How to Build An Ethical Wardrobe From Scratch

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Let’s talk about clothes today. Specifically some advice on building an ethical wardrobe from scratch.

I appreciate it can be difficult to know where to start in making your own wardrobe more ethical. Making the switch to shopping more ethically can be challenging. From where to shop, to the potential cost involved, I can see how it can be a difficult part of your life to alter.

In order to help you to build your own ethical wardrobe, I wanted to offer a manageable approach to how to build an ethical wardrobe from scratch. So, I hereby present the first post in this ethical wardrobe mini-series.

If you’re not a shopper, don’t worry – this series is not going to be all to be about shopping. As much as I am a fan of a pretty dress or a nice coat, I am not the world’s biggest fan of clothes shopping. But more than that – I personally think the biggest barrier to shopping ethically is the fast fashion machine. So as part of this series, we’ll talk about how to remove yourself from the clutches of fast fashion.

But first things first, let’s start from the beginning. The foundations of your ethical wardrobe if you will.

Your Ethical Wardrobe Step One: Decluttering & Taking Stock

ethical wardrobe

The first step in building an ethical wardrobe is to look carefully at your existing wardrobe. As I’ve said countless times before, and probably will forever more: the most ethical clothes are the clothes you already own.

Taking stock of your existing wardrobe and removing anything you don’t wear or don’t like is an important first step. Shopping ethically isn’t necessarily the cheapest, so learning from previous mistakes is imperative to help you get the most for your money and help you to avoid rash impulse purchases.

Does the world need more decluttering advice? Probably not. I’ll aim to keep it brief for anyone interested in how I manage my own ethical wardrobe.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a big shopper so my own wardrobe was never particularly large in the first place. However, regularly decluttering (perhaps twice a year) helps me keep on top of things and allows me to re-evaluate my wardrobe to see what is and isn’t working.

The Four Piles System

I’m a firm advocate of setting aside an afternoon to empty everything out of your drawers and wardrobe onto your bed. I like the four piles systems myself:

1) clothes you no longer wear, are worn out, no longer fit, no longer suit, or you don’t like.

2)  clothes that need repairing or modifying (and you will actually repair/modify rather than leave them there for 2 years at the back of your cupboard!)

3) clothes that you love and wear on a regular basis.

4)  clothes that you love but wear on a less regular basis – e.g. formal wear, party wear, etc.

You also have my blessing to add a fifth maybe pile to revisit another day. Some people argue against that additional pile, saying it adds more work at a later date.

I say if you’re worried about rash decision-making and that pile makes you less nervous then by all means give it a go. I have done this in the past, only to a couple of months later cart the whole ‘maybe’ pile to the charity shop. Needless to say, now I just trust my instincts.

If you’re swithering over whether to keep an item or not, then I ask myself “if I was out shopping right now would I buy this item?“. If I wouldn’t then it goes in pile one.

Whilst decluttering I try to bear in mind seasonality, so for example, I would give my summer items of clothing a reprieve until the end of summer. Anything I hadn’t worn that summer would be out. Decluttering summer clothes in the middle of winter might otherwise see some useful clothes inadvertently discarded, and vice versa.

Taking Stock

Before you discard pile one, have a good look at what you’re discarding, and why you’re discarding the items.

Was it the fit, or was it the style that didn’t suit? Perhaps the colour? Was it something you bought on a whim or because it was on sale? Perhaps it didn’t go with anything else in your wardrobe? Was it something you bought because you were feeling low that particular day and needed a retail boost?

Whatever the reasons, keep them in the front of your mind next time you’re clothes shopping. The aim here with this is not to repeat these mistaken purchasing decisions again. This will help save you money and save resources too, as well as create a more ethical wardrobe.

Place the third pile (and the second mended pile) back in your wardrobe and keep in mind the reasons that you’re keeping those items.

Are there particular colours that you’re drawn to, or particular cuts or styles? Make a mental note about precisely what it is about the items that you love so that in the future when you’re adding to your wardrobe, you know exactly what you’re looking for and exactly what suits you.

Now your clothes are back in the wardrobe, carefully analyse the gaps. What items of clothing do you need to bridge those gaps? Make a written list of the items you legitimately need. Be really specific. So rather than just writing down ‘trousers’, write down the specific style and colour of trousers you need.

I’m not necessarily a proponent of capsule wardrobes or minimalist wardrobes so I’m not going to offer a specific list of clothing you need. Your own list will be specific to you, your lifestyle, and your existing wardrobe, so think carefully and honestly about what you need.

Bear in mind there’s no need to replace everything you’ve discarded with ethical options like for like. You only need to purchase the things you really need to make your existing wardrobe work better for you. Owning fewer clothes is really rather liberating and does make it much easier to get dressed in the morning.

Another pertinent point is that decluttering your wardrobe is not a code word for going on a massive shopping spree. Building an ethical wardrobe takes time, and it should come together slowly and organically. There is no rush.

Go Further

Found this post useful? Check out the rest of my posts in this Build An Ethical Wardrobe From Scratch series:

Found this post useful? Please consider buying me a virtual coffee to help support the site’s running costs.

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  1. Great post! Just what I needed to read at this moment. Ethically produced clothes, de-cluttering and minimalism have all been on my mind for at least a year. I’m working/thinking on how to move away from my too many clothes/nothing-to-wear wardrobe which makes me feel stressed.
    Thanks so much for the work you do!

  2. Great minds think alike. This is the first step in my 6 Steps to a Sustainable Wardrobe.
    Its amazing how much stuff we hold on to that we jsut don’t wear. In the past 4 years I’ve been slowing paring back to only the stuff that I love and use. It so much nicer to only have clothes you love. Sometimes we think we have nothing, but really we have too much stuff that we don’t use, and once we get rid of that we rediscover old favourites. It may well be that most people don’t need to add much back in, once they clear out. I don’t have a capsule wardrobe, but I one that is fairly simple. Lots of dresses to wear with tights and cardigans. That’s just about all I need.

  3. What a coincidence, have just culled my wardrobe consisting mainly of charity shop buys but good labels. The problem with charity is that I get often too many things which don’t necessarily fit! Hey ho

  4. I am really looking forward to reading more on this topic. Ethical fashion has been something I have been looking at for a while but feel completely overwhelmed on where to start.

    I’ve already begun the clearing out process so I’ll wait here patiently for the next bit :)

    Sam x

  5. Really good advice. I think I should have been more intentional starting out, but I am finally at that point where I know exactly what I like and, for the most part, can avoid buying things just because. That makes it way easier to gauge what I actually “need” to add to my ethical wardrobe.

  6. I’m in the process of doing this right now, and I’ve just finished the decluttering of my closet part. This is just what I needed to read, and I can’t wait for the next part! :)