It is Day 240 of Rachel Bethke’s year of slow fashion, but her outfit is racing with personality. She wears a maxi skirt in a creamy floral print, highlighted with hits of pale pink, blue and tangerine. The inside of the bottom skirt vent is lined with hot pink. To complete the outfit, Bethke, 27, has chosen a burnt orange long-sleeved blouse and Steve Madden ankle boots and, over her shoulder, she has thrown a black-and-brown leather messenger bag. There are hints of current fashion trends in this outfit: the length of the skirt, the floral print, the hard-edged bag. But overall, it is a uniquely personal look, which is how she likes it.
“I’m more interested in making a social and environmental choice about what I wear than I am in following fashion,” said Bentke, who lives in Grand Haven, Michigan, and writes a blog called The Year of Slow Fashion. Bethke decided to concentrate on creating her own look in three different ways: from what she already owned; from what she could find in vintage or resale stores; and from concentrating on buying new, American made clothing that she calls “investment pieces.” She documents what she wears every day for a year in her blog.
Bethke, a manager of a resale shop that benefits a local animal shelter, is part of a growing international movement interested in rethinking the way we approach what we wear. Often it is called slow fashion because it grew out of the slow food movement, which is a reaction to fast food and the eco-problems that presents. Fast fashion centers on high speed (knockoffs of expensive fashion), high volume (massive international chains) and high disposal (the clothes are cheap so they don’t last and are easy to toss aside for something new.) Slow fashion wants to transform rampant consumption of disposable fashion by emphasizing local origins and creative approaches to style.
Bethke changed her mind about buying inexpensive, disposable clothing after reading “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” a book by Elizabeth L. Cline. In it, Cline outlines her former addiction to buying fast fashion from Target, H + M and other high volume-low price clothing stores, as well as the genuine prices—both emotional and financially—we pay for inexpensive, imported clothes.
According to Cline, Americans buy 20 billion garments a year. That breaks down to 68 pieces of clothing and seven pairs of shoes per person or every person in the U.S. buying more than one clothing item a week.
“Fast fashion is ultimately a waste of money,” said Chicago-based fashion designer Maria Pinto. “Owning things that are beautiful, made from exceptional materials and with fine workmanship, maintains the integrity of having great style.” As for the approach that we shouldn’t repeat outfits, Pinto said, “I would rather see someone in an exquisite garment again and again than see her compromise every time.”
So how to move to slow fashion? “It’s like being a detective,” said Bethke, “finding the right people who make the right clothes.” There are a number of ways to ease into your transition.
First, try to buy American made clothing. According to Julie Reiser, the president of Made in USA Certified, the company behind the tags you find in clothes certifying that they were made in this country, small businesses are responsible for two out of three jobs created in the U.S.
Also, you can research brands, pinpoint which ones are made in the U.S., and then find them either in nearby stores or on the internet. Other American-made brands include Spanx, Jack Rogers sandals, New Balance sneakers, Pendleton wools and American Apparel casual wear.
Buy locally. The best route is often through small boutiques. The owners tend to have close relationships with the designers of the clothes they sell.
Local design schools are a font of information about current students and graduates who are making clothes nearby. Another source for locally made clothes is the online boutique Etsy, where you can browse by putting your location in the search engine.
Buy vintage. Many vintage clothes sport better craftsmanship and higher quality materials—that’s why they are still around when so many recent fast fashions have been consigned to the rag pile. Even wedding or cocktail dresses can be secured this way. “So many brides now want an unique look and we can offer that through our vintage gowns,” said Liz Miller, owner of Silver Moon, a Chicago store that specializes in wedding gowns and cocktail dresses. With her staff of three seamstresses, Miller can customize a dress for someone wanting a one-of-a-kind look.
Vintage means well-preserved, curated clothes. Thrift stores offer everything that’s been donated, so you have to slog through them to find some gems.
“I love thrifting,” said Bethke, “it’s the slowest form of fashion. If you play your cards right, you find things that no one else would ever have.” When Bethke’s year of slow fashion is up, she said she won’t be changing her fashion choices, just renaming her website to Slow Your Style. As she is proving, those can be words to live—and dress—by.