A few years ago, the International Herald Tribune ran a story about a seismic shift in Italian fashion standards.
Some Italian companies were allowing their male employees to go tieless, and even suitless, during the summer months as a way to help fight climate change. Not requiring a tie might equate to less demand for office air conditioning, which in turn could help reduce overall demand for electricity. (More recently, Chile’s energy minister promoted the same idea.)
While probably a non-issue in the casual-fixated United States, Romans and Milanese ditching their ties at work was no small matter. Those ever so elegantly-knotted creations that men the world over vainly attempt to duplicate, gone for the summer? Well, the story made it to the IHT, didn’t it?
Though interesting from a cultural perspective, this story is an excellent argument for paying attention to what you wear, buying for quality, and focusing on real, timeless style. With Earth Day 2012 only a few hours behind us, this is a wonderful teaching moment and the lesson is this: focusing on classic style does actually help the environment – as it should.
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 well thought out. When being self-aware about what you buy and thoughtfully editing your wardrobe, you are less likely to make an impulse purchase that eventually winds up in a landfill.
For the most part, clothing – whether dress or casual – is now cheap and abundant, but there is an enormous price to be paid for such mindless convenience. The environmental costs of manufacturing, transporting, storing, selling, and, eventually disposing of these cheap products are large and global.
As opposed to Americans, most Europeans tend to be more selective in their clothing choices. Due to higher prices and limited storage, 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 the things we should always consider before pulling out the wallet.
As seen here, an Italian ditching his tie or swapping out a suit will most likely still look naturally sharp, without having to run to the department store for a new “corporate casual” wardrobe. It is probable that his wardrobe already has a purpose and a sense of continuity and relationship among its components.
Redefining how you dress is not, as they say, rocket science. But it does take some time and effort. Make deliberate choices; don’t buy cheap shoes that get thrown out when they wear out. The same holds true for tailored clothing. While often expensive, a well-made suit or custom shirt will last for years. A classically styled bespoke blazer or suit will always transcend fashion and adjustments can be made as your dimensions change.
By being selective, you can build a wardrobe that both meets your needs and reduces pointless waste and duplication. And apart from environmental considerations, when your wardrobe consists of items that fit, are well-made, and possess a timeless and stylish quality, you will wear them.
Certain brands, like Slowear, actually design their clothes to not go out of style. Slowear’s family of classically-focused labels evoke a culture of sustainable luxury. They want you purchase a pair of Incotex trousers or a Glanshirt shirt and keep them for years; sacrificing volume for long-term brand devotion. By focusing on the design and construction of their garments, Slowear is able to market what Alan Flusser refers to as “permanent style.”
Reducing your retail carbon footprint extends to accessories as well. Why cycle through five or 10 cheap to mid-grade briefcases or day bags when you could take a little time, define what it is you really want in a bag and then invest in one or two of heirloom quality?
For example, this Frank Clegg English Brief will not only never go out of style, it will become more desirable the more it gets used. It’s the type of bag everyone is always looking for and while not inexpensive, it is a solid capital investment.
Choose ties you love and that pair well with a variety of shirts and jackets. Pick up several pocket squares which can quickly add flair and personality to a tieless suit or odd jacket. Make certain style elements your signature and stick to what works with your body type, skin tone, personality and lifestyle.
That, in a nutshell, is the point of classic personal style. By making choices that take into account long-term investment and near-term benefit, building a wardrobe and curated collection of accessories reduces waste and increases value.
If nothing else, it also clears out your clutter and allows you focus on the things that truly matter. The items in your life should be those that you cherish and want to have around, they should each have a purpose and, to me at least, a story. And when you present your best self to the world – in your dress and with your accessories – you really do tend to be a better person.