Red leather and black satin find their home in Myriam’s closet in Miami, FL. Excitingly she reaches for a delicate black blazer and proudly holds up its label, which reads, "El Encanto, La Habana." With the warmth that only a grandmother can possess, she tells us how she bought this piece of outerwear in Havana, Cuba, as a young woman. "A classic black blazer is something you can always keep and cherish," shared Myriam. Cherish, she has; not only was this 50 + year old wardrobe staple in perfect condition, but the nostalgia of a pre-revolution Cuba was felt in its stitching.
This is not just Myriam's story but, in fact, a deeper dive into the thoughtfully curated closets of women who know the difference between overwhelming and abundant when it comes to their wardrobe. Consumers buy twice as much clothing as they did twenty years ago, and most of it ends up as clutter. Conscious closets are becoming rarer and rarer in the time of fast fashion, where clothing is disposable, and trends are a never-ending game of chase. As the sustainable fashion movement grows, so does the understanding that clothing has value and a thoughtful wardrobe transcends time.
Growing up in Argentina, I looked forward to when my grandmothers took turns picking me up from school during the week. Tuesdays meant pasta and cartoons with the occasional peek into Abuela Ana's treasure trove of costume jewelry and accessories. Wednesdays meant hot chocolate and figured skating on tv; Abuela Hilde's dresser displayed family photos, rings, glass perfume bottles, and her closet hung embroidered tops and sequined pants. One was a seamstress by trade, the other a housewife, yet no matter the difference in what they could afford to hang in their closets, they both had such a vibrant outlook on their clothes.
The same can be said about Daisy, lover of thrifting. "Not everything has to be expensive, I love to buy at thrift shops," she shares. As she moved around her home to show us her special vintage brooches, the chimes of her beaded, metallic necklaces heavily layered over her blouse followed. A common thought among all grandmothers we interviewed was their love for dressing up a basic outfit with accessories and the rush of a bargain find. In particular, Daisy proudly displayed her $4 thrift, casual blouse and posed with a vintage crown that was not so much for wearing but to remind us of her larger than life personality. Timeless doesn't mean boring, but for many young women, the fear of outfit repeating and keeping up with trends has made getting dressed an anxious task. Daisy's tip as she wraps herself in an orange, vintage Louis Vuitton scarf secured with a statement brooch, “… have fun, dress in confidence, and you will be the most fabulous person in the room.”
How do we get back the confidence in our clothes after shopping for ephemeral fashion? For Julieta, it's the value associated with the garment. She tells us, "our grandmothers shopped timeless and quality garments intending to last them their whole life." It’s true, our grandmothers don't understand what sustainable fashion is because fashion has always been sustainable to them. As she pulls out a few charms engraved with family members' names, a leopard scarf she gifted herself on a trip abroad, and the nightgown Julieta wore on her wedding night, you can tell they not only hold sentimental value, these clothes have been sincerely cared for throughout decades. Most notable is a peach camisole that will now be in the hands of a fourth generation. This dainty slip belonged to Julieta's mother and has over 150 years of life. It is still in impeccable condition. Even though this piece was still wearable, it has now become a tribute to the maternal bloodline in Julieta's family.
By reflecting on the habits of another generation, we can't help but think of what makes up our wardrobes. As someone who appreciates sustainability and minimalism, I still have a hard time simplifying my closet, but for Avis and Marta, it's a piece of cake. Avis guards the door to her sustainable wardrobe with a small lock and keeps a wine cellar above her closet door for easy reach. Marta has two small closets; one holds her entire capsule wardrobe, which comes out to be a total of about 40 hangers and seven handbags; the other houses her guilty pleasure - kaftans. It might be the age, but as someone in their late 20s, I can't help but respect the fact that these women know exactly what they want. Marta and Avis both understand what looks and feels good to wear; one loves contemporary, tropical pieces and retro rattan bags, the other a vibrant color palette and chiffon scarves to match, respectively. Today the choices for young women in an age of fast fashion are endless, yet it's up to us to know what will empower our personal style in the long run.
As shown by these women, nostalgia, fun, and value are the building blocks of a conscious closet. Shopping second-hand and taking care of what once was new to you are the cornerstones of sustainable fashion. Dressing like your grandmother is a practice of these elements and a reminder that sustainability used to be the norm. I think back to spending time with my grandmothers and wish I could get one last tour of their closets, maybe ask them a question or two about how they perceive sustainability, but it brings me comfort to know they've left something behind for me to value and remember them by. It's funny how the pieces in our wardrobe make some of the fondest keepsakes, but with that said, if we can't feel good about what we wear, what are we leaving behind?