Ah, new clothes. Whether it’s a first date, a job interview, or you have an hour to kill at the mall before your movie starts, buying new clothes is one of life’s small (and mostly unavoidable) pleasures.
Unfortunately, new clothes aren’t all that earth-friendly. Many garments are treated with formaldehyde (yes, the same stuff they use to embalm people) and other nasty chemicals. This is what gives them the “new clothes smell,” which I guiltily admit to kind of liking. And then there’s the pesticides and other chemicals used to treat and gather the cotton. And the gas used to transport the cotton to the factory, the factory to the store, and you to the mall and back.
So, for the Mother-Nature-minded, shopping has become something of a guilty pleasure. However, there are a few ways to lessen the blow to the earth:
The best way is to shop at vintage stores and resale shops like Buffalo Exchange. It’s hard to get over the mental block of “but these clothes are used,” but keep in mind that these shops only accept the best stuff. Anything that resembles “dirty” or “heavily used” doesn’t make it to the shelves. In addition to reducing the amount of resources needed for your new outfit, this also prevents you from unnecessary exposure to formaldehyde, since the garment has had a chance to air out or has been washed.
In my college town, we had a venerable $3.99 store, where it was packed with old t-shirts and dresses and coats and pants and everything was $3.99. However, it was pretty clear that they accepted EVERYTHING, and that most of the stuff hadn’t been washed. This is how I feel most Goodwill stores operate as well. But if you’re willing to put in the time to pick through the crap and then wash it, it’s great for finding funky stuff. It’s also the best place to go to find stuff for theme parties, like “80’s Prom” or “Bill Cosby Sweaters”.
Be Creative: Swap and Reuse!
A more fun and cheap way to get new clothes is to do a clothing swap with your friends. I used to do this all the time in high school and college. Pick a Saturday at your place and tell your friends to come over at any time from, say, 10 AM to 10 PM. Have them bring any of their clothes they don’t want any more (jewelry are purses are fair game too) at any time during the day, and lay it all out on your kitchen table. Everyone gets to take one item home for every one item they bring.
One of the best ways to be eco-friendly is to reuse. Old, stained, or too-big t-shirts become my workout and pajama shirts. I keep gym shoes until they literally fall apart and use them for washing the car, hiking, or doing other outdoor stuff where I don’t want to get my nice gym shoes dirty. When I lost some weight last year, I had a lot of my jeans and skirts taken in by a tailor to match my newly svelte silhouette. It was way cheaper than buying new stuff.
So although we can’t entirely avoid making a carbon footprint when shopping, there are ways of reducing it. Scope out your local vintage and Goodwill stores, fire up your washing machine, and rock that new shirt. Hey, as long as it’s new to you… right?