Change is afoot.

Change is afoot.

I mentioned last week that I’ve started a new job. One of the areas that this has caused me a little stress is in the wardrobe department. I don’t really own executive business-y clothes. Not enough to feed a full-time job, anyway. I’ve been lucky in the last few places that I’ve worked that I haven’t needed to dress up. In order to get this job, I had three interviews in four days and that really pushed my respectable outfit-wearing capacity to the limits.

The temptation with a new job is to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Well, it’s probably a temptation for many people, but not for me. I don’t want to spend my salary on new clothes I wear to go to the place I earn that same salary – what a waste. I’d rather spend it on necessities like food and bills, and save the rest towards a deposit for a place to live where I can grow my own food and install solar panels to save on bills. Then I won’t need to work! (Maybe I’m over-simplifying things a little…but I digress.)

About three years ago I began my transition to only buying second-hand clothes (I’ve found eBay great for this). Then when I began my decluttering/simplifying mission I tried to not buy any clothes at all. Neither of these rules are set in stone; they are more goals that I’m working towards. In fact, on my recent trip back to the UK, I bought not one but TWO new items of clothing. A bit of a setback, although they are the only two pieces of clothing I’ve bought since January this year. Not bad in 10 months. Still room for improvement, however!

I don’t want to unravel three years of good work by buying more. I wrote recently about how hard I found it to declutter my wardrobe, but slowly it’s happening. The last thing I need is a whole heap of new things! I’m hoping that what I have will be good enough. One thing I did need, however, was new shoes. A pair of flat, smart, comfortable shoes that a) aren’t falling apart and b) don’t smell.

Old shoes need replacing
My new shoes will replace these sandals, which are (almost) worn out. These were the last pair of shoes I bought, and they will be the last ones with synthetic soles.

Whether I should buy shoes second-hand or new is a bit of a dilemma. I’ve had amazing success and dismal failure (those smelly shoes? Yep. ‘Worn once‘ you say on your advert? Hmm.) Shoes also mold to the shape of a person’s foot over time, which doesn’t necessarily work out favourably for the new owner. Recently I’ve started becoming more interested in the end life of clothes, and particularly shoes. Most shoes you see in the shops have synthetic soles. By synthetic, I mean plastic. They aren’t going to break down, they are just going to end up in landfill. That doesn’t fit with my plastic-free lifestyle. Cutting out those and finding shoes made with natural materials second-hand is much harder.

I bought some new shoes.

They weren’t cheap, despite being in the ‘sale’. (Although isn’t everything always in the sale? Such a transparent marketing ploy.) However, they are made entirely of leather. Biodegradable and therefore zero waste, hopefully. (I wonder what the compost will make of them when the time comes…) That was what swung it for me.

New shoes biodegradable
Plastic-free shoes : )

Of course, there was compromise. I broke my second-hand clothes rule. They may be made entirely of leather, but I don’t know what dyes, glues or chemicals have been used. They came from a department store (not my first choice of company to support), which imported them from overseas rather than supported the local economy. There’s always a compromise.

Plus buying new also means all this excess packaging:

New shoes packaging
Of course, whenever you buy something new, you always get a ridiculous amount of unnecessary packaging with it. Most of this is cardboard and paper, but there is also a plastic rod. What on earth for?!

I’m still on the fence with second-hand shoes. I love the idea, but it’s not as practical as that. Shoes aren’t like T-shirts, they don’t just fit if you buy the size you think you are. They aren’t necessarily comfortable just because they look comfortable. For now, they remain an awkward exception to my rule. If I can get away with just buying one new pair of shoes for this job, then I think that’s a great result.

My second-hand clothes transition has a few other exceptions.

  • Underwear. Does anyone use second-hand underwear?
  • Tights. Ditto.
  • Jeans. I find it almost impossible to find jeans that fit. Hence I always go to the same couple of brands. I’ve looked, but I’ve never actually bought of second hand jeans. That said, the last pair of jeans I bought new lasted me 3 years, and I wore them nearly every day. Most of my other pairs have lasted longer than that. They get a good innings! Maybe my next pair will be second hand…

How do you feel about second-hand clothes and shoes? Are there any no-nos for you too, or does anything go? What about work clothes – do you make exceptions, or do the same rules apply? I’d love to hear what you think, especially if you have any tips for me! Please leave a comment below : )

39 Responses to Change is afoot.

  1. As a eco-conscious vegetarian I’m very conflicted about this post. I can’t like leather shoes but, as you’ve pointed out, plastic ones are no good either. What a shame we don’t live somewhere where everyone wears shoes made of plant material. It wouldn’t be a great idea to walk into a new job wearing woven flip-flops or something. Plus, in Ireland at least, we would end up with trench-foot from all the puddles.
    I occasionally buy second-hand clothes but mostly I am given them. Sometimes my friends have a clear out of their old stuff but nowadays it’s mostly from my mother-in-law. She’s a great bargain hunter. I buy new underwear and shoes though. I’ve had a few pairs of secondhand shoes from mother-in-law but, for the reasons you’ve given, they’ve never worked out. One thing that is handy if you buy secondhand clothes and other material items is a sewing machine so that you can make adjustments or add embellishments. I just made my daughter two strong duffel bags out of old jeans and salvaged ribbons.

