5 Ways to Green Your Fall Clothes Shopping

Update your cold-weather wardrobe without spending a lot of cash.


Project Runway is back, Fashion Week is coming up, the weather is getting cooler, a documentary about the September issue of Vogue is in theaters, and there is an abundance of back-to school sales. All of these factors are conspiring against you to spend money, and lots of it, on clothing before the leaves even begin to turn. But the annual fall shopping spree is beginning to look as dated as an Ed Hardy t-shirt. Even the September Issue, filmed in more lucrative times, looks gauche to many critics (this year's September issue was 300 pages smaller than the 2007 issue featured in the film). Here's how to update your look, save money, and be mindful of the environment.

0. Despite being the greenest way to outfit yourself this fall, this is non-shopping advice: Consider not buying anything at all. For inspiration, look to Michelle Conlin, wife of Colin Beavan, a.k.a No Impact Man, in the upcoming movie of that name. If Prada and Marc Jacobs-wearing, commerce-obsessed Conlin can do it for a year, you can make it through one season. Here's how to get through it with a fresh look: Spend some time digging through your closet to pull out little-worn items that have gotten lost in the clutter, and vow to wear them more often. Play an adult game of dress-up with your own clothing, putting together combinations that you hadn't yet considered, to make an all-new outfit out of old stuff. Or, you could get a book from the library about how to transform old clothing into unique, new stuff, often without sewing.

1. Fashion is cyclical, and that means that hand-me-downs are back in style.  Root around in your parents' and grandparents' closets and attics for accessories and clothing that are so old, they're new again. Read this for inspiration, and then make a beeline for the dusty bag of 80's clothing in your mom's closet to get that bought-in-a-thrift-shop look for free. If you don't have access to your family's loot, see what your friends have to offer—and if you, in return, have anything you can give to them. Host a clothing swap party with wine and cheese and a big pile o' castoffs from every guest that anyone can pick through. Donate what's left over. For more tips on organizing a swap party, check out this guide.

2. Hunt for treasures in consignment stores, thrift stores, garage sales and the Salvation Army, where, with a little time and effort, you can find pre-worn clothing for major bargains. You may not even need to look that hard. The New York Times reported that some Goodwill stores are becoming known as designer outlets, where volunteers pull out the major label clothing and highlight prize finds. Other good places to look: the slightly more upscale chains Plato's Closet and Buffalo Exchange.

3. De-cluttering advice from professional organizers: for every piece of clothing you purchase or accept, give one away. To figure out what to give away, use an old trick. Put all of your clothing on hangers that are facing in the same direction. Whenever you wear an item, put it back in your closet with the hanger facing the other direction. After a few months, take inventory of the clothing still hung facing in the original direction. Chances are, this is the clothing you wear the least, and would miss the least if it were donated.

4. Shopping online is better for the environment, according to this study from Carnegie Mellon University, which found that shopping from the comfort of your couch can cut out 35 percent of the CO2 produced by an average trip to the mall. Online shopping is also where anyone looking for specialty green clothing—all-organic lines, clothing made from recycled material, or handmade wares—will have a greater abundance of choice than in your typical mall or shopping district. Learn more about eco-friendly clothing designers on blogs like EcoSalon, Ecofabulous, or Eco Fashion World. They won't look like the green fashions that actress Julia Stiles lampoons in this video—promise. Another good resource: Ecobunga, an aggregator for green giveaways and discounts.

5. Resist fast fashion. Stores that cycle quickly through trends with poorly-made clothing can be pretty wasteful, when you consider the manufacturing and shipping effects of a shirt that will be worn maybe four times before it's no longer stylish. If you buy classic clothing that is slightly more expensive, but well-made, it will last for seasons to come. Or, if that's out of your price range, buy the H&M knockoff blouse or skirt, but treat it as if it is the real thing—hand wash it with delicates to keep the cheaper fabric from coming apart, and you won't have to replace clothing as frequently.