In honor of Earth Day, I decided to revisit one of my favorite columns on the green aspects of classic style. Now more than ever, it’s important to think about the effects, small and large, that we have on the environment and on our rather tiny planet.
Classic style – however you choose to characterize it – has the singular benefit of longevity. While nothing is always in style, the whole point of preppy, Ivy League, classic or trad dress is to hold on to things until they fall apart. Then you fix ‘em up and wear them for another 20 years. It’s part of the appeal.
I applaud brands like Zara, H&M and Topman for making suits, blazers, ties and dress shirts not only cool, but wardrobe staples for young men with a growing and increasingly sophisticated sense of personal style. But I am genuinely concerned about the disposable nature of such of-the-moment clothing. The fast fashion explosion has also created a fast disposal culture. There is a cost to everything, financial and environmental.
So, as we close out this year’s Earth Week, let’s also think about simple and, yes, small ways to make changes in our own sartorial lives. Save up a little more and get some J. Press oxfords or Allen Edmonds shoes. Both will last you years if not decades and look better as they age. Think about buying one custom suit instead three cheap ones. You don’t have to spend $5,000; VM Clothiers in Washington, D.C. can make you an excellent suit for around $600.
We are all in different financial brackets and different stages of life, but each in our own way can make a few conscious changes to make our own footprint a little smaller.
A few years ago, the employees at Eni, Italy’s largest power company, agreed to shed their ties and cut back on air conditioning in an effort to help fight global warming.
The company’s offices in Rome and Milan began a tentative experiment in what it called, “lighter and cooler office attire.” Though by all accounts it was a success, employees made it very clear that they expected to return to proper clothing as the weather cooled into autumn.
Italians voluntarily ditching their ties is a pretty big deal. Those fantastic, large-knotted creations that men the world over vainly attempt to duplicate, gone for an entire summer? Luckily, the loss of a mere tie did not send workplace standards into a sartorial tailspin as it has in too many offices across America. Tie or no tie, Italians do have their standards.
This experiment, though remarkable from a cultural perspective, presents an excellent argument for paying attention to what you wear, buying for quality, and focusing on real, timeless style. In fact, it is a great teaching moment: focusing on style actually helps the environment – as it should. Because of the inherent attention many Italian men take in their wardrobe, a necktie complements their wardrobe and the loss of it as an option, though brief, does not impact the ability to look sharp.
Put simply, when you buy quality clothing, you are making an investment that lasts. By quality, I don’t just mean well-made, I mean a purchase that is also well thought out. When you consciously consider what to buy and carefully edit your wardrobe, you are less likely to make an impulse purchase that will just wind up in a landfill by the end of the year.
Everyday clothing is now relatively cheap and abundant, but there is an enormous price to be paid for such mindless convenience. The environmental costs of sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, transporting, storing, selling, and eventually disposing of these cheap products are large and global.
As opposed to Americans, Europeans tend to be more selective in their clothing choices. Due to higher prices and limited storage space, each piece must be thought out and chosen for its quality, longevity, and versatility.
Does that pair of pants go with more than one outfit? Can you re-sole those shoes? Do you actually need that jacket or another shirt that’s virtually identical to your favorite one? These are all factors you should consider when making any purchase.
Make deliberate choices; don’t buy cheap shoes that you will just throw out when they wear out. The same holds true for tailored clothing. While more expensive than off-the-rack, a well made custom suit will last for years. A classic cut can transcend fashion and a good tailor can make adjustments as your dimensions change over time.
By being selective, you can build a wardrobe that both meets your needs and reduces pointless waste. Which brings me back to the Italians; I have no fear of track pants and tee shirts showing up in Roman offices or flip flops in Milano boardrooms. If anyone can assemble a stylish and absolutely classy “casual” work wardrobe for any weather, it is an Italian.