How To Dress Like A Parisienne: What We Can Learn From European Women About Dressing Sustainably

I used to be all about the clearance bin. A $5 t-shirt I only kind of like? I'll take it! I mean it's only $5, you can't really go wrong, right? Well, maybe you can.

Written by Carly Wilson

Don't get me wrong, I still love a bargain, but something I clicked one day when someone told me that women in Europe own less clothing but dress better than most American women (I'm half American so this hit home for me).

European fashion is apparently fairly minimalist with a focus on quality and versatility. Instead of buying a $50 jacket and wearing it fifty times, someone from France or the UK might invest $500 into a timeless and versatile jacket that they'll wear a thousand times. The French call these types of items "luxury basics". Shopping this way, they avoid having a closet bursting at the seams with average-looking, semi-frumpy pieces. But the benefits extend far beyond fashion. I see three major benefits of investing in quality over quantity.

1. Wear for wear, you'll save money in the long run. In the jacket example, the owner would have paid $1 per wear for the cheaper jacket or fifty cents per wear for the more expensive one. Quality doesn't necessarily have to be expensive, though. By shopping around and considering op and consignment shops, it's still possible to get high-quality garments (and everything else) at bargain shop prices.

2.You reduce you carbon footprint. Clothing and textiles account for 10% of the global carbon footprint. That is seriously huge. Purchasing good quality items infrequently rather than poor quality frequently helps keep our personal carbon footprints down.

3.You de-clutter your life! I'm sure I'm not the only one that finds clutter stressful. The idea of a closet that only contains high-quality items that I love is peaceful just to think about.

Image: Stylizimoblog

Another thing I learned about Europeans, and the French in particular, is that they pay more money for daily wear items than they do for the once-off items. American and Australian culture seems to lean in the opposite direction. We might spend $300 for a dress we'll wear once at a wedding and $10 for a singlet we'll wear all summer long. Perhaps we have it backwards?

I think where we get into trouble with all of this is that while we may know intellectually that it'd be better to buy that $500 jacket that will last for years, or maybe a $80 pair of jeans that fit perfectly and we know we'll get heaps of wear out of rather than the $20 pair that fit just alright, we may not always have the cash available for that higher level of purchase. That, however, is where patience and delayed gratification becomes important to environmentalism. As environmentalists, most of us have a natural eye to the long term. We would rather a tree stay put in a forest and provide fresh air and refuge for animals in the future rather than be used for paper today. We are patient in that respect. Waiting six weeks to be able to afford a new jacket, on the other hand? That's hard. But it's not impossible and I dare say it's worth it.

Carly Wilson is a filmmaker and environmental professional specialising in wildlife care and habitat management. She also blogs on her personal website. Right now she is making a film about the effects of released helium balloon on the marine environment. Please follow her on Twitter (@carlycreature) or through Facebook if you would like to keep abreast of the film's progress.

Read more from Carly:

Road Test: The Pros and Cons of Reusable Nappies

Read more on minimalism:

Interview: The Minimalists

How Can We Avoid Overconsumption In Our Everyday Lives?

10 Ways to Rework Your Wardrobe Without Buying New

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