Closet what?!
September 12, 2016 6:17 AM   Subscribe

After my weekend spent purging my closet of BAGS full of clothes to donate that are too young, too cheap, too ill fitting, and just too plain ugly, I now find myself with a few holes and thin areas in my (blessedly) more manageable wardrobe. I'd like to fill those holes (slowly, eventually) with pieces that are classic, high quality, and (unicorn!) ethically produced (or at least MORE ethically produced than many major brands). Problem: I LOATHE shopping and am a style/fashion amateur. Where should be looking? What should I be looking for? Details inside.

After too many of my adult years spent living in a fashion/style wasteland (helllooooo perpetual student uniform of jeans and v-neck tees!), I'm attempting to (slowly) update my wardrobe to something more professionally appropriate (think academic conferences and teaching in a university setting, not office-wear). Because I am not blessed with a fashion gene, I have decided I'd like to simplify the whole wardrobe process by creating a pseudo-capsule wardrobe (I.e. a small number of quality pieces that all work together, so that I don't spend my mornings staring at my closet and hating all my clothes, and therefore reaching for my favourite jeans and baggy v-neck tee AGAIN). I've just completed a purge of all the (many, many) items in my closet that no longer work for me or my sense of where my style is evolving to. Now I need to start building back up (in moderation). There are a few specific pieces I need now, but I'm also just looking for recommendations of stores/brands that both fit my aesthetic and my attempts at ethical consumerism. I know about ThreadUp and will definitely be scouring there for great second-hand items, but I think there will be a few things I want or need to buy new. Where should I look for clothes that:
- are classic (not too trendy), good value, but still young(ish) and hip(ish)
- are produced in ways that attempt to mitigate their negative impact on the humans who make them and on the planet
- are available online (and ship to the US)
- offer things that are appropriate for my work environment, but also some fun things that can transition to evenings out

My current faaaaaaaave brand is Everlane, and if they didn't run out of things so often and had a few more structured/tailored pieces on offer, I would probably dress exclusively in their stuff...but there's a few gaps (Blazers, tailored blouses, etc)that they don't where should I look? (I consulted thisprevious AskMe, but many of the links were expired/broken).
posted by Dorinda to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Virtually the only "women's" clothes I wear anymore (that is, I wear "men's" clothes now) are Eileen Fisher. Not cheap, not cheap at all - but if you keep your eyes open on eBay, many things turn up there eventually, sometimes gently used, sometimes new with tags. That is how I got a pair of $225 pants - by waiting a season. EF clothes range from "I'm retired, I'd like to wear wide-legged cropped linen pants and a loose linen top thank you" to minimalistish on-trend - I think they mix up their demographics really well.

I testify that EF clothes hold up very well. They tend to run a size large, but then they also tend to be unstructured. I find their jackets in particular very comfortable.

Grana might be of interest.

Have you looked at COS?

I sometimes used to get some structured tees from the company that becameDeva by Cammy. Their size chart is a little misleading, IMO - their pants run a little smaller than you think and their shirts run larger. These are very hippie clothes, but I have always liked them for the woven t-shirt like pieces - ideal for summer back when I wore women's clothes, and the long-sleeved ones are very nice with interesting pants.

Here is a list of "brands similar to everlane".
posted by Frowner at 6:44 AM on September 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I recommend checking out the Inspiration albums at femalefashionadvice and figure out what kinds of clothes you like. Pin the things you like to Pinterest, then look over your Pinterest board and note the common colour combinations. If you can narrow in on specific colours (I like jewel tones! I like earth tones! I like neutrals and pastels!) and silhouettes you like, you can look at individual pieces and say "does this match what I know I like?" It can help prevent you from impulse-buying things that won't contribute to your capsule.

They also have guides, in the sidebar, on: building a wardrobe, building a capsule wardrobe (there called 'French'), ethical fashion and what makes a fashion brand 'ethical', and brand guides.

Ethical fashion is very, very hard to achieve. Just try your best and don't be too hard on yourself.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:50 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am also a university professor. I have been buying VERY nice pieces that retail for >$500 from a high end consignment shop in my town . I generally pay <>
I do have to physically go there, but it doesn't trigger my "I hate shopping" emotions because I am just going to just one place. It's small. Plus, I can try stuff on and not worry about returning something if it doesn't fit.

