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  • Lakyn Carlton

How Much Does a Sustainable Wardrobe Cost?

Good clothes cost money, and when you're building a new wardrobe, that money adds up...quick. Now, I'm no financial advisor (far from it), and I've had my fair share of "broke moments" (about 30 years' worth!), but I do consider myself fairly adept at Finding Money for Clothes. In my experience as someone who shops for both myself and for a living, creating a wardrobe budget that not only covers the actual wardrobe, but that is also easy to stick to (with a bit of wiggle room for those unexpected "I actually need this right now" moments) requires a varied approach: it's not as simple as just knowing what a T-shirt costs and multiplying it by five (or however many T-shirts you need...I personally only own one).


The right budget for your new wardrobe is going to come down to your unique needs, and the first step to establishing what those needs are is evaluating your wardrobe.


How to Evaluate Your Wardrobe

It can be tempting to pull everything out of your closet and toss everything into piles based on whether you wear it or not and call it a day, but, that's not evaluating your wardrobe, that's purging, and it often leads to binging later.


When seeking to build a long-lasting Forever Wardrobe, it pays to go one step further: Why don't you wear that item? Do you like it, but it fits weird? Add it to the To Be Tailored pile. Did you love it a little too hard and now it's worn out beyond wearability? Add it to the Replace pile. Is it something you really do want in your wardrobe, but it's just not perfect? Add it to the Upgrade pile. At the end of this, you should have a good idea of the specific pieces you're looking for. I recommend writing them all out in list form.


Where To Look?

Once you know what you're looking for, you can separate things out by where you should be looking for them.


If you're looking to build your wardrobe in the most sustainable way, then you should, at the very least, consider secondhand for more basic pieces. Things like sweaters, trousers and jeans, leather jackets, button-up shirts and blouses and certain styles of boots and purses exist in abundance on the resale market at pretty much any budget. Whether you opt to comb the racks of Goodwill where prices will average $5-15 per piece, or a site like The RealReal where you can get pre-loved designer items for less than $100: make sure your numbers reflect that.


In terms of upgrading and replacing pieces, you're going to have to decide what constitutes a suitable upgrade or replacement and what you prioritize. If I were to replace my one T-shirt, for example, I'd opt for a softer fabric which is likely to be more expensive than the original. For more unique pieces, you may also want to look into independent brands, which carry a premium, as well (but don't forget: they have sales, too!).


Add a section to your list for where you'll look for items first. Maybe you want one pair of vintage jeans and one pair of designer ones. Maybe you want your everyday clothes to be thrifted but want to go all out with cool and unique handmade occasionwear. It's your budget, baby!


What Should Clothes Cost?

The average consumer doesn't really understand why clothes cost what they do, but it's not truly as nebulous as one might assume: Natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk cost more than synthetics. Garments with design details like linings and ruffles and high quality finishes cost more than simple ones. And ethical labor costs more than fast fashion.


This is where you want to do your research. I recommend starting on sites that focus on independent and sustainable brands to get a good idea of what prices look like for certain pieces: Garmentory, Wolf and Badger, and Good On You are my favorites. You may be able to justify $300 on a pair of pants but not a skirt. You may find that quality garments cost a little less than you think.


As a general rule, here's some minimum prices for basic, well-made, sweatshop free garments:


A single T-shirt: $25+

Jeans: $75+ Dresses: $45-50+

Jackets: $70+

Wool Coats: $150+ Wool Sweaters: $60-80+


Keep in mind, there is a (+) after all of those numbers! Beyond just material choice, labor, and design details, a brand's overhead is going to be one of the biggest contributors to the price that we, unfortunately, don't get the specifics on. Pieces with similar qualities and appearance can cost wildly different depending on how much marketing a brand does or even where they're based, so, now is a good time to come up with some rough ideas on what you value. For instance, I live in LA, so I prioritize brands that are based here, especially if I can go pick up my purchases rather than have them shipped (carbon footprint and all that). I also prefer woman of color owned businesses, and, though I do not myself wear plus sizes, I avoid brands that aren't size inclusive. Considering where your money is going can help you stretch it further and result in you being even happier with your purchases long term.


Tailoring

Opting to get things tailored rather than replace them outright can also stretch your budget even further (and it's always more sustainable to make something you already have work instead of buying something new!). Unfortunately, it doesn't occur to many people because they aren't even aware of all the things tailors can do! For instance, did you know that a tailor can:

  • Turn a dress into a top and skirt?

  • Turn a coat into a cropped jacket?

  • Add a zipper?

  • Add a slit to a skirt?

  • Change the neckline on a dress or top?

  • Add a lining?

  • Dye certain items (and shoes)?


Don't Forget Your Lifestyle!

You're armed with a list now, but, even the best laid plans can be unrealistic. Do you really need to replace all ten pairs of your stilettos when you haven't gone out in heels since Obama was in office? Will you really get use out of a closet full of sweaters in Miami? Why do you only have one T-shirt?


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