A couple of years ago, I knew a woman who always wore the most remarkable business dresses, pencil skirts, and blazers every day to the office. Crisp lines and gold zipper accents adorned nearly all of her garments that I admired. Every time I noticed a garment that stood out to me and mentioned to her how much I loved it, she always told me it was a Calvin Klein piece. What’s more, she would tell me she got them on a great sale at Macy’s, so I planned to go in and see what I could find for myself.
My pastime then was to spend my Saturdays perusing the mall, window-shopping for plenty of items I felt I couldn’t live without but didn’t actually need at all. Shoes, inexpensive jewelry, and purses, and clothes on the sales rack were my personal favorites. Many times I wandered into Macy’s to their business-wear and dresses departments to see what I could find on their sale racks. Nearly every time I discovered a Calvin Klein blazer, skirt, or dress that I couldn’t live without, but then again, my wallet definitely could, despite the slashed price. So every time I left discouraged at my lack of any remote financial freedom to afford the items I desperately, yet irrationally, wanted to come home with.
During all of these mall trips, I would always pop into my favorite on-a-budget shoe store where I could always count on finding more items I definitely didn’t actually need. I had shopped at Payless since I was a kid, since it was always really cheaply priced for my family. Lucky for me, it carries brands that have shoes in wide sizes, so not only could I find cheap shoes, but ones that actually fit, as those were hard to find.
One of my favorite designers is Christian Siriano. After his success as the youngest winner on Project Runway at the time, apprenticing in Paris and launching his fashion line, he made the decision to partner with Payless to produce a cheap accessories line. He was also one of the first designers I discovered when I was beginning my exploration of my love for fashion design, and he’s cemented his status as my favorite with his inclusivity of ranging body types on the runway in the fashion industry.
When he started selling at Payless, I fell in love with his designs, particularly his purses. I was completely obsessed with them. Every time he released a new collection, I would buy one until I worked up to owning four (and eventually a fifth one was gifted to me by a friend), and I still couldn’t get enough. Purses are apparently a very easy accessory for me to justify buying. When it comes to shoes and jewelry, I’m much more particular with my tastes, but I would buy purses all day long if I could.
One trip to Payless yielded heartbreak as I came across a Siriano purse that at that point I couldn't justify spending the $50 on. It was a simple, yet beautiful white, cream, and black shoulder bag with a gold embossed plate with Siriano’s emblem. The design hearkened me back to when I worked at Nordstrom and fell in love with a Kate Spade purse of the same exact color scheme that I couldn’t afford at the time either. Even at $50, I still couldn’t justify this Siriano purse. I made trips to come back and admire the purse I so desperately wanted, waiting for it to go on sale. But eventually I waited too long, missed any sales, and missed my chance at getting it for myself.
Now, just a few years later, my days of wandering the mall shopping for shoes, purses, and clothes are behind me. I have become increasingly aware of the detrimental impact of the fashion industry on our planet. Did you know it takes 720 gallons of water to produce enough pesticide-ridden cotton for just one t-shirt? Did you also know that same t-shirt bought at Target, Forever 21, or H&M is only meant to last a few washes before it starts to fall apart and end up in the ever-piling-up landfills in poorer countries? The more I learned, the more I realized that I can live just fine without having to buy into the newest fad of “fast fashion”.
When I made the decision to stop buying new clothes altogether to make a difference for my part, I started attending large clothing swaps in the area.
When I started my journey of sustainability, I never would have thought it would be as rewarding as it has been.
Some of my personal favorites were the ones put together by none other than Modify Style. At one particular clothing swap, as I was searching through a pile of clothes on the table labeled “Dresses,” and pulled at a cream colored dress only to discover it was half black as well. Intrigued, I looked it over but was skeptical if it would fit me properly. I walked over to a mirror to slip the dress over my t-shirt and leggings (Pro-tip: wear tight clothing at swaps, as dressing rooms aren’t readily available!). As I looked at the tag, I was delighted to discover it was a Calvin Klein dress! As I slipped it on, I couldn’t believe that it even fit me well, too. I was in love with black and cream combination, as I’d been obsessed with that color combination ever since I really wanted that Kate Spade purse years prior. I was so incredibly excited to wash it and wear it to work as soon as I could.
When I walked over to the shoes section, a pair of plum-colored suede shoes caught my eye. Again I was skeptical, since it’s rare that I find shoes that fit my wide feet, but my skepticism was unwarranted since they fit me moderately well. They were definitely worn down inside, but I figured that was an easy fix. When I got them home, I fixed them up inside with moleskin and heel inserts from the local, woman-owned company Heel the Sole, and they finally fit perfectly.
Eventually, I made one of my fairly routine trips to Goodwill to see what unique finds I might come across. During this trip, I decided on a whim to check out the purse section, since I don’t frequent that area all that often, and I was utterly shocked to find the exact Christian Siriano purse that I desperately wanted years ago at Payless. It had a couple scuffs, but otherwise it was in nearly perfect condition. What’s more, the price was a whopping $8.99! I was planning on spending $50 brand-new on it, and my patience paid off.
Little did I realize, the purse matched my Calvin Klein dress perfectly, so it’s my go-to accessory whenever I wear it. I also love pairing the suede plum shoes with the dress since it’s monochromatic, and the shoes add a pop of color. To accentuate my waist, I pair the dress with a gold metal belt that I bought years ago during my time working at Nordstrom. It is such a statement piece that complements the dress and my figure really well.
When I started my journey of sustainability, I never would have thought it would be as rewarding as it has been. If you would have told me a few years ago that I would give up buying new clothes and accessories yet still be able to wear name brands and look as posh and professional as that woman I so admired in Calvin Klein, all while making a difference on the environment, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Nevertheless, I’m so thankful that I’ve experienced these delightful rewards on this journey, and I’m excited to see what else I might discover in my thrifting adventures. Even more, I’m so happy to be able to share these experiences and delights with you.
Elizabeth Doran is a fashion student, freelancer, and entrepreneur obsessed with sharing her passion for fashion and sustainability in every area of her life.