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  • Jan Flynn

My Frivolous Method of Saving the Planet

Consignment shopping rocks

Nothing lifts my mood like having fun things to wear

Call me shallow. But sometimes life gets to me and I require distraction.

Hence, shopping.

When the world is too much with me (war in the Middle East! And Ukraine! Climate change! Voter suppression!) shopping has the power to do for me what yoga, meditation, and walking the dog cannot.

Perhaps clothes shopping puts me in touch with my inner child — in my case, a pudgy tyke with an overactive imagination who loved nothing more than playing dress-up.

Or maybe it’s some ancient hunter-gatherer impulse that is satisfied by sifting through wardrobe racks. And the rush of finding a treasure for a bargain? Existential angst doesn’t stand a chance against that.

Done in the right spirit, shopping is play. It’s absorbing without being serious. It’s like sport fishing, kind of, without getting wet or handling squiggly bait.

Frivolity doesn’t have to be wasteful

An inconvenient truth is that the fashion and textile industries are notorious polluters — RetailDrive.com notes that over 11 million tons of textile waste (a lot of which is presumably in the form of castoff clothing) gets sent to landfills every year in the U.S. alone.

So what is a conscientious clothes horse to do?

Shop secondhand! Resale. Consignment shopping, baby.

That way, you can happily waste an afternoon searching for Just The Thing while feeling good about it. Not only are you spiffing up your wardrobe, you’re lightening humanity’s load on Mother Earth.

If every consumer this year bought just one secondhand garment instead of a new one, it would lower CO2 emissions by more than 2 billion pounds, equal to taking 76 million cars off the road for a day, and save some 23 billion gallons of water and 4 billion kilowatt-hours of energy . . .

Those figures, it turns out, come from a report done by ThredUp.com, probably the largest online clothing consignment store out there. So they’ve got a dog in the resale fight, but it’s kind of common sense that keeping clothing in circulation and out of landfills as long as possible is a good thing.

By the way, ThredUp is a great way to while away time you should probably be doing something else. And you don’t have to leave the comfort of your couch.

For real shopping fun: brick-and-mortar resale shops

Most towns of any size have at least a couple of consignment shops. Here in my hometown — no hamlet, but hardly a megalopolis— there are at least a dozen such places where you can find quality secondhand clothing.

Consignment stores tend to be smallish, independently run, and cute. They’re so much more relaxing than enduring the sensory overload of a mall (god forbid) or wandering through an overpriced, understaffed department store.

And they’re far more worthwhile than those fast-fashion “factory” outlets that sell poorly made knockoffs of the real thing, garments that won’t even last a whole season before they end up in a landfill.

There is a catch, though

Even thrifting, as it’s called, needs to be done consciously. Luckily, you can accomplish that without taking the fun out of the whole thing by keeping two basic principles in mind:

  1. Don’t buy crap just because it’s kind of cute and also really cheap. That just ends up shoring up the evils of fast fashion. When thrifting, the idea is to look for quality merchandise — garments that are well-made and likely to last.

  2. Don’t be a thrift-store gentrifier. There’s nothing wrong with offsetting some cost of your clothes habit. Consigning your garments that are still perfectly wearable but that no longer, in the words of Marie Kondo, spark your joy, is a positive. But trolling Goodwill for stuff you can then turn around and sell at a profit? Unless you’re in the consignment biz, that’s not cool. It inflates prices and makes things harder for folks who depend on thrift stores.

If you want a deeper dive into how to shop resale and not be a jerk, I refer you to a thoughtful essay in NYU’s Mercer Street (“The Ethics of Thrifting” by Leah Filimore).

With that in mind, go have fun

Maybe resale shopping isn’t the answer to all the world’s problems, but it doesn’t hurt. For me, it’s a restorative pastime that has the added benefit of scoring cool clothes for which I’d probably never feel justified in paying full price.

Last night, my husband (who would rather have a root canal than shop for clothes under any conditions) and I went to a swanky restaurant for his birthday dinner.

Ours is a casual little city, but it does have a Mountain West-chic vibe. I felt pretty swanky myself in my skinny black polished-cotton jeans, slouchy cream, black and silver top, and a pair of cream leather, kitten-heel mules with puffs of faux fur on the toe boxes.

And every one of those items once perched in another woman’s closet.

Brownie points for both of us.

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