Capsule wardrobes are all about versatile items, but they are also a way of living sustainably and refusing the “real cost” of fast fashion.
This week on Instagram I have been uploading outfits using 5 different items from my wardrobe, in response to People Tree’s #5lookschallenge on social media. This challenge was clearly designed with women in mind, so I’ve had to adapt the rules a bit (which were 3 pieces, worn over 5 days, with 1 piece of jewellery and 1 accessory to create 5 distinct outfits). Firstly, I didn’t count my shoes, but I did use the same pair in each outfit. Secondly, other than a watch – which I personally don’t count – I don’t wear jewellery. Finally, I took all the pictures at once – I wouldn’t wear a t-shirt 5 days in a row, I’d have swapped that layer each day for a grey, black, or slate-grey t-shirt. I’m afraid men are at a distinct disadvantage in a “5×5” challenge like this, because unless you don’t count certain items you can easily use 5-6 in one outfit (i.e. a t-shirt, a layer like a sweatshirt, a jacket, jeans, an accessory and/or shoes). For this reason I’m strongly considering the un-fancy 10×10 challenge (10 items, 10 days) for another post here on WordPress and series on Instagram. Give some thoughts and experiences below vis-a-vis 10×10.
6 items, 5 outfits
I wanted to make a series of outfits that are true to my everyday style, and something I would feel comfortable and stylish in each day. I opted for a mainly monochrome colour-scheme – my accessory and t-shirt were exceptions.
1. Army green t-shirt. This is one of American Apparel’s fine jersey, sweatshop free t-shirts. For the last few years green has been hyped as ‘the’ colour for men to wear, and this did spur me to buy quite a few green items in my “collecting” phase. But I do like how this is simple but a little bit different.
2. Black skinny jeans by Swedish organic denim company Nudie. These are the foundation of almost any casual or smart-casual outfit which I feel confident in. These are the Tight Long John model.
3. All-white leather trainers. As before, I didn’t count these in my 5 items: shoes are non-negotiable. It’s a classic combination which will, I think, never go out of style. These are styled so that they don’t shout about who made them – they’re not a walking billboard like similar low-tops like Nike Cortez or Adidas Superstars.
These are the legendary/well-known Achilles Low by Common Projects (once very coveted, now able for a more reasonable price second-hand or BNIB). This was one of the items that set me back the most in my wardrobe, because conspicuous consumption aside, they also made me realise the false economy of buying cheap. Sure, the “affordable” alternative (a loaded term if there ever was one, why is it affordable, we should ask), like Adidas Stan Smiths may look ok and a fraction of the price, but how long do they really last? It wasn’t that long before my own pair of Stans looked pretty sad. Buying something because it’s “only” £50 is a slippery slope, because that same £/$/€50 could be put towards something that really looks the part and does the job well. How often have you bought something because it’s cheap and got 20% knocked off it? It’s a thought process that will likely cost you much more money and time over the long-run than focusing on less items, and higher quality. One of the best observations I’ve ever heard is that if you don’t buy something at all, it’s got 100% off the price.
4. A plain black sweatshirt. This is the College sweatshirt by Acne, which I also have in light grey and navy. A seriously versatile smart-casual/casual piece in that it can be dressed up and down, and doesn’t have the conservatism of a v-neck or crew-neck woolen jumper/sweater. The fit of the College is relaxed but still flattering. It really lends itself to layering, as seen here.
5. A heavy terry jersey varsity jacket. This item’s also by American Apparel. I just love the aesthetic of varsity jackets, and it perfectly straddles the line between classic and directional. Reminds me of the famous Saint Laurent Teddy jacket, which made me realise the potential versatility and cool of this kind of item in the first place. American Apparel are one of those classic ‘mid-range’ companies which won’t break the bank, but are a serious step up in quality from the generic, sweatshop produced clothes of trend-driven companies.
6. My camel scarf from my first outfit post. This is the part of the challenge I feel least confident in. Camel and black is a classic, yet striking, colour combination. Maybe a baseball cap would have been more appropriate, but I don’t own one, and my only beanie hat is arguably “fast fashion”, which would break the spirit of the challenge involving sustainable / non-fast fashion products.
I did enjoy creating these outfits, and using only 5 pieces was an interesting challenge. As in the intro, I felt a bit restricted by the rules, which suit a woman’s wardrobe; I like to think each outfit has a distinct, but related, feel. This was all achieved by layering differently – if you think about it, menswear really is about getting layering right, combining different items. Jeans, white trainers and a t-shirt provided the “timeless” basis here, but in a colour scheme that is somehow distinctly modern. The way I have structured this post is to give an insight into how I planned my approach to this challenge, and my thought process: a base, and then the layers which took the outfit in 5 different ways.
Please enjoy my gallery at the top of this post, and find them along with my other outfits in the Lookbook page.
A bit more context
This week I finally got to watch the documentary The True Cost (2015), directed by Andrew Morgan, via Netflix UK. The ethical fashion company People Tree, which predominantly makes high-quality womenswear, feature very prominently in The True Cost. This is because companies like People Tree, Patagonia, and agribusinesses which grow organic cotton represent a viable third way to the two dominant forms of clothing production: 1) “fast fashion”, which is based on manufacturing ‘trends’ at volume, to achieve low cost products, but at a corresponding high cost to the workers and farmers who are the forces of production. 2) boutique, or what I would call “insider” companies, which make their wares in specialised factories, atelier and workshops, wherever they may be. This would include companies ranging from Acne Studios to Dior or Chanel. People Tree have grown their business through manufacturing their clothes at co-operatives, often in countries where fast fashion is a big business.
Why does this matter? The True Cost certainly brings things into focus, because like Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things (review coming soon) which is also on Netflix at the moment, the film brings together a series of sources, voices and arguments which otherwise would take an interested individual a lot of time to research. Did you know that the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter, after the oil industry? That the Big Agra business Monsanto, through legal processes like patenting certain species of cotton seeds, and business tactics like monopolisation, has one of the world’s most valuable corportaions? What’s great about The True Cost is that it makes it clear that the clothing industry is part of a system which must change – it’s no good pursuing individual corporations or consumers to voluntarily adopt a decent way of doing business or buying responsibly. It’s a situation which is no good for anyone, especially the planet in general. We like to focus on individual attentions and mindsets, but we are shaped by our society. Minimalist, capsule wardrobes represent a distinct alternative to the constant process of accumulation and discarding which fast fashion encourages us to adopt.