James Perse fleece hooded dress | Purchased in January 2016
Golden Goose hi-star sneakers | secondhand at The Real Real (they sell out super fast)
Yesterday it was mid 70’s out here and I wore “the dress I wear twice a year” to run errands and meet a friend for lunch. This is one of my all-time favorite dresses, but it is really comfortable only when it is in the 60’s or 70’s out and sunny; it’s a fairly heavyweight fleece with a long slit up the back, so warm, but with air conditioning LOL.
Which also got me thinking more about the discussion over “plastic” (polyester, nylon, etc.) in our clothing and the argument that it makes items more durable over time (in response to my assertion that Everlane did not NEED to add so much nylon to their new chunky cotton sweater). As much as I try to avoid synthetics in my clothing now, I haven’t always, and if I look back at some of my oldest and longest lasting pieces, indeed they are my James Perse dresses and leggings in which the fabrics are cotton blended with a very small percentage of some sort of synthetic to provide stretch – usually lycra spandex.
I have JP dresses that are older than this one and they still look good as new and hold up extremely well to washing and wearing a lot. I did have a 100% cotton JP dress that was fitted and developed a small hole on the side where it should have been able to stretch a little, but couldn’t because of the 100% cotton.
Now, I don’t just buy clothing with synthetics mindlessly – I take into account the actual item, how much it will need to be laundered, whether I think the synthetic is warranted/necessary, and how long I expect it to last. More often than not, I choose 100% natural fabrics over anything synthetic now; I prefer how they feel. It will be interesting for me to go back in 5-10 years and see how many of my “newer” items have held up over time without any synthetics at all.
Items with synthetics won’t biodegrade when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan. Everytime they’re washed they release microplastics into the water supply. And depending on the type of synthetic, the fabric can bunch out, stretch too much over time, and ultimately in my experience, render the garment unwearable (super-stretchy jeans anyone??), so not durable at all to a certain extent.
Obviously we should all use our judgement, preferences, and experience to determine what to buy, synthetic or not. James Perse items, mostly dresses, are incredible investments for me because I wear them over and over again for 5-10 years or more. I sell JP items I’m finished with, and wear at home or use others as rags that are too stained to sell. I’ve never once had to “discard” an item of clothing.
Anyway, food for thought. If you look at some of your longest wearing/longest lasting items of clothing, do they contain synthetics? Or are they natural fabrics?
Thank you for this as well as the last post (+ the reader comments). I am not as informed as I should be on this topic so this was eye opening. It also makes me feel a bit better about my grandma dressing ways! I gravitate toward natural fabrics now with sustainable dyeing. I rarely buy anything tailored now. The lack of stretch really becomes a non-issue when wearing loose fitting or oversized pieces.
Very informative, thank you.
I do think it is a good point to also wear the items we already have but then you mention the washing issue. I wonder which is worse. I suspect disposing of items that don’t biodegrade but could still be used may be worse. There is also the financial aspect – it can cost thousands to build a new wardrobe from scratch of sustainable pieces.
That’s a really interesting question. I think my longest held/most worn items are a mix of all cotton, cashmere, denim blends, and a synthetic blend or two. My Paige and AG jeans have been favorites that I’ve worn for years, until threadbare, and then recycled into rags. I’ve got a couple of Vince and J Crew cashmere sweaters that are longtime faves. But I’m not sure what I’ll do with them when they’re too much the worse for wear. Probably donate them to our church rummage sale. And I still wear my Eileen Fisher slouchy black pants that I bought around the same time you bought your first pair – not too bad, huh? And do you remember the Splendid thermal that was really draped and loose (Circle?) – I have had a navy one that is past its shelf life, but it’s so comfy that I sleep in it!
I have a strong preference for all-cotton T-shirts, all-wool sweaters. I dislike blends first for the feel and second because they wear out faster. However, in leggings and sports bras I want stretch. I’m curious about whether really good athletic wear can be made without synthetics, but so far I’ve found that to prioritize comfort I end up with nylon/spandex leggings.
OT, I saw this response to the article you posted a couple of weeks ago about sunscreen, and found it interesting: https://www.teawithmd.com/2019/01/no-sunscreen-is-not-the-new-margarine/
Grechen Reiter says
yes, me too – re blends. i prefer the feel of cotton/linen/cashmere, etc., without added nylon
i can’t imagine good workout wear without synthetics. imo the best option is leggings made with recycled polyester – girlfriend collective for one – I have had two pairs of those and find they hold up to weekly wear and washing very well. beyond yoga does recycled polyester too. and those types of items should last a VERY long time. i still wear alo leggings that are five years old. no, they don’t look that great anymore, but they serve the purpose and i’m happy to keep wearing them.
thanks for the follow-up on the sunscreen article.
Grechen Reiter says
yes, i remember that splendid top!! i think i gave mine to my sister at some point. i do still have the thermal cardigan and a thermal crew neck tee that i still wear.
Grechen Reiter says
ultimately, i always think it’s best to wear and enjoy what you already have. i’m going to post tomorrow an article about microplastics, and it’s way more complicated than just our clothing – the number one contributor of microplastic waste in the ocean is tires wearing off on the roadways as we drive. and it’s really not clear how MUCH microplastic leaks into the waterways via washing our clothes.
theoretically we should be able to prevent some of that microplastic from being released by using the guppyfriend mesh washing bag, which is specifically designed to catch those microplastic bits, and i use that to wash my synthetics, but so far I haven’t noticed that it’s collecting much of anything. it’s supposed to take some time to build up though, and you might not see the waste at all.
Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 says
I am guilty of still buying blends, and am trying to learn more about microplastics. I’m really trying to track what I’m wearing now that I’m done having kiddos, and reduce my consumption, but coming from a place not THAT many years ago of BUY ALL THE THINGS, it’s not a straight-line journey by any stretch (Lycra or otherwise).
After babies, I fell in love with the fit and flatter of stretchy jeans. But they look like crap after less than a year, slide down over my bum, and tear easily. I won’t buy them again and am inclined to donate what I have (most aren’t good enough to resell). And they were far more expensive than the Gap straight and perfect boot jeans that are over a decade old, and very nearly all cotton denim (the thin stuff that predated stretchy jeans but came after thick denim – early-to-mid-2000s).
My blended tops pill terribly, even when I air dry. I hate that. And they are those little plasticky balls. Yuck.
One of these days I’m going to arrange childcare for a Saturday and Kondo my entire closet, but with the added step of separating first by all-natural and blend vs all-synthetic. I’d really like to see if I have a workable wardrobe of things I truly love that are all natural, and then add back in only the blend and synthetic items I really love. Sometimes it makes sense – I have some technical pants from REI that are great for hiking, and I’m happy enough with my Target leggings for working out (but would like to try Pact when it’s time to replace them). I’m find with my poly raincoat(s) for now and poly filling in my down coat I’m still wearing from Lands End circa 2013.
But I do want to be mindful about it, and I’m finding, without fail, that I regret most of my synthetic purchases sooner rather than later, which makes them bad value, no matter how inexpensive or cute to begin with (to say nothing of the adverse environmental impact).
What a great response from the Dr! She brought up one of my problems with the Outside article, in that people don’t apply an adequate amount of sunscreen. I intend to be safe and continue using sunscreen and taking my D3.