By Madeline Papcun
As a college student working an internship from home during the weekdays and waitressing in a local restaurant on the weekends, I’m pretty busy this summer. However, on my rare days off, I’m often home alone with nothing to do. My parents are at work, my sister is away at school still, thus leaving me home alone with our pets. Two dogs and two cats are great to sit around with but they aren’t great conversationalists, so it can get a little lonely in the house.
In an attempt to keep myself busy this week, I was rummaging through our attic, hunting for an old dance costume. In doing so I stumbled upon a pair of jeans that looked like they were my size. When I tried them on they fit perfectly, like a match made in heaven, so I asked my mom if I could have them, knowing they used to be hers.
She said sure, remarking that they were probably from the 90s and if I looked hard enough I would find a whole bag of pants in that size that I could have. Thus, I made it my mission to do so, and ended up gaining six pairs of pants. And talk about perfect timing, as I was just dreading my next trip to the mall to replace some jeans I had ripped at work.
But honestly, seeing my mom’s face when she saw me in the jeans she used to wear stuck with me, not sitting right. And since, I’ve been thinking about sustainable fashion and making your closet work for you.
If I think about the nuances of these pants still being in my family’s attic, it’s a little sad. I know my mom probably held onto them due to diet-culture-fueled dreams of one day fitting back into them, coupled with the lingering effects of growing up wearing hand-me-downs — the fear of getting rid of something that you might need one day is pervasive.
And yes, I benefited from these because my wardrobe got a significant refresher. Plus, they were free to me, and I get to give a new life to clothing pieces that likely would have ended up in a landfill eventually. (In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that the recycling rate for all textiles was only 14.7% in 2018, with landfills receiving 11.3 million tons of textile waste in 2018 as well.)
But despite these positives, it’s really hard to watch your mom, the strongest woman you know, be upset that she never did fit back into those jeans, having forgotten about them in the attic for the past 20 years as life got in the way.
I don’t want to see my mom upset over a pair of jeans, but more importantly I don’t want a pair of jeans to be capable of upsetting my mom. And that is why, while there has been greater strides toward body positivity and realistic beauty standards over recent years, we still have a long way to go.
But on the individual level, we should work to make our closets work for us, especially if we have the means to do so. First, this requires a mindset switch. It should not be a matter of making sure that you fit into your clothes, but rather a matter of making sure your clothes fit you — and that they make you feel good in them!
Additionally, this requires doing the opposite of what my mom did — don’t keep clothes that don’t fit you. Don’t let a piece of fabric taunt you. Yes, clothing waste is a huge problem during the ongoing climate crisis, but mental health and body image are also important. Donate clothes if they don’t fit, give them to a friend they will fit, or alter them so that you can actually utilize them in your wardrobe. Holding onto a pair of jeans as an unrealistic expectation for yourself is not healthy.
Moreover, if you have the means, invest in quality fashion pieces that are going to last a long time. Fast fashion is unfortunately accessible, in that many consumers can’t afford expensive upfront costs of sustainable clothing. This cuts down on repeatedly buying low quality clothing that is constantly thrown out and replaced. If you are able to help break this cycle, do so. And if you additionally have the means, support brands that pay their textile workers a living wage with proper working conditions.
A closet that works for you is functional in the long run and makes you feel good in your skin. In general, manage your closet, don’t let your closet manage you.
Madeline Papcun is entering her junior year at the University of Connecticut, where she is studying journalism and human development and family science. She is an intern this summer in the Record-Journal editorial department.