My friend Grimlocke posted a few links in my comments about “fast fashion” as it relates to ethical shopping; they touched on a number of subjects, from sweat shops to creating garbage to thrifting when you’re an odd size or pressed for time. I’ve read up a little on the subject but am hard-up for new ways to improve my shopping habits — I’m pretty utilitarian with my money and I’ve been checking the “Made In…” tags on my clothing since I was in high school.
Fortunately, I live in an area that’s pretty populated with resellers, discount shops, and secondhand stores. Most of my clothing shopping is done at Goodwill (not Salvation Army, I try not to support religious organizations) or resellers like TJ Maxx, and I though that was conveniently ethical. Two minutes’ digging on TJX shows I was wrong — low wages for factory workers? TJ Maxx has factories? As far as I knew, they were simply re-selling overstock from other retailers, which is why I see so many mall-store items from last season on the racks. Well, shit.
It’s one of the first world’s biggest shames, but unless you’re living like Ted Kaczynski, it is nigh impossible to live an American existence without exploiting others. It’s worth thinking about minimizing that impact, though — especially since many people just can’t afford to buy union-made sweatshop-free bamboo-and-soy clothing at the markup that comes with them, and such things are inaccessible to lots of us in other ways. (If there are brick & mortar shops besides American Apparel, where I don’t shop anymore, I don’t know about them.) There’s plenty of online shopping, but some of us — ahem — oddly shaped folks need to try things on.
So I guess my shopping methods may seem like a cop out, but I feel pretty comfortable in purchasing from Etsy, fair trade items from The Hunger Site shop, secondhand shops, most re-sellers (despite those mystery factories out there), and I am definitely not too proud to dumpster dive. Hell, I just picked up a few Urban Outfitters items (another place I don’t shop) used through Amazon; I saved money, bought secondhand, and got a sweet wall hanging without breaking a sweat. I’m still going to check tags and lean heavily toward handmade or union-made, but when I’m staring down a $40 t-shirt and a $40-marked-down-to-$3 one, the latter’s going to get preference, because I need to eat, too. To me, the most important aspect of keeping an ethical wardrobe is to make things last — waste is just about my least-favorite thing. I take care of my clothes, and even the cheap ones last for years, so I’m not constantly restocking. The last time I moved, I tried on everything in my closet and separated out the items that don’t fit — my friends got to come by for first pick at them, and the rest went to Goodwill, because seriously, who throws out clothing?
Recent lifestyle changes are making me smaller, which means I’ll need to do another purge-and-donate cycle and pick up some basics that fit soon. Can you share any tips that will help me generate a smaller footprint?
On a related note, I own a lot of t-shirts from shows and from silk-screening friends. I know that a crew neckline is probably the most unflattering cut for a lady, but it straight-up makes me feel like a little boy when I wear ‘em. I’ve done my share of t-shirt surgery, to the point where the only unmodified shirts in my closet are the ones I really love — I’m frankly nervous about fucking them up with my sub-par tailoring skills. Unfortunately, the fact that they have what my mother calls a “nun’s collar,” I never wear them — so I spent a scant few minutes dicking around with sewing scissors and pins to see what I could do without damaging the prints on them.
This is disgustingly god-damned easy.
1. Get together your supplies. A crewneck shirt that fits you, a good sharp pair of scissors, a needle and thread, pins (optional).
2. Take your shirt and fold it in half vertically. Try to get it as centered as possible — I found it helpful to line up the shoulder seams. Crease the fold and jam your scissors down there, and snip as deep as you want, being careful not to catch the rest of the shirt in your scissors.
3. Take your shirt and turn it inside out. Turn down the little flaps you just cut and straighten them out. Optionally, you can pin the flaps into place and try it on to see if the neckline lands where you want.
4. Make delicious peanut butter flaxseed dark chocolate chunk cookies. (Optional but highly recommended!)
5. Thread your needle — I doubled the thread so it would be stronger. Sew the corner of the flap down with a couple of small stitches, double-knot it, and cut the excess thread. Repeat with the other flap.
6. Turn the shirt right-side out and see if you like where it lands. I usually go right down to the start of the print, because I’m a little anal about that — you might want to go deeper, in which case, you can take out the stitches with a seam ripper, cut deeper, and try again.
7. Put your shirt on.
Et voilà! This took me about five minutes per shirt and was totally nonthreatening, so I made v-necks out of about a dozen shirts over the course of a lazy Sunday afternoon. Some went deeper than this one, others were about this cut, but all are more comfortable, feel more feminine, and look better with a necklace, so I’m pretty happy with my lazy alterations.