How To Create An Ethical Work Wardrobe
I don’t know about you, but I happen to spend the vast majority of my week in an office. I tackle office politics, office fridge space, office aircon and even, you guessed it, office outfits. When I lived in London and had my first office job, I struggled to find suitable clothing on a budget. Then, when I decided to throw ethical clothing into the mix, shopping was put on hard mode. But after a few years of trial and error, I am finally happy with the contents of my wardrobe and decided it’s time to roll up my sustainable sleeves and share some tips. And as a little bonus, I have asked some of my stylish friends to help too.
As with any wardrobe, it is best to start with the basics. You want your work wardrobe to be as versatile as possible and if you are still figuring out your style then basics will definitely get the most wear. Dorsu is a perfect brand to help you build a capsule collection as it features plenty of monochrome pieces that are comfortable and easy to mix and match. Dorsu focuses on versatility rather than the trends you might be used to seeing in fast fashion each season. This guarantees each item remains wearable for years to come and may even find their way into your weekend wear too. My favourites are the black wrap top and straight pants that can be worn together or with pretty much every outfit I own!
When in doubt, dress it up
I never used to be big on dresses, but I don’t have the foresight to outfit plan, nor the commitment to wake up on time in the morning. Dresses solve a lot of my problems in the morning rush, mostly because I don’t have to worry about matching tops and bottoms. I throw on a dress and a trusty black blazer or cardigan and rush out the door moments before the bus rolls down my street. This ease led me to find a true appreciation for dresses; especially wrap dresses which seem to be flattering on everyone! Indecisive is an Australian ethical fashion brand with some of the most gorgeous dresses I have ever seen and they are all ethically designed and made on the South Coast of NSW. All Indecisive garments are made to order so as to diminish the environmental impact of possible over production. The Asha dress is a personal favourite of mine and was made from surplus materials. You can choose to wear it draped or use the removable tie to wrap around your waste. The long length means it will be suitable for picky offices while the slits and linen fabric mean it will still be light enough to wear in summer months.
Oh, and while I’m at it, this is my favourite black cardigan. It drapes beautifully and keeps me warm in the winter… or under the office aircon. I even wear it on the weekends or at events since it is pretty perfect for dressing up any outfit I own. Bloi, the cardi’s maker, is an ecological and ethical fashion brand that hand-makes all their clothing in Barcelona using ecological fabrics and following ethical production processes.
Pro tip from stylist Jenna Flood, a.k.a the Ironic Minimalist
“Embrace a capsule style work wardrobe. Have a set number of each garment style (pants, skirts, dresses, tops) in a complementary colour palette that all mix and match. This helps create easy outfits to pull out in the morning rush. Bonus points if you can wear these pieces on the weekends!”
You can find the best things in op shops
If you have a tight budget, I promise you can find at least half of your wardrobe from charity shops. It may take a few trips and it’s a bit of lucky dip with what you’ll find, but not only are you saving money, you are saving clothing from going to landfill. Unfortunately, Australian charities spend millions each year on sending clothes to landfill because they receive more donations than they can store, let alone sell. And because sometimes people donate clothing that is damaged instead of throwing it away themselves or finding another use for it, charities are left to foot the bill. One way you can help, even when buying new items, is remembering to be selective. Know your style and only buy clothing you absolutely love. I often find things I love in a shop or online, but will wait a few weeks or even months to buy it. If that special item is still going round my mind I know it will be a good addition to my wardrobe. Added money-saving bonus: if you want to be the first to find out when Velvety is running a sale to save on your special something, sign up to the newsletter here.
Use patterns wisely
Patterns are not as scary as they seem and if you are selective then they won’t become outdated. I recommend one patterned item per outfit while keeping the rest fairly simple. Stripes are always a go-to for me, both in my work and weekend wardrobes, so I know I am getting as many wears out of it as possible. If you are drawn to a particular pattern, (be it spots, flowers or anything in-between) pair it with neutral colours or a block colour if you are feeling daring. This stripe top from Armedangels was ethically made in Portugal from GOTS Certified organic cotton. While the style is quite simple, the lower frill adds a flattering shape and more sophistication than the average tee.
Colour can be scary…
But it can also really brighten up your day. Unless you really love a simple wardrobe, monotone can start to get draining. I know when I choose a jazzy kinda top I want to have a jazzy kinda day; and that feeling can rub off on your peers too. Jazzy is exactly what the awesome prints from Souten Clothing Co deliver. Souten creates effortless and playful garments in sizes 6 to 18 with a focus on ethical consumerism and transparent manufacturing.
Take full advantage of casual Fridays
If your office has casual Fridays then you better be taking full advantage! This means you only need to figure out four office outfits per week and you start getting into weekend mode. I usually wear a bright, casual sweater like this one from Armedangels. It is bright and playful, while still being modest and work appropriate.
Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise.
You can make older outfits look completely new with some accessories. While most people would focus on shoes, I would argue your colleagues spend longer staring at your face than at your feet. It is amazing what a statement necklace or bright pair of earrings can do to refresh your look; and no-one but you will notice that you’ve recycled an old outfit! These fantastic earrings are made from neoprene waste, discarded due to large production. Yet they found a second life keeping you looking fabulous thanks to Intero; a small European brand that handmakes sustainable bags and accessories. Plus, since neoprene is so light, these earrings won’t start to ache or weigh you down – Just something I think about since I have the fussiest ears known to man.
It’s in the bag
A work bag is a pretty big deal. It needs to be big enough to hold whatever is thrown your way (plus a keep cup of course), strong enough to deal with the daily grind and stylish enough to match any accompanying outfit. One decision you will have to make is between handbag and backpack; if you ride a work or get achy shoulders then I recommend a backpack and there are a few rather beautiful, sustainably made backpacks available. Numon creates backpacks from upcycled, vegan materials which means each design is limited to the materials available. I love this idea as it decreases fabric waste by using up material that was already discarded, and means customers receive a truly unique and limited item.
If you don’t require a backpack; then there are infinite amounts to choose from. Some of the most beautiful in my opinion happen to be made from leaves. Thamon was the first London-based ethical fashion design company using real tree leaves in fashion accessories. The leaves are a beautiful organic material, light weight and durable. Thamon uses sustainably sourced birch, lotus and sal leaves. The leaves and the wood fibre are responsibly sourced for the production. No toxic treatments or dyes are applied. While I already own a bag, I have been drooling over the Emily Leaf Leather Handbag. So elegant and well made; while imitating leather this bag is completely cruelty free and a great deal cheaper than any high-quality leather bag you will find in the shops… I may have to make an exception for this one.
Make sure it still feels like you
This may sound simple but when I started working in an office, I was the least officey person I knew. So I thought I had to completely change my style to fit in. I was so wrong and so wasteful for thinking this way because all those office clothes I bought that didn’t feel-quite-right-but-would-do-the-job ended up at the back of my wardrobe as I found the items that were right for me.
So, a few tips later, I hope you are ready to take your work wardrobe to the next level. Remember to work with what you already have and make sure you have a strong capsule to make outfit choices in the morning as easy as possible so you can start the day strong!
About the author: Chloe is an ethical lifestyle writer and video maker known online as Be Kind Coco. She loves cats and a good cuppa and is on a mission to make ethical living easy.