never bought directly from them) from thrift stores in Seattle, Chicago, Brooklyn and Stoke Newington respectively. The shirt I got from a Methodist charity shop and wore the first time I went to winter wonderland, the vintage jacket I found the first time I went to Kyoto, the mom jeans I bought in Houston when Air France lost my suitcase. I could literally go on for every single thing I own. I look at my wardrobe and I see a wealth of stories, my life lived out in the clothes I’ve worn and where I’ve found them. And I think, this is really what fashion should be.
It’s about life, not about stuff.
My wardrobe has been compiled and curated over multiple years, thanks to a totally coincidental combination of factors, so for me to now have a capsule wardrobe just doesn’t make sense. In order to do that I would have to get rid of a lot of stuff, just to fit into a lifestyle concept. It seems silly to create waste in order to live a lifestyle that might seem more outwardly sustainable, but in reality wouldn’t be. And at the end of the day, why would I want to get rid of all the stories and memories I see every time I open the doors to my wardrobe, just to fit into what sustainable fashion ‘should’ look like?
Instead, I do my best to not purchase a lot, only getting something when it is really necessary or really, really loved. When I do buy things I make sure they can go with things I already have, so as not to create a need for more consumption, and I just enjoy my clothes. Instead of thinking capsule wardrobe, I think durable wardrobe. I consider longevity, with the full confidence that everything that I currently wear, I will also happily wear in ten years time.
And that, for me, is a type of conscious consumption that fits my context. I never want to create more problems in order to fit the aesthetic of ethical, eco-friendly living. Instead of trying to fit myself into a mould created by someone else, I find a way of living sustainably that actually makes sense.
Basically, what I’m saying is don’t worry if your life doesn’t look like mine, or any other sustainable bloggers. It’s ok to find what works for you AND love what other people are doing too. There’s enough room for multiple paths and mutual respect for everyone. So don’t beat yourself up, you do you!
Until next time, stay magic y’all.
Photos via Unsplash.