If I just stop in occasionally to see if they have any high end blazers (or whatever I am looking for) in my size, then it's not an ordeal. Bonus, the woman who owns my shop offers to call me if something I am looking for comes in. Finally I feel much better about buying something used than getting the newest on-trend thing from H&M. I usually pick up one or two things that are funky and fit my style, too.
posted by songs_about_rainbows at 7:02 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with flibbertigibbet that narrowing it down to "ethical" fashion may prove to be very challenging. But I have taken a slightly different approach and have changed my strategy to "conscientious shopping". I try and avoid fast fashion (Topshop, Asos, Zara and the like). I try to buy things that I know will coordinate with 3 or more items already in my wardrobe. I try to buy things made of quality material and processes so that they will last longer. I try to limit my purchases so that I buy more than 2 things in an order at a time. This has made it a bit easier for me to find places to shop and I still feel like I am reducing my environmental footprint.

In terms of brands, I second Ayr. I would also suggest Cos. On the higher end of the scale, check out The Dreslyn and Genuine People.
posted by like_neon at 7:04 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't have any specific suggestions, but as a person who has trouble finding clothes for a variety of different reasons, I'd like to pass on this newly learnt clothes lesson: BUY TWO. If you find a great shirt at a great price, buy two. If you find a great shirt at a fair but expensive price, buy one, see how it wears for a couple of weeks, then buy another one. Or stalk the online sales until they go on sale. Doubly so for pants and skirts.
posted by kjs4 at 7:12 AM on September 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

Already Pretty often lists great ideas for thrifting and frequently hs posts about where to find sustainable clothing that's reasonably fashionable and attractive.
posted by angelchrys at 7:23 AM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Real Real is a great online consignment shop for high end clothes and accessories. Good prices, good return policy, regular sales and coupons. It's consignment, so it's hit or miss but they have good quality control and--again--the return process is painless, since you can't try things on until after you've bought them.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:45 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I often buy from Fair Indigo , good fit, professional and casual styles that work for my style, and fair trade materials. I've had a couple skirts I bought from there for over 6 years, and they still look great!
posted by darsh at 7:58 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: INTO MIND has lots of posts on ethical/sustainable fashion that should be relevant.
posted by evoque at 7:59 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cuyana is a somewhat higher-end competitor of Everlane. People Tree may also be a good option.
posted by snaw at 8:00 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, is totally overwhelming, but they have an ethical/green section called yooxygen that has a nice, but limited, selection of clothes and accessories.
posted by snaw at 8:06 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I highly, highly recommend spending some time with Into Mind to get a handle on both your taste and what you need in your budget. I've found that actually putting some thought into what my taste and style are, thinking of my wardrobe as a whole, and giving some thought to how I want my wardrobe to make me feel have really helped me identify brands I like and buy things that I actually wear. Even just deciding on a rough colour palette - the majority of my clothes are black, white or blue, with the odd touch of khaki or red - can really help. I have a pretty well edited wardrobe now, and make purchases sparingly and thoughtfully.

That said: the majority of my clothes come from & Other Stories, Cos, Weekday and Monki. Lately I've been hammering The Outnet for spendier investment pieces like knitwear, shoes and coats - I actually have a Helmut Lang sweater on its way to me now from there.

Good luck!
posted by nerdfish at 8:17 AM on September 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Speaking as someone who goes thrifting a lot, it's really easy to get a ton of clothes that are awesome on you, that are cheap and are ethical in the sense that you're not supporting the creation of new clothes, but there are three major downsides:
1. You have to go outside to get there.
2. It's very difficult to find a specific thing that you might be wanting.
3. It's super easy to acquire a LOT of stuff that is just okay because it's cheap and sort of looks good.

Resist the impulse to buy everything you pick up that looks good. Choose only the things that look amazing, or you're going to have a similar problem to what you have now with too many clothes crowding your closet. Yeah, it's $3 or whatever, but how many times are you going to wear that shirt that only looks good with one specific bra? etc.
posted by possibilityleft at 8:20 AM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

How about Elizabeth Suzann? Everything is made in Nashville and the garments are simple and really high quality. Plus, they only make things in, like, four colors so it's easy to mix and match. I can't link easily because I'm on an iPhone right now, but look 'em up!
posted by pinetree at 8:21 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

As you said Thredup is awesome, especially for high end professional pieces. I've purchased a few very nice blazers through them recently. It was a great experience because I was able to order 4-5 pieces, try on at home with my other fancy professional attire, and then send back the pieces that didn't work. It was super convenient, very inexpensive, and it was nice to be more ethical about professional clothing- which I find both really hard to find with limited options and really expensive.

