Your résumé impressed. Your people skills charmed. You were lucky; but you were also prepared. You landed your first job. Congratulations, your professional life awaits. That includes impressing a new boss, controlling your own impatient ambition and learning that networking is an art, not a contact sport. And that what you wear matters.
“Fast fashion” will be tempting. Those bargain prices will be alluring. And with a new college degree in one hand and a job offer in the other, it will be easy to wander into one of the many chains selling disposable fashion in an attempt to create an entire workday wardrobe as cheaply and as quickly as possible. Resist.
Buy less. Buy better.
It’ll benefit your finances in the long run. It’s gentler on the environment. It can help encourage fairer wages and working conditions for garment workers. And ultimately, it’s a way of acknowledging that we’re all linked together in one big global economy.
This is not an argument for investing in designer sportswear. There’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on a single pair of trousers when money is tight and the list of things to buy when you’re starting a new life is long.
But there’s no need to be beholden to fashion trends, either. For most people, the goal should be to simply look polished, relevant and modern. Which is to say, not like you just rolled in from the 1980s, bed head, shoulder pads and all — Balenciaga notwithstanding.
As every wardrobe guide advises, start with the basics — pieces that work well together and straddle the seasons. If you’d wear it to the beach or yoga class, it doesn’t count as workwear. Yes, that includes flip-flops. No, leggings aren’t pants. But it also doesn’t mean forcing yourself to dress like a personality-less robot. Colors! Prints! Be an individual, but not a lone wolf.
If winter where you live means cold weather, not just a chill in the air, invest in a good overcoat — and a lint brush. Cheap shoes are not worth the foot pain. Spray leather ones with water repellent so they will survive salty slush.
Instead of Forever 21, think of the online brand Everlane. Rather than Topshop, consider COS, the London-born brand that’s owned by H&M and specializes in clean lines and admirable quality. Explore men’s clothier Bonobos.
The argument for buying better-quality clothes includes the likelihood that they will last longer and look better after multiple washings — or dry cleanings. You will probably enjoy wearing them more than you would something that feels flimsy or vaguely flammable.
All clothes benefit from tailoring. Don’t ask a seamstress to rebuild a jacket that is obviously unflattering or is several sizes away from fitting properly. But have a professional make minor, not-so-terribly-expensive adjustments. Have trousers properly hemmed; have a waistband nipped in if it gaps in the back. Shorten jacket sleeves so they don’t flop over your hands. Tailoring improves clothes’ quality, and if something fits well, it looks better, and that means one less thing to worry about on a daily basis.
It used to be that buying less and buying better was the default philosophy of shoppers in places like France and Italy — the sorts of locales known for a generally well-dressed population. American-style consumption is seeping into the consciousness there, but there are still lessons to be learned from the old country. The most important is probably the idea that new doesn’t equal better. See the beauty in imperfections: gently worn tweed, sun-bleached linen. There’s also nothing wrong with proudly wearing the same pair of pants or the same dress multiple times a week. Save the constant costume changes for Instagram.
Deciding which garments and manufacturers are better for the environment is complicated. Organic cotton means fewer pesticides, but cotton growing can stress communities because of the amount of water required. Fast fashion merchant H&M has pushed for higher wages in countries where it manufactures, such as Cambodia and Bangladesh, and has sought to encourage recycling. But the reality is that most clothing ends up in landfills.
In 2014, for example, while nearly 65 percent of paper products in the United States were recycled, only 16.2 percent of textiles were, according to the most recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency. Put another way, 65 percent of textiles end their days in landfills. (About 19 percent is “combusted,” or burned.)
Buying one or two pairs of quality trousers, instead of four throwaway ones, won’t save the planet or raise the standard of living for factory workers. But it’s something. It’s money well spent in the pursuit of looking good.