Shopping for "Green Fashion" Advice

Shopping for “green fashion” can challenge even an expert in textiles and clothing, as University of Maryland American studies professor Jo Paoletti is discovering this holiday season. She’s accepted an unusual shopping mission for her recently-married daughter: find a stylish, environmentally-friendly, dressy outfit suitable for holiday parties.

“I’ve started reading clothing tags the same way I read food labels,” says Paoletti, who has studied fashion for more than 25 years. “Reading a garment label is not so simple anymore. You almost need to bring a dictionary or an Internet connection because there are all sorts of new, unfamiliar names and fibers on the market designed to appeal to environmentally-conscious shoppers. Eventually, we’ll have to learn about them the way we’ve learned about Trans Fats.”

Paoletti has offered to buy the new clothes because her daughter’s t-shirts, jeans and hoodies won’t cut it for upcoming holiday events. She also accepted her daughter’s “green” requirement as an experiment in sustainable style.

“She composts her kitchen trash, uses a push mower and buys local produce,” Paoletti says. “Her like-minded husband is a newly-minted government attorney. They had a pared-down wedding and as green a reception as we could manage. She's not about to head to the mall to get a trendy ‘seasonal’ outfit.”

Part of the challenge is to find clothes made from renewable resources rather than petroleum-based synthetics, Paoletti says. Some manufacturers are offering an array of new fibers made from things like corn, soybeans and bamboo, and marketing them as part of a more sustainable lifestyle.

Paoletti’s daughter also requested recycled, reused or repurposed clothing and items that can have multiple uses. Also, the clothes had to be comfortable and stylish.

“I’ve searched the Internet and catalogs, looked in thrift shops and even gone to sporting goods stores in search of bamboo,” Paoletti says. “My daughter will be ready for her holiday parties, but it’s definitely not easy shopping green.”

Paoletti predicts this kind of shopping will become more common in the future as a result of climate change. Some of these new fabrics will become more widespread, and older, more traditional fibers may regain some lost popularity.

Climate change concerns could also affect the frequency of buying new clothes and the size of wardrobes. We might also see fewer fashion cycles. “In effect, that’s what happened this year,” Paoletti says. “With a warm fall, winter fashions didn’t sell at a brisk pace, and retailers are trying to move them right now.”

To keep warm in the winter, some old trends also may regain popularity. For example, Paoletti says a hundred years ago, people mainly added under-garments for warmth in winter. “Women wore the same dresses all year-round, but their underwear got warmer or cooler depending on the seasons,” she adds. “This required a smaller wardrobe and simplified laundering. I’m not saying petticoats are coming back, but climate change may force us to rethink how we dress.”

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