A Frugal Girl’s Guide to Sustainable Fashion

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Since deciding to try and be more sustainable with my fashion and style choices, surprisingly I have managed to save loads of money. This has the added bonus of meaning that I can afford to work less and spend more time with family and friends, making my life much happier for me. I used to avoid ethical fashion on the basis that it was going to cost me more but ethical and sustainable clothing has come on in leaps and bounds over the last year and I now firmly believe that it is possible to look stylish whilst wearing sustainable fashion and sticking to a budget. Here are my tips on how (some maybe a bit obvious, but sometimes a little reminder/ refresher is a good thing):

Buy Less

Very obvious really, if you buy less, you will spend less and you will be having less of an impact on the environment. But buying less doesn’t mean that you have to miss out. You can still look on trend, stylish, elegant, whatever you like. Just consider your purchases carefully.

If you develop your own style (rather than being a slave to fashion), there will be no need to keep replacing your wardrobe as your clothes won’t ever go out of fashion. By buying less you can afford to invest in something high quality perhaps from an ethical brand. In the long run this will pay off as the clothes will last better and many ethical brands design timeless styles. If you are unsure of where to look check out my post on 50 places to buy affordable ethical fashion online.

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Also think about how you store your clothes. The easier it is for you to see what you already have, the more likely you will be to wear it and the less likely to buy more of the same. I like to hang my necklaces on hooks on the wall, keep rings and brooches in a teacup on my dressing table and hand scarves on a scarf hanger.

Sometime buying less can force you to be more creative with your wardrobe with the end result being a unique and very stylish you. If you don’t believe me, check out The Uniform Project for proof of how many ways (365 to be precise) you can wear a black dress. There are countless other challenges where fashion bloggers have created a variety of different outfits from a limited wardrobe. Trust me, this really works, why not start with a 2 month shopping ban – just seeing how much money you save!

It is worth thinking about why you shop. If you are just looking for the feel good factor of buying something new, find another way to get this feeling perhaps coffee with friends, a DIY pamper session or baking cakes.

Look after your clothes well

If you are investing in  high quality well made clothes, it is worth looking after them as they will last you for years. Valuing what you have is the easiest way to buy less and the best way to save money and be more sustainable. Always read the labels before you wash your clothes. Handwash delicate items and store them carefully. My biggest problem is tights getting laddered. I tuck them inside a sock to wash so that they don’t get damaged. You can also wash delicate clothing inside an old pillow case. Polish and reheel your shoes regularly and store in boxes to keep them in good as new condition. I also like to keep my handbags in dust bags which you can run up from old clothes and pieces of fabric.

Watch out for moths especially with cashmere. I once had a £200 cashmere jumper ruined when one ate a great big hole right in the middle. I now scatter lots of cedar wood balls in my knitwear drawer. There are countless articles on the internet on how to care for your clothes, if you have any great tips, please share them in the comments below.

Choose carefully

How many times have you made a mistake buy buying something that you never wear or only wear once? These mistakes are costly to you and  the environment so choose carefully to avoid them. Some say that most people only wear 20% of their wardrobe for 80% of the time, you should try and make sure that any new purchases increase that 20% not the 80%, this will mean you will need to buy less clothes in the future.  Common mistakes are buying clothes that don’t fit properly, don’t suit you body shape or colouring or which are another version of something you already have lots of or are just not right for your life style. Do a wardrobe check before you go shopping and think about what clothes suit you and your lifestyle. No good buying yet more party dresses, if you never go to any parties!


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There are lots of ways that recycling can  save you money. Firstly, you can upcycle clothes to give them a new lease of life. So you are really bored with that maxi dress,  why not shorten it and make a mini dress? Plain tops can be customised in countless ways including by bleaching, dying, shredding, cropping, applique and embroidery. Upcycling is a huge trend at the moment and there is certainly no shortage of places to go for inspiration. Try Threadbanger, Ethical Fashion Bloggers and Outsapop.com.

Sell or swap your clothes

Even with the best will in the world, you will sometimes have clothes that you no longer want or need. A frugal girl will make the most of these clothes by selling or swapping them. Ebay is the usual port of call for those wanting to sell something but you can also list and swap or sell them for free on Posh-swaps.com. If you have clothing of a high value, you could try selling through a local dress agency. Check our www.swishing.com for swap parties in your area. I also have a sort of informal arrangement with my friends that we let each other have a look through any unwanted clothes before they go in the charity bag.

Cash your clothes in

Some brands and retailers now collect old clothes and give you a voucher to spend in exchange. With M & S, you can recycle your old clothes at Oxfam in exchange for a voucher. Monsoon have a similar scheme clothes for life where you get £10 off a new item.   

Buy second hand

Buying second hand is a great way to get more for your money. Charity shops, ebay and carboot sales are packed with bargains often that have hardly or never been worn. I actually tend to wear my second hand charity shop clothes more often than some of the new clothes that I have bought, perhaps because when you take away the marketing, trends etc that persuade you to buy new clothes, it is much easier to focus on what you want and what will look good on you. if you don’t have time to trawl charity shops Oxfam have a great selection including vintage and Cancer Research have some great designer finds.

Look out for ethical bargains

Even with all of the affordable ethical brands out there, you may still find ethical fashion a bit more expensive than the really low priced fast fashion retailers. If you wait until the sales though you can get yourself something amazing for a great price. Many ethical brands and retailers run year round promotions and sales, you can follow me on Twitter to keep up with them. People Tree and Fashion Conscience always have great offers and sales.

What do you think? is it easy to be frugal and sustainable with your style?

With warmest wishes

Ceri X



6 thoughts on “A Frugal Girl’s Guide to Sustainable Fashion

  1. Ethical shopping done right should absolutely save you a lot of money. Salvation Army (or Oxfam), re-using, buying less, seasonless dressing are all sustainable ways of enjoying fashion. It’s only when we fall prey to the “eco-marketing” strategies that some companies try to sell us – as if environmentalism can be achieve by consuming MORE. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. Ethical shopping must be the exact opposite of our previous idea of shopping. It must be frugal, based on need rather than extravagance, thoughtful of the environment and the workers within it. It also requires us to take a good look at where we derive our self-esteem. I’ve had to take a hard look at the way I let brand names drive my shopping habits, which is such an ego-based proposition. I’m learning that I am still cool and fashionable without brand names!
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  2. Great article! Thank you for the list of 50 places to buy affordable and ethical clothing. I have lately been trying to only buy something I absolutely love that fits perfectly so I won’t be wasting money and space on clothes I will never wear.

  3. I think taking care of your clothing is so important! Following the proper washing instructions and storing your clothes in an organized way really stretches their lifespan.