Quality, Quantity and Sustainability

When it comes to the origin of the clothes that reside in my Boudoir, I can honestly say that it is an eclectic melting pot. Thrift stores, hand-me-downs, fast fashion stores, discount stores, handmades.

As for the quality of the items in my Boudoir, it is equally eclectic. Some, like a single pair of sandals that was passed down to me (how they came to live with me is a loooong story), come from one of the higher-of-high-end makers that still manufacture in France. Those sandals could have paid our rent. On the other hand, I have a cheap-o tank top from Target that I should have thrown out years ago but have been mending religiously for far too long.

Is there a price to longevity connection?

When I was actively shopping, I cannot honestly say that I ever held a tank top or a skirt or a coat in my hand and asked myself the question “I wonder how many years I will wear this for?” Or “How many wears will I get out of this?”

It wasn’t until I started doing my CPW (cost per wear analysis) that I started figuring out how long (in years) or how many wears my things might actually last.

For example, my white Adidas went 115 wears before they started smelling so badly that they became unwearable. Once I put them in the washing machine, they lasted another fifteen before needing to be washed again, the time lapse between needing washings getting shorter and shorter each time. I’m not going to speculate on the quality of these shoes, since I did get them for cheap. They aren’t leather, that much I know. But being leather doesn’t preclude a pair of shoes from smelling, now does it? And leather doesn’t necessarily mean something is quality either, does it?

A nondescript, cheap, black long sleeve knit jersey dress from Amazon can stand up to more than two hundred (and counting) wears as a nightgown. Without wanting to jinx it, this thing, which is my go-to cold weather pajama, looks exactly how it did when the Amazon man delivered it in 2019. If I wash it in the morning, it is line-dried by evening. I wore it every single night this winter. For the price I paid for it, I can guarantee that quality was not the number one concern for its fabrication, but honestly, this dress has lasted longer than any number of other things I have loved more.

Does quality make a difference? I would love to say, “Of course it does!” But in my experience, and from the eclectic sample of items in my closet, thus has not been the case.

The only item of clothing I have ever purchased that I would have deemed to be of “quality” I ended up ruining on the first wear by stepping into fresh cement.

Price does not always equate to quality, either, or longevity. My most expensive boots I ended up having to have fixed to the tune of 20 bucks because the heel came off after several dozen wears. It was either that or get rid of them. I got them fixed.

A non-money reason to buy pre-owned clothes

How many times have I bought something new in a store, only to see it shift, wrinkle, shrink. This is particularly true of t-shirts, which have that strange tendency to go wonky at the side seams.

Oh, I can already think of several times when, after a first wash, I discovered that this pretty new blouse or skirt was just not as pretty as I thought it was…because the fabric new had a nice feel to it. Washed it lost its luster. Once, the little lightweight cardigan began pilling immediately. I was devastated.

Taking advice from my stepmom Daisy, I buy nothing that needs to be ironed. “Normalize wrinkles in clothing!” is my war cry. Here in France we don’t own a clothes dryer, so everything gets line dried. WYSIWYG. The only exception to this would be if I am sewing and need to press a seam. That’s it.

When I receive a hand-me-down or buy something second hand, it has had a chance to go through that initial washing process already. For someone who hates ironing, this is a helpful process. Also, if pilling was going to be a dealbreaker, it would be evident.

It’s a strange wrinkle in the price-quality continuum: I am paying less at a thrift store for someone having done the work of testing the quality for me. It’s a fantastic advantage.

Everyone is doing it

In my effort to stop shopping and get creative with my wardrobe, I somehow ended up following a group of ladies who are doing a 100-day challenge: wearing the same dress for 100 days in a row. This was a clever marketing ploy by the company Wool & out of Portland, who is offering a $100 credit for ladies who completed the challenge (the dresses cost on average $120).

The rules stipulate that the participant must document their journey on social media. Thus was born a whole community of these like-minded ladies: most seeking to simplify their wardrobes, buy more sustainably, try wearing wool (which, according to what I have seen and heard is magical), and of course, get that $100 credit!

Because I have been following along on these journeys, I am sold on the idea that wool is magical, that no one, not even our families actually ever notices if we repeat an outfit, and that having one good quality dress is worth having five less versatile dresses (except of course, if that dress is a rainbow dress, but I digress.)

The ladies have been honest about some of the failings as well (one of the styles tends to wear out under the armpits more quickly than the others), and the lighter colors are not for people with small children, as they tend to require more spot cleaning.

There are a few other brands bantered about in this circle, notably a brand of hosiery that seem to be granted a status among the demi-gods of fashion.

This kind of testimonial about a product is incredibly convincing. I can imagine myself, when all my current wardrobe has worn out, wearing a basic wool dress for the rest of my days and accessorizing it, no one ever noticing that it is exactly the same thing I wore the day before.

These are important things to know! (PS, Wool &, if you are reading this and would like to reward me with a sample dress to try, I would be more than thrilled to comply!!!!!! I’m a size small and would like something in black, please.)

More bang for your buck

Still: a $100 dress is a $100 dress. There is no point in filling up a closet with $100 dresses just because they are better quality. An expensive, high-quality dress that never gets worn is just an expensive regret waiting to happen.

So there are a choices to be made if you are concerned about quality: you buy used or swap, so that you have a better idea of the potential longevity of an item, or you buy something new that comes with an incredible reputation and potentially the price tag to match.

I, naturally, have a theory, or in this case, a tip:

My #1 top great fashion tip: Wear what you already own. What you already have in your closet will last a really long time if you take care of it.

No one is paying attention to what you wear but you, so if an outfit makes you happy, rewear it! Getting more wears out of a single garment is the single most sustainable thing you can do. It is more economical (gotta love me a low CPW!). And familiarity breeds affection: the more you wear something, the more chances you are giving it be something in which you can infuse it with positive memories!

Fall in love with your wardrobe through the habit of Mise en Place. There are treasures in your Wonderland just waiting to be rediscovered and put to good use.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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