Sustainable fashion, one could argue, is having something of a moment in the spotlight.
As we emerge from lockdown onto newly re-opened high streets, the conversation about how we spend has never been louder. But there’s one critical element that’s been causing controversy – the affordability of sustainability.
With those queueing outside Primark being demonised in many quarters, chatter has, at times, taken on an element of classism. It’s all very well telling people not to buy fast fashion, but what if it’s all you can afford?
Well, there is another way, argues Becky Leeson, a fashion confidante who helps women style their existing clothes, while running a side business renting out her own enviable wardrobe. Gathered over years working as a buyer and creative director for brands including Topshop, ASOS and Atterley, Becky’s rental wardrobe is packed with gems of both the new and vintage variety. Nowadays though, her passion is not in telling us how to shop, but in showing us how often it’s not necessary at all.
“You’ve spent time and money curating the wardrobe you have already,” she explains, “but you have to take the time to understand and connect with what is in it to know what you have to work with. I promise, it makes it so much easier to navigate your options, and to get dressed in pieces you actually want to wear.”
Here, Becky outlines her top tips to help us shop our own wardrobes and leave the house in style, without spending our precious cash. What could be more sustainable than that?
Mix and match what you have
“It’s all about giving an outfit a go,” Becky explains. “Try it on, experiment, touch and feel, be inventive, curious and creative. You just never know what outfits you could discover, and no one is looking!
“Indulge in your own wardrobe. What pieces do you enjoy wearing and feel good in? What are the most multi-functional items that you can rewear and reinvent into new looks?
“Remember them. Take a picture of an outfit you enjoyed and keep it together in your wardrobe. Add coloured ribbon or some fabric to the hangers (my Mum taught me this), and you can easily find an outfit by colour coding when you’re in a rush. It’s a great way to celebrate your best pieces, work with them, enjoy them and give them life.”
Adapt your clothes to make them work for you now
“We are a world of consumers and this has to change,” Becky admits. “We don’t have to keep buying more, we can personalise what we have or update it easily through our own craft and DIY ideas.
“People are becoming more confident to try this out, seeing it as another way to shop and wear what they already have, and adapting what you already own is so beneficial in the way you can shape the new way to dress and consume.
“If something is torn or damaged, fix it. It doesn’t have to be perfect – swap out the buttons when you replace a missing one, repair a zip, shorten or let down a hem, change the sleeve length, take something in, let something out, the options are endless. If something has faded, dying it back to a strong colour will give it a new lease of life. You could even reimagine a garment – cut it up, make a hair bow, reuse a collar, make a headscarf or a handkerchief!
“Be honest with yourself though. You may have good intentions to get something altered or fixed but don’t put yourself under pressure. Work with a timescale and if it’s not met, move on.”
Buy pieces that will stand the test of time
The first thing to ask yourself when shopping, says Becky, is “why does something catch your eye? It might be that it looks similar to, or does the same job, as something you already own.
“Follow your instincts. Explore and understand how things fit into your wardrobe and your lifestyle and focus on pieces that will work hard for you rather than those that follow trends. If you do have to shop, look for quality, fit, function and adaptability and go with your own style.
“A test of time piece doesn’t have to be beige. It can be an incredible item that may only get worn once a year or even less than that but, crucially, is not dateable. You know that you can confidently reach for it when the occasion presents itself.”
Opt for second-hand or vintage
“Firstly, think about where you shop – items don’t have to be brand new to be new to you,” Becky explains. “Second-hand stores can be daunting if you’re not used to that retail space, and it can be easy at first to walk in and walk straight back out. But take time to browse, try not to feel overwhelmed and wear something that you can easily slip clothes over as fitting room space is often limited.
“Think about what you are looking for before you go out and be open to the element of surprise, you never know what you might find. Don’t dismiss things on first sight either – you can amend, alter or customise lots of things to make them work perfectly for you.
“You really can find pieces that have a history, a story, and when you find something special, a one-off, it’s a wonderful feeling as though it was made for you.”
“Renting offers you the ability to experiment and try without making an unnecessary or mistake purchase,” Becky says. “It’s also an opportunity to see if something missing from your existing wardrobe could be a connecting piece for you and bring alive other pieces.
“You can rent for the everyday, an interview, a weekend away, it doesn’t have to just be for a special occasion. I rent my own personal wardrobe and renters have said, ‘It’s more of a buzz when the clothes don’t belong to you, you can wear something ‘new’ without the guilt of shopping.’
“It’s also worth considering whether you have items you could rent out yourself – we can’t wear everything we have all of the time. Seeing someone else in something you own is inspiring and gives you new ideas of how you could style it. It makes me like the piece I own more!”
Learn the stylish power of confidence
“Getting dressed is part of our daily routine and plays a role in our self-care and wellness. What you wear has a huge impact on how you feel and can affect your mood and your confidence,” says Becky.
“The secret is to buy what you love, what suits you and what you always have a reason to wear. Owning your own style, dressing for your lifestyle and the spaces you spend your time in will go a long way to helping you feel like your best self.”
Clear out the clutter
“We all have so much in our wardrobes, but sometimes it can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff,” warns Becky. “It can seem that the more we have, the better we feel, so our clothes can act as a safety blanket. But our wardrobes can offer freedom and clear thinking if everything in them has a part to play.
“Take a look over your wardrobe and be honest with yourself: is it balanced, and does it offer what you want it to?
“If it doesn’t, consider a clear out. You don’t have to tackle it all at the same time – it’s emotional and requires patience and thought. Be strong, remove pieces you know you won’t wear again and, if you need time to accept the ties you have to some of your pieces, group them together to review a little later. Remind yourself why you put them aside to start with and remember that clearing out the old can actually be incredibly freeing.”
Ditch what you’ve been told about a capsule wardrobe
We’re often told that an ideal capsule wardrobe should feature the same specific items – but not all will work for everybody, warns Becky. The key lies in not being too prescriptive.
“I like to propose a top line view, suggested items that I feel fit with a particular person and what they need those pieces to offer them.
“For example, while a good knit is key, it could be a V-neck, a round-neck, a jumper or a cardigan. A good jacket could take the form of a blazer, a bomber, a leather jacket or all three if someone is a jacket person.
“Having key items you’ll wear time and again is great, but you don’t have to follow set rules – your capsule will depend on what suits you and how you feel wearing something.”
Swap, don’t shop
“Swapping is a joy and it’s a huge player in the new shopping space,” smiles Becky. “It creates community and an opportunity for others to wear something that was asleep in your own wardrobe.
“By letting something go, it gives you the space to welcome something in to refresh and reinvigorate. My friend swapped an argyle tank top with me and I have been cartwheeling every day since as it has brought so much life to so many pieces in my wardrobe. What do you have that you could swap?”
Be bold with accessories
“Accessories have an expressive energy. They offer accents and decoration to a simple outfit, or the kitchen sink to an outfit that can continue to accept more,” Becky explains. “A hair bow, a detachable collar, a headscarf – there are so many more accessories to look to now than shoes and a handbag, and they are items you can make yourself out of garments you have altered or amended.
“Earrings, chains, bracelets and brooches can also go a long way to create visual impact and allow us to express ourselves and ignite an outfit that is offering us comfort and ease.”
Becky Leeson is a fashion buyer and creative director turned wardrobe confidante, who works to help women rediscover or redefine their own unique style identity. She is also the owner of Becky’s Wardrobe, renting out her own clothes to customers in the Kent area.