Plain Singlets, T-shirts And Socks: How We Shop Ethically For Basics

We like to think that our wardrobe staples help us get the best out of all my clothes - the perfect accompaniment to that patterned blouse or layer on a chilly day. They also help us keep things simple, there's no better combination than a white tee or singlet with a pair of jeans! Long story short, our staples are essential, we wear them often and we wear them well.

But all this wearing can really test our resolve to shop ethically for clothes - we can't afford four plain singlets at $70 a pop, help!

So, how can we shop in a way that aligns with our values while also living on a budget and keeping our wardrobe stocked with staples to see us through the week (and not have to wash our clothes every single day)?

There's no quick answer to that question so we got together and shared how we are figuring it out. Here's how 1 Million Women's content team shops for their wardrobe staples in the most ethical way possible!


My heart beats faster whenever I have to spend more than $50 so I am a firm believer in buying second hand and keeping my big purchases to a minimum. You might not always be able to find exactly what you are after in an op shop but with enough patience I have been able to find a handful of basic t-shirts, singlets and long sleeves to keep me going in winter.

My best advice - get yourself a sewing machine and you'll be able to easily repair basics (which are worn under things anyway so it won't matter how neat you are at sewing?!) and extend their life.

If you can't buy one, try a local Library of Things or even your local library - sometimes they have sewing machines to borrow. My sewing machine is one of my prized possessions and I use it for everything from simple repairs to making fun, ridiculous costumes. The material section is a goldmine for often good quality material and I regularly make things like singlets which are relatively easy to make (I just copy the shape from clothes I already have but the internet has a BUNCH of patterns and instructional videos)


A combination of plain t-shirts, singlets and turtlenecks are on high rotation in the wardrobe. I often wear a combination of staple + patterned shirt or staple + bottoms, so I need to have a few stocked in my wardrobe. I've been slowly building up my stockpile of staples over the past couple of years, and this is what's currently in my wardrobe:

  • Old (and two new) fast fashion purchases. I try to avoid fast fashion as much as possible these days but that wasn't always the case! I've held onto a few turtle necks and t-shirts I bought from fast fashion brands a few years ago and will keep trying to get as much wear from them as possible! I admittedly had a lapse a couple of weeks ago and bought two new turtlenecks from a fast fashion brand. I'm a bit short on funds at the moment and needed some more warm staples, having recently moved to a colder state! I'll still try to avoid fast fashion purchases as much as possible and will try to be a bit more organised in the future and not fall back on fast fashion!
  • A few good quality staples from ethical brands. These are my favourites! I've invested in two turtlenecks from local Australian brands (with great ethical creds) and a couple of dressy singlets. I can wear all of these on many different occasions and dress them up or down. Each piece set me back around $100 so they aren't pieces I can buy on a whim. Over the past few years when a new season has come around I've looked at my wardrobe and considered what pieces I actually need, then decided to save and put my money towards those. I think this is a good way to slowly build my ethical staples. I always take extra care with these pieces too - only washing them when they need it!
  • Those ethical singlets I was obsessed with and waited to buy in a sale. We've mentioned price point as a barrier to buying ethical staples and one way to tackle this is to wait for a sale. Last year I had been eyeing off some singlets and undies from a particular brand for a while. I waited for their Black Friday sale and bought a few pieces then (and have worn them most days since)!
  • My sister's and mum's rejected, borrowed and stolen clothes. I'm lucky to be roughly the same size as my two sisters and mum, which really expands my wardrobe! I was recently in need of a dressy work shirt and instead of buying new my mum was able to dig one out that she hadn't worn (and apparently had for 30 years)!


The age-old question, where to find the perfect tank top? But now we're adding layers (sorry, pun intended) to that question…where to find the perfect tank top made from eco-friendly fibres, ethical labour and ones that will last long? Conundrum!

I'd be lying if I said I had figured it out but I think this comes down to a mindset shift. I'm no longer on the lookout for "the perfect tank top", I'm accepting what I can find in second-hand stores. And even though finding basics can be a lot harder to find in these stores, it's still possible to come across the perfect tee or singlet.

When I need to buy new basics quickly, especially for winter, I usually check out sustainable brands or I'll look for ones that I know will last longer, and won't only barely last the winter months.

This can be hard to do on a budget though, so don't beat yourself up if you do need to shop fast-fashion brands for basics like socks and singlets, accept the purchase and focus your attention on just one aspect of your wardrobe. For example, just start with underwear. Once you've mastered the basics (sorry, pun intended again), you can move to more things like shirts, socks and tees.

We'd love to know your thoughts! Comment below if you have any tips or tricks.

Main image: Unsplash

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