No surprise: Goodwill stores were seeing seven percent more shoppers in the first eight months of 2008, compared with the same period last year. And that's not counting this bleak October. The fashion industry is certainly feeling the effects of the economic times, according to the New York Times. Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom all reported losses in the last month as even the wealthiest fashionistas tighten their patent leather belts and hunker down for the recession.
So what's the savvy green shopper to do? With our questions about sustainable fabrics and sweat shop labor, we weren't really welcome in Saks to begin with, but that doesn't mean we don't want to look our best while we save the planet and save our pennies. Fortunately, there's no need to go dumpster diving outside of the Vanderbilt mansion (or rather, its contemporary counterparts) if you want a good look for less. Here's how to get it:
1) Before you shop, make do with what you've got. It's hard to believe that many women at the turn of the century had just two dresses, one for Sunday and one for the rest of the week. How did they make those dresses last? They probably didn't wash them much. Machine washing and drying clothes wears them out, and we've reported before on the environmental benefits of line drying (does over 2000 pounds of carbon emitted per year by machine dryers ring any bells?). Outwear like jackets and coats really only need a thorough cleaning two or three times a year at a wet cleaners (much greener than dry cleaning), and jeans only need to be washed once a month. Even skirts, trousers and shirts will be fine with three or four wearings. Concerned about smell? An old bartender trick is to moisten a towel, place it on top of the stinky garment, and then iron the towel. The steam will loosen the stink from the fabric and draw it into the towel. Works especially well with cigarette smoke.
2) Shop secondhand. You can get better quality for way cheaper, and buying lightly used, whether in thrift stores, flea markets or swap meets, fits right in with the three Rs of environmentalism you learned in second grade: You're reusing recycled clothes and reducing the amount of carbon it would have taken to produce, manufacture and ship a new product.
Don't be ashamed to dig in at Goodwill, Salvation Army or a flea market in your area, but find out what days they put out the new-old stuff and get there early! You'll be rubbing elbows with a lot of competition.
But cast a discerning eye upon "vintage" stores, which are to secondhand stores what an antique Chippendale credenza is to a Craigslist Ikea table. Yeah, they were both owned by someone else first, but one costs a lot more because it has a pedigree. Not all vintage shops are outrageously expensive, but they're generally trendier and more exclusive than the 5 for $20 t-shirts you find at the swap meet.
3) When buying new, buy green to leave a lighter footprint and bamboozle 'em with your eco chic. For instance...
4) Clothes swap! Also called the Giveaway Box Party. Get a bunch of friends together and have them all bring a sack full of old clothes to trade in for new old clothes. No money spent at all! This is a great way to build community, and you get the added bonus of seeing your favorite dress on someone else at the next party. Trust us, it'll give you the warm-n-fuzzies.
Story by Rachel Brown. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.