“Let’s use the paper towels!” I exclaimed, excited that I had finally thought of a suitable material for my vision. My brother and I grabbed a couple of sheets off the roll and sat down at our blue plastic crafts table, armed with markers and a cup of water. A few minutes later, the paper towels were covered in a purple, pink, and green tie-dye pattern. I began eagerly cutting and tying before they were completely dry. At the end of it all, our Barbie dolls had new bikinis and skirts and our fingertips had some psychedelic new coloring.
Scenes like the above were a regular occurrence in my childhood. And as I grew older I continued to admire bold and bright designs and itch with the desire to replicate them. Unfortunately, my teen years were full of self-doubt and confidence issues, and I didn’t trust my own fashion sensibilities enough to dress as I wished.
Then, during high school, I began to follow Style Bubble. Blogger Susie Lau’s wardrobe choices were awe-inspiring; I couldn’t believe she had the audacity to walk around in some of the outfits she photographed. Her posts were also thoughtful and educational. And I was ecstatic to see a popular fashion blogger who looked like me. Finally, I had found a fashion idol. As I explored her blog, found the rest of the online fashion world, and entered college, I started growing more confident in my own stylistic choices. With the eventual help of my paychecks, I’ve amassed an interesting collection of colors and textures in my closet and done quite a bit of outfit experimentation.
Now that I am in my twenties, I am not quite past the experimentation stage but I have a greater understanding of what my style is and what I like to wear. Unfortunately, not all of the items in my closet are compatible with my current sense of self. Part of the problem is that I still have a lot of pieces from when I was a cash-strapped teen / college student. While some of them are beloved, most of them were bought because they were cheap and looked “good enough,” which was really a euphemism for “not great but I want something new to play around with.” I can ignore whether or not something is truly flattering if it has an interesting design or story behind it, but if it is neither flattering nor interesting, what value does it have?
Now, one of my long-standing goals is to make drastic changes to my wardrobe. I see this as a self-improvement project. Fashion is a means through which I express myself, and I want to continue refining that expression. I want to put more thought into the way my wardrobe flows together and only wear or purchase things that complement me or tell a story. And, most importantly, I want to consider the environmental and ethical practices of the companies that I shop from. One of the other reasons why I no longer buy items just because they are “cheap” is that oftentimes the stores that carry them are known for horrible labor practices. I want to spend my hard-earned money in support of policies that I admire and believe in. I want my clothes to be made by workers who are treated fairly, in a way that is friendly to the environment. And, if I only buy items that I know I will love and wear often, I will hopefully reduce my wasteful consumption.
An easy way for me to ensure that my wardrobe was made in a cruelty-free, environmentally considerate environment is to make parts of it myself. I’ve always approached fashion from a DIY perspective, as my old Barbie dolls can attest. This has been partly out of necessity, as I do not come from an even remotely wealthy background, and partly out of a love of creative pursuits. It has taken me a while to refine my DIY skills. But, with the help of a free sewing machine (thank you, former resident of my significant other’s apartment!), I’ve been able to create a few pieces that have become wardrobe staples. I recently wore a couple of these homemade pieces on an outing with M. and he helped take photos of me around the Loop / West Loop areas:
I wanted to share these photos because both of the main pieces of my outfit are made from recycled materials. The gingham top used to be an oversized sleeveless shirt that a friend had bought me in high school. I had only worn it once, but instead of getting rid of it I decided that I could make it into something I would wear, and wear often. So I chopped it off a few inches below my waist, sewed a casing in the hem, and then threaded elastic into it. Ta-da, a fitted crop top! The skirt was sewn by yours truly, using the aforementioned free sewing machine, a pleated skirt pattern, and a red medium- to heavyweight fabric that is made of cotton and recycled polyester. I am always particularly eager to make my own skirts because I can then add large pockets, a feature that is sorely lacking in most women’s fashion.
(Please ignore the weird poof in my skirt in the first photo, one of the pleats got a little mischievous. Also that last shot was taken at Big Monster Toys, a design studio in the West Loop. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to check out the interior.)
Frankly, my goal to build a more conscientious wardrobe will be challenging for me. I like shopping, and I especially like deals. My Mom and I often bond over our search for deeply discounted merchandise from well-known and designer brands. I may not always be able to resist an “on sale” item in favor of an ethical purchase. For instance, for the sake of transparency, the bag that I am holding in one of those photos is from a brand that I doubt makes huge efforts to be sustainable. Same goes for my shoes. I have yet to find a good solution for purchasing more eco-friendly leather goods, as faux leather options come with their own sets of issues.
So, this entry begins the new phase of this blog, which I have been hinting at in previous posts. I want to share my style exploits with you, dear reader, both as a way to keep myself on track with my goals and to show that an ethical and eco-friendly wardrobe can also be fashionable. My personal essay-type posts will now exist alongside style and outfit posts; my hope is that the ratio will be 1:1, although that will likely vary depending on my social and work schedules. I intend for the outfit posts to be thoughtful and transparent, just as I hope my essay-type posts are.
I’m excited to be making these changes! And I can’t wait to keep sharing them with you.
— S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)