Fashion for Older Women: Good for the planet – good for the purse

Here is another of Maggie Cox’s popular fashion for older women articles. She believes that fashion makes our everyday living more colourful and imaginative. This time she’s giving us some useful tips on how to make our personal style more sustainable…

I went out for supper the other night with my husband.  We settled ourselves down to choose what to order.  But something didn’t seem quite right.   And then we realised that some of our favourites had been taken off the menu – and prices of everything had rocketed.  Then it hit home.  The cost-of-living squeeze had arrived here.

We had already switched to eco buttons in the kitchen and laundry, ready for the hike in energy prices.  But I hadn’t noticed the gradual creeping up of food prices (must do better!) until the evidence of the menu was staring me in the face. 

So, what about us who have a passion for fashion? Is it a disposable indulgence?   Prices of clothes will inevitably go up.  It’s already happening with higher priced brands anyway.  No more retail therapy?  No more jolly shopping outings with friends to stake out what’s new for Spring?

The answer, as you might expect from me, is that somehow, we (especially those of us of the more mature generation) must still find ways of looking as good as we can, giving a nod to trends, and occasionally refreshing our wardrobes. There is no way we should go into fashion denial.  Clothes are there to enjoy. The right choices give us confidence.  And make our everyday living more colourful and imaginative.  

So this is my solution. And it’s the obvious one for the times we live in.  We’ve known for a long time that we have to be aware of the world’s resources in the way we live, so let’s focus on clothes.  And make our style super sustainable.

 If our passion is fashion, there’s masses we can do to stay looking good, help the planet and save money. Here are some of the ways we can achieve this.

Buy Less by Listing

Write down things you have the urge to buy. And I do know the power of this urge. There is so much advertising out there which says ‘you are worth it – buy it – you need it’. So then, put the list away – out of sight!  Look at it several days (or weeks) later, and you will often find the originally coveted items are not so desirable.  It works for me.  It’s a good way to curb impulse buying.  The itch to buy is not usually rational.  We get trapped by such things as falling madly in love with just about anything because of its glorious colour – maybe a vivid shade that in a calmer moment later you realise will make you look half-dead, or like a wrinkly teenager.

Good for the planet - good for the purse  Fashion for older women - some great advice from Maggie Cox
Maggie wearing her new scarf from start-up sustainable company Sooki Twist 

And if you feel you have to buy something new, search for an inexpensive piece of costume jewellery or a scarf.  Just a small purchase can change the mood of a dress.  If it looks good, no-one will know it’s a Dior lookalike.

Buy Better  

When you do need a new item (just once in a while, mind you), spend more on it.   More expensive fits better, looks better, and lasts better.   Work out the cost, of years per wear of something high quality against the cost of several items of lesser quality.   Well-made clothes keep their shape and launder better, and they feel and look so much better on.   It will keep going infinitely many more years than a cheap fly-by-night item.

Mend and Amend

“It’s all right for you baby boomers”, I can hear many of you saying. “Don’t tell me to mend socks. I was never taught to thread a needle.  Let alone mend anything.”   Okay, okay. I don’t mean socks.  But there are teeny, teeny things you can do to avoid throwing away. A seam that’s pulled apart, in a place that other people won’t see, is easy to repair. A hem down in one place.  Holes in cashmere jumpers – well that’s something else.  But here are alterations people who will neatly fill in the offending gaps, a bit expensive perhaps, but nothing like the cost of a new jumper.  I’ve saved many a jumper by darning a hole – and then wearing it back to front so that it’s not noticed.  Did you know that there are many garments that can look better the wrong way round?  Try it occasionally.

And small amendments that you do yourself can save clothes from the scrap heap. To shorten a hem is not rocket science.  Garments are usually well cut nowadays so all that’s needed is to turn the hem up, an equal amount, and stitch it carefully.  And many a time I’ve narrowed a dress or jumper at the sides to make a better fit.  It really isn’t difficult, if you follow the seam line.

Make clothes look good for longer

I don’t mean hanging on to your ‘best’ coat for ever.  But doing less laundering and more spot cleaning. I swear by biodegradable flushable wet wipes for getting rid of stains, especially if get on them quickly.  And airing sweaters near an open window or freshening up clothes in the bathroom when you have a shower rather than frequent washing which causes pilling, and makes fabrics wear out more quickly. You are also cutting down on washing machine chemicals that are going down the drain to pollute our rivers.

Discover the guilty pleasure of home dyeing

Now I say “guilty” because I realise the chemicals in dyes do contaminate the environment, but home dyes (I have always used Dylon pods) are said to be easier on the environment than mass produced fabric colours.  By popping a pod in your washing machine, you can fall in love again with garments that have been cast aside. Sometimes you have something old, which doesn’t go with your new colour preferences.  Or sometimes you just fancy a colour you’ve never worn before.   The results are nearly always amazing.  And you give something you already own a new lease of life.

Swap with friends or family

If you came from a large or extended family, you may be familiar with this.  Clothes passing from one sibling’s wardrobe to another (or to and from Mum’s). Or when you were young, you may have borrowed or taken over completely, something your friend had got tired of.  This is a system where everyone wins. So why not do the same thing now you are older (and wiser)!  This won’t work for everyone, of course.  Some of us have very clear ideas about our own style and wouldn’t dream of exchanging.  But it’s a practical idea and can work for some of us.

I did this recently.  I had always coveted a friend’s leopard coat, bought well before animal print became trendy. Then I remembered she loved my pale pink overcoat bought recently in a sale.  So, we swapped, for a short time, to get the benefit, but not pay the price, of something new.

Choose nearly new shops

You can buy and sell in them (If you’ve not already done so, see my previous article).  This is an amazingly useful, and creative, way to save money and the planet.

So, there is no need to feel guilty about upgrading your wardrobe – as long as you make sustainable choices.  You won’t want to take up all the options I am suggesting, but if you follow just some of them, you will be saving money and doing your bit to save the planet too.  

For more fashion for older women articles from Maggie, click here.