    • I completely understand. Before I embarked down the zero waste/plastic free path I would probably have chosen vegan shoes over leather, whereas now I hate the idea of plastic shoes filling up landfill sites. The first thing is to buy as few shoes as possible! I’m going to look into other materials too – hemp, natural rubber, woven fibres etc which might be good for sandals and trainers (my boyfriend bought some etiko trainers are vegan and use rubber rather than plastic) but probably not work shoes. Still, it’s a learning curve. Leather shoes are my compromise for now, and I hope to find a good alternative eventually.

      Getting a sewing machine has been on my to-do list for ever! And then becoming a master seamstress ; ) That would be a lot of fun, and there’s so much opportunity with the stuff in the charity shops…

      • I just read my comment back and I could have been more tactful. Sorry. I’m familiar with the need to compromise and I know how difficult it is. Modern life doesn’t make it easy for people who are trying to live ethically, does it?
        Making do with less shoes is definitely a good thing. I stick with one pair for each task (gardening, running, going out in winter, going out in summer, staying in) but I probably could make do with less. I will think about that.
        Sewing machines aren’t that hard to use and you can get some very reasonably-priced ones these days. Mind you, they tend to have a lot of plastic in them. :( You might be able to get secondhand ones that have metal cases but then you run the risk of them not sewing very well. Your first machine needs to be a reliable sewer otherwise it will put you off forever. I hope you get one eventually, it opens up a whole new exciting world of recycling options. :)

        • No worries at all, and no need to apologise! : ) No, modern life doesn’t make it easy at all!

          I need to get down to one pair for each task. I have rather more boots than I need, particularly now I live in Australia where it’s sandal weather for 8 months of the year! Maybe I should give some away but I’d rather try to get more wear out of them… It just seems less wasteful.

          I will get a second-hand one, that’s for sure. Someone told me about a store that sells second-hand ones not too far away from me, and they offer lessons too apparently. Will have to look it up! You’re right, I’m very excited about the world of opportunities that will open up once I have one!

          • That sounds great. :) You’ll be off to a flying start with a few lessons, and it would be a great way to make sure the machine works properly before you buy it (if they’ll let you do the lessons on machines that are on sale).

  2. I agree shoes are tough, as are intimate apparel. I’m OK with jeans, but I empathise with your point of view.

    I think you could find an old school shoe maker (where they repair them too). But would the leather and the dyes be good? Personally, I find leather sole dangerously slippery, and therefore do lean to rubbery like (likely plastic). End of life of shoes are a nightmare, and one thing that ups my weekly counts, as they are seldom suitable for thrift stores.

    I’m not at all on the vegan side of the spectrum, so I won’t comment there. And I don’t think Tods (which seems to be the most popular with the hippies of various persuasions) aren’t really, imo, work formal. At least not to my eye – what do you think?

    • Leather soles are very slippery, you’re right – I’ve already had a near miss with them!

      That’s another issue – the process of making leather and dying it. Probably not good for the environment at all. Less shoes is best!

      There are a few ethical shoe shops about but yes, they seem to do sandals and casual shoes. Toms are an ethical company I hear about a lot, and my boyfriend bought trainers from etiko. Something to do more research on, definitely! I also need to figure out how dressed down I can go at work and get away with!

  3. I went through this recently too. I had been working for four years in a job where all my clothes were provided and then I got a job in the city that required “business wear”. I bought most of what I needed from thrift shops (AMAZING what people will give away). But I agree, shoes are difficult, and then I would rather buy quality and at least they may last for a while. I am lucky that my work is relatively casual, but I do wish I could just wear jeans every day….

    • I’ve mostly had jobs where I’ve had a uniform too, or they were pretty casual (jeans and no shoes acceptable). I’ve only had one other job where I had to dress professionally. Apparently the dress code at work is “corporate creative” (whatever that means!) but I prefer that to “smart casual” which is an oxymoron for me at least – how can I be smart and casual at the same time?!?!?!

      For the next few months I hope I can make what I have last. Then I intend to get everything else I need from the charity shops. Or ebay. : )

  4. Difficult one. 5 years ago I bought a pair of flat leather soled shoes (ballet pumps). The sole was so smooth that I slipped and broke my ankle requiring three rounds of surgery over a two year period. I did throw away the shoes so that no-one would be cursed with them, but buying another pair was difficult – I had problems walking and needed something “solid” and work appropriate. I ended up buying a new pair of R. M. Williams boots for $390. The cost hurt at the time but once you have seen the thousands go out in operations, physiotherapy, time off work, etc. you end up factoring it into the cost of injury. Anyway I am recovered and still walk a lot, and have two pairs of these boots (one in black and one in brown) which I wear to work, weekends, everything really. They have been going for five years now and will go on much longer provided I continue to go to the cobbler to put a rubber sole and heel on- and also moisturise the leather. My husband has had his for 8-9 years. So perhaps sustainable footwear is also less about the immediate buy and more about the longevity… And the practical day-day need to walk without crippling yourself.

    • Ouