Marina Hays is the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Textile Conservation. She loves that her job lets her get up close and personal with the DAM’s fashion collection. (But no, she never tries on the clothes!)
Paris to Hollywood: The Fashion and Influence of Véronique and Gregory Peck (on view at the Denver Art Museum through July 18, 2021) showcases the wardrobe of Parisian writer, philanthropist, and fashion influencer Véronique Peck. The exhibition includes garments that range from everyday clothes to special-occasion gowns and that date from the 1950s to the 1990s. The care taken to preserve these clothes over a period of many decades is evidence of how much they were loved and valued.
Unfortunately, caring for clothes in this way has become the exception rather than the rule. With the rise of “fast fashion,” the price and quality of clothing have decreased dramatically. As a result, many people have come to see clothing as more or less disposable—something to be worn a few times, discarded, and quickly replaced. This shift in consumer habits has had a huge environmental impact. According to the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, and Environmental Protection Agency data records that nearly 12 million tons of textiles— the vast majority of them clothes—end up in American landfills each year.
While Véronique Peck had resources that most of us don’t have, we can still reduce the environmental impact of our fashion choices by adjusting how we shop and how we treat the clothes we have, helping them last longer.
Here are some steps you can take to shop smarter:
- Buy fewer clothes! According to Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed, the average American buys more than 60 pieces of new clothing on average per year, but a German study found that Americans wear only 28% of the things we own. Limit purchases to what you really need and really love.
- Choose quality over quantity. Buying less makes it possible to buy better quality items that will hold up longer.
- Shop at secondhand and vintage stores. This doesn’t just help keep clothes out of landfills—it’s also a way to find great bargains and unique items.
- When buying new, consider brands’ efforts to limit environmental impact, such as using fabrics made from organic fibers or recycled materials.
And here are some ways you can help keep clothes out of landfills:
- Take good care of garments. For example, machine wash and dry at lower temperatures (heat damages most fibers), and wash delicates by hand.
- Mend damaged items. Just because something is damaged doesn’t mean it should go in the trash—tears can be repaired and holes can be patched.
- Alter what no longer fits or inspires you. Clothes can be let in or taken out, and updated to fit changing fashions. Take them to an alterations professional, or give it a try yourself—the internet is full of great tutorials!
- Consider alternatives to the trash. Clothes in good, wearable condition can be donated to charity, and garments that are no longer wearable may be recycled.
For Véronique Peck, fashion was art, and clothes were a valuable tool for creative self-expression. If we try to look at our own wardrobes this way, we can lessen the impact our fashion choices have on the earth.