Green is the New Black
How to minimize the environmental impact of your wardrobe without spending more time shopping.
GREEN FASHION? You mean now that I’ve figured out that every shirt matches khaki pants, I have to go back and see whether the cotton in those khakis is organic? I really, really just want to wear what’s comfortable!
I get it, guys: It’s not like you want to do more shopping because you’ve grown an environmental conscience. In fact, the whole notion of “buying to save the planet” is a little counterintuitive—isn’t it all of our stuff that’s creating the many problems? So, you can start this journey knowing you’re already on the right track. You know how you don’t want to throw away that favorite shirt or 9-year-old pair of jeans that just got comfortable? Tell your wife, girlfriend or partner that you’re keeping them for the polar bears.
Seriously, though, there’s a lot you can do to lighten the impact of your wardrobe that doesn’t involve a trip to the mall. And, when you do have to buy (because, yes, we do have to replace that holey underwear eventually), knowing what to look for when you get to the store will ensure the trip is a short one. Keep these tips in mind the next time your significant other marches you to the department store.
BUY CLASSIC AND DURABLE
You know how you want to wear the same kinds of clothes you’ve always worn? That’s green! If you’re not putting items aside because they’ve gone out of style, you’re also not replacing them with this year’s latest thing. If you choose pieces that take a long time to wear out, and you wear them that long, you’re also doing good for the planet. Just be prepared for the unavoidable, “You’re wearing that?” (Or, at least an occasional trip out to donate old clothes.)
LAUNDER WITH CARE
Although textiles have a sizable footprint from farm to factory, your choices for how to care for your clothes might have an even bigger environmental impact. Hand washing may not earn you a lot of man points ,but it uses much less energy than the washing machine. If you don’t want to go that far, consider replacing the dryer with a clothesline—creating that hot air really eats up the electricity or gas. Look for natural detergents and fabric softeners: brands like Ecover, Seventh Generation and Sun & Earth are good choices, and avoid chlorine-based bleaches.
Imagine a jacket or pair of pants that has already been broken in—sounds heavenly, huh? Clothes that you purchase from thrift or resale shops not only make the most of the material in them, but are also much cheaper than their new counterparts. The downside: buying used will probably require more shopping time (ugh!).
KEEP “DRY CLEAN ONLY” TO A MINIMUM
Yeah, this one probably breaks your heart, too. Don’t buy any more “dry-clean-onlys” than you absolutely need, and break out the ironing board every once in a while rather than using the dry cleaner for pressing. Traditional dry cleaning is a very toxic and energy-intensive process. Waterbased cleaning is better, but since many newer synthetics look as good as wool, silk and cotton (no double knit here) you might be able to skip the cleaners completely.
Every now and then, you’ll want something new and a bit stylish. When that’s the case, look for the greenest fabric options: organic cotton (the traditionally-grown stuff is really toxic and water intensive), recycled fabrics (mostly for outerwear) and hemp (which we can’t grow in this country, but we can buy finished products made from it). Bamboo is a great choice for flooring, but not so much for underwear: it takes lots of toxic processing to soften it up.
The best news here? There’s no need to give up t-shirts and jeans to reflect your environmental values. You can be both comfortable and green.
Green is the New Black
Photo credit: Illustration by Maggie Bubenik