If you're willing to spend more, People Tree has some very cute and ethically produced clothes.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:27 AM on September 12, 2016

I regularly teach college and go to academic conferences in thrift store clothing. It may not last a lifetime but the prices are good and you're pretty much dodging the ethics of production, IMO.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:43 AM on September 12, 2016

If you're willing to spend time looking in the land of second-hand, it's a huge help if you have a good seamstress lined up. It means you can buy a too big silk blouse from the 1980s with dreadful 1980s detailing, and have the lovely thick vintage silk cut down to something custom-fitted and have it altered into a 2016 style. The thrift price plus the cost of alterations are less than a decent mall-grade blouse.

The "buy two" advice is terrific. If it is truly perfect, and on sale, don't limit yourself to two; get one in every colour you like and then forget about buying X for some time (assuming it is a solid basic and not trendy -- remember those awful ruffles and enormous buttons popular for two weeks around 2006? Thrifts are still jammed with ruffles and comically big buttons, on otherwise decent pieces. Sadly!).
posted by kmennie at 9:28 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maybe Zady? Not cheap, but ethically produced/capsule friendly though. (Disclaimer: I haven't bought anything, just heard of them.)

Patagonia, for the more casual end. I have a pair of corduroys from them that I love - am just waiting for them to go on sale so I can buy another pair!
posted by john_snow at 10:03 AM on September 12, 2016

Echoing Frowner--go for eBay.

I recently had to do a similar shape-up--late 30s career change--and I happened to find 2 Brooks Brothers dress shirts at my local thrift store. They fit perfectly ($2 apiece--I'll never find THAT again), and how can you go wrong with Brooks Brothers? I then went to eBay, searched for a Brooks Brothers size 12, and essentially bought every blouse under $20 that I found. Now I have 6 or 8 of them lined up in my closet and the top part of my wardrobe is finished.

I'm about to do the same with a pair of Talbot's pants that I got at another thrift store.

The owner of the health food store said to me a few days ago, "Wow! I didn't recognize you in casual clothes!" To me, this is fashion victory.

Good luck! I hate shopping IRL, too, but there's really something about hitting return and sending a shirt winging its way toward your door.
posted by 8603 at 10:26 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, if you're really as much of a fashion novice as I am, you can fake it by going to the thrift store and ONLY buying labels. If all of the pieces of the outfit are name brand (I mean Ann Taylor Loft at Goodwill, not Valentino at the consignment shop, right?!), then this puts a lower limit on your look, so to speak. As in, you might not perfectly match, but with all labels, you won't look bad.
posted by 8603 at 10:36 AM on September 12, 2016

Last post, I promise--eBay also works for foundation garments, btw. You can add "NWT" for new with tags if you want--I just look for a Felina 36C, Vanity Fair large, and boom, expensive bra or slip on its way to my door. Those button-front shirts need some serious stuff underneath to look good. :)
posted by 8603 at 10:44 AM on September 12, 2016

If you like Everlane you'll like Cuyana. They're very similar philosophically and aesthetically.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 11:20 AM on September 12, 2016

Figure out what styles work with your body type. A lot of those classy Eileen Fisher drapey shapes don't work for women like me- hourglass, busty, defined waist; they just make me look pregnant. Most of my younger hip female faculty friends shop the thrifts, consignment stores, and online consignment.
posted by mareli at 11:27 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, I have no idea where Uniqlo fits in the "ethical" spectrum, but I had assumed it was cheap fast fashion (cause it's inexpensive) and sized for adolescents (i.e., people without wide hips or gravity-challenged boobs or the general middle-aged spread) but I've been surprised to discover that it's neither of these things. A lot of natural fibers and the clothes may be cut to fit closely but I find the sizing true to their charts. (tho I tend to size up in things like pull-over sweaters in order to comfortably fit t-shirts under them). A lot of it is washable, too.

Certainly a percentage of the offerings each season are trendy but they do basic dresses, simple blazers. t-shirts and other staples pretty well.

It's inexpensive, so I don't know about their business practices, but they certainly talk about it.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:57 PM on September 12, 2016

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