Today’s post was contributed by Andrea Pflaumer.
Packing for a trip, or for a vacation is always a challenge, but it’s a happy one. It lets us fantasize about the beautiful scenery we will encounter. Imagine the relaxing, carefree days ahead, and the delicious food we will enjoy. Imagine the people we might meet, and the wonderful places we will explore.
But watching the heartbreaking video of thousands of people fleeing their homes in Ukraine, I thought of other things. “How did they decide what to stuff in those small rolling suitcases? When there was such urgency when their lives were on the line? When they didn’t know where they’d end up, and they imagined that pretty much everything they owned would be destroyed?”
It puts a very different perspective on needs vs wants. And that inspired me to take a deeper look into what we wear and how we accumulate clothing.
So let’s examine how a wardrobe serves all of our needs – from the most crucial, to the most practical, but also to the elevating.
The Greening of the Fashion Industry
As little as 70 years ago many women wore hand-made clothing that endured. They often handed those items down to the next generation. The textiles and the workmanship ensured that longevity. But the same was true for store-bought clothing, for those who could afford it. Also, closets were a lot smaller then. So, clothing purchases were well-considered and rarely frivolous.
But these days, with globalization and outsourcing, we are able to grab fairly inexpensive and trendy fashions. And we often pass them along to the local resale shop or donate them to a charity within a few years.
The shocking reality is that 70% of those items end up in a landfill. We manufactured more than 100 billion items of clothing each year. And of that shocking number, nearly 20% remain unsold. So they get buried, shredded or incinerated. And as many of the textiles these days contain “sustainable” microfibers (read, plastics) they take a very long time to decompose.
The problem became so great that the industry had to re-invent itself, thankfully. So now, once again, consumers have become more thoughtful about what, and how much, they buy.
And for a younger generation, many of whom are resigned to living in small apartments and not large homes, closets are, once again, small.
What Our Closets Say … and Should Say
I am loath to use the word “should” when it comes to fashion. There is no room to breathe or experiment in that term. What we choose to wear doesn’t just speak about what we do, where we live, and what is important to us. It speaks to how we want to be perceived.
Our clothing shouldn’t simply serve our practical needs, or be safe for the environment. Although those are important factors. It should also serve our emotional and psychological needs.
So, how do we select something new?
Is it with intention, with the goal of filling in a need for the perfect top to go with those new pants? Or a 3-season jacket for the local weather? Or do we just hope for the serendipity of finding something wonderful and unexpected?
Although I stay open to the possibility of a serendipitous find, I have noticed that as I age, I’m buying with intention, for my actual needs. Also, in the back of my mind I think about how much actual usage I will get out of every single item.
And lately, I look carefully at the fabric composition, opting almost exclusively for natural textiles. If a garment has more than 10% of a synthetic I just won’t buy it, no matter how great it is. I personally don’t like the feel of synthetics. Not to mention, the idea of something ending up in a landfill with a half-life of 200 years makes my skin crawl.
That makes my choices a lot easier.
But still, regardless how mundane, practical, and essential the purchase is, it must bring joy in some way. That goes for everything from socks and undies to a great leather jacket.
Every time I wear it I must feel happy. Is that based solely on my attitude? Well, maybe a little. But when something fits perfectly, when the color makes me look healthier, it brings me joy. When the style speaks to who I am – intrinsically and authentically – and most importantly, when it’s comfortable, then, yeah, it brings me joy.
Sentiment vs Practicality
Can we still have a little fantasy in our fashion choices? Does that serve a purpose too? Most definitely. Adorning ourselves creatively and colorfully reawakens our spirit. It can inspire, soothe, and elevate our mood. It reminds us that creativity lives within us and outside of us. Through the mind and hand of the person who created the item. And it makes us co-creators by wearing that item to reflect our essential, joyful nature.
I like to think that those Ukrainian refugees thought carefully and included at least some items in their suitcases. Something that had no “practical” purpose, but that were deeply meaningful. Or simply beautiful.
So, would you grab your 35-year-old wedding dress if you had to flee in a fire or disaster? Would you regret leaving the hand-knit sweater you received from your aunt or grandmother? Would you pack the floral sandals? The ones that go with only one or two items, but that bring you great joy and remind you of the beautiful things in life?
For those of us who are looking forward to the next chapter in our lives, consider this. Having a closet full of items that are practical, beautiful, comfortable, and meaningful ensures that anything we grab at the last minute in a disaster scenario would still authentically speak to who we are. And also what is important to us.
May you never have to make those decisions.
Does everything in your closet mean something to you or bring you joy? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Andrea Pflaumer is the author of the Amazon best-seller Shopping for the Real You: Ten Essential Steps to a Perfect Wardrobe for Every Woman: Fashionistas, Fashion-phobes, and the Over 50 and She’s Got Good Jeans – a guide for how to shop for and where to find the perfect jeans for your body and budget.
Her new online course is called: Discovering Your Inner Style: An Adventure in Dressing Authentically.
Andrea does in-person and online wardrobe and shopping consultations for women worldwide and blogs at Shopping for the Real You. She is the host of a video collection entitled: Vital, Vivacious, and Visible after 50 and Shopping for the Real You: Expert Edition where she interviews women in the areas of fashion and beauty.