I’ve purchased, received, and reviewed a lot of sustainable and fair trade clothing over the nearly 7 years (!) StyleWise has been running. Since I don’t photograph everything I wear, I assume that readers have little idea about what I actually get a lot of use out of versus what I wear only sparingly.
And, while daily outfit photos would be one way to expose the versatility of certain items, my life right now does not facilitate that level of dedication (but props to all my blogger pals who are currently embarking on daily outfit post features!).
Instead, I thought I’d simply let you know which ethical and sustainable pieces have become workhorses in my closet. I would describe my style as casual-classic, with a touch of the eccentric and an eye toward vintage silhouettes. Over the years, I’ve streamlined things so that most of what I own can be worn together, or at least fit cohesively within a multi-season, capsule-type wardrobe. This means that I aim for only a couple silhouettes: a fitted top with blousy bottoms – like a skirt or wide leg pants – or a fitted top with straight leg pants.
Over the years, proper fit, textile and sewing quality, and attention to detail have started to matter much more to me than trendy features, and I continue to work on putting blinders on when it comes to styles that either don’t suit my lifestyle or won’t flatter my body.
If you’re try to hone in on your personal style, I would suggest you consider the same things:
- Silhouettes you’re comfortable in
- What your lifestyle allows
- What flatters your body type and makes you feel good
- Colors and patterns you like, and how they fit together in a condensed wardrobe
- Materials, textile quality, sewing work
- Details that make you happy
The items below are things with very lost cost-per-wear, with many of them getting airtime more than once per week. This post contains affiliate links.
Ethical Fashion Workhorses | The Must-Haves in My Closet
1 | Everlane Cigarette Jeans
When I bought these last year, I wasn’t quite sold on the button fly (and honestly, I’d still like to see a pair with a zipper). But they quickly became my very favorite jeans. I have a tough time with jeans because I’m short-waisted, which means I have a very high rise (over 12”), have long legs, but am hippy with a proportionately smaller waist. I also have wider knees, so Everlane’s skinny jean styles felt constricting.
These aren’t a perfect proportional fit – they’re still a bit wide around the waist – but the stretch denim allows them to conform more neatly against my body and the width in the legs is perfect for me. I wore these almost every day in the winter and early spring and still pull them out once or twice a week (I’ve worn them three times this week since we got a cold front).
2 | Everlane Crew-Neck
I have this tee in three colors and they’re part of my weekly rotation. I love them all year round, because they work well under sweaters, but also pair perfectly with my thrifted patterned skirts and the slim fit works with my thrifted culottes. For my shape, these are perfect in a size medium, and they’re high neck without feeling constricting or overly “masculine.” (I know that language is sort of fraught, but you know what I mean.)
SHOP THE EVERLANE CREWNECK HERE
3 | Everlane Day Glove
I wore the Day Glove in Rose almost every day in those not quite warm transitional days of spring. I bought them in Black so I’d have a more professional pair to wear with business-y outfits and for my spring choir concert.
These are perfect now, but they were hard (for me) to wear in. I have really sensitive heels and the back stitching literally made me bleed. I also ended up needing to go up from my usual size, to a size 8, to accommodate my arches. I added moleskin to the back of both pairs and now they’re some of the most comfortable shoes I own.
SHOP THE EVERLANE DAY GLOVE HERE
4 | Melissa x Jason Wu Sandals
I bought these a few years ago when Bead & Reel was still a store, on clearance for $60, which still seemed like a lot of money. But the flexible molded sandal with adjustable ties is incredibly comfortable and surprisingly cushy. I can wear them all day at work without any pain. The one exception was walking around in NYC, where my feet got so grimy they started slipping and rubbing.
I wear these sandals with everything, even when they don’t really match, and I don’t have to worry about damaging them if they get wet, which makes them perfect for summer. (This style is no longer available so I linked to other versions)
5 | JOYN Vegan Leather Crossbody Bag
While this style does not appear to be available any longer, I cannot recommend JOYN enough. I worked with my friend’s sister, who worked for JOYN at the time, on a review a couple years ago and she ended up sending me several bags and pouches, which I passed on to some friends. Every single one of us still regularly uses our JOYN bag as our main bag (we’re all in church choir together, too, so we love spotting our “matching” bags at practices).
I love the size of this bag because I can fit quite a bit in it, and it has ample storage compartments so nothing gets lost.
6 | Pyne & Smith Clothiers Linen Dresses
These are keepsakes for me, the kind of high quality classics I actually need to remind myself to wear because I always feel like they’re too nice. But they are wonderful for summer days in Virginia because they are an appropriate style for work, but the linen is breathable and comfortable.
And even though they seem relatively simple, frumpy even, I get endless compliments every time I wear them.
7 | PACT Apparel Soft Cup Bralette
Without going into too much detail about breast shape, I’ll just say that many “traditional” underwire bras and even bralettes are not cut well for me. Too much coverage in some places and not enough in others. I’m also a not-quite-B cup, so sizing can be off.
I have grown to LOVE the PACT Soft Cup Bralette because it offers great coverage and you can get it in a few different skin tones so it works well under lighter-colored or sheer clothing. Unlike a lot of bralette styles, it also comes with thin foam pads for a bit more coverage, which I prefer. The organic cotton is breathable and more odor-resistant than nylon and other synthetic fabrics often used for bras.
8 | Everlane Cotton Underwear
I have literally replaced all my underwear with Everlane thongs. I can’t wear most bikini or boy short styles because my proportions always force a wedgie, so thongs are much more comfortable, and these are the most comfortable of them all, made with pima cotton and very soft elastic seams.
Don’t Forget To Thrift!
If these pieces seem a little basic, that’s because I find most of my quirky and accent pieces at thrift shops and online (mostly on ebay). It can be difficult to source high quality, non-damaged, well fitting basics on the secondhand market, which is why I go the new-but-ethical route.
But skirts, dresses, cardigans, fun pants, and shoes are often very accessible on the secondhand market. And if you like a particular conventional brand, there’s no guilt in buying it secondhand.
Places to Shop Secondhand
- Local thrift and consignment (in Charlottesville, my top picks are Darling Boutique and Schoolhouse Thrift Shop)
- Etsy (for vintage)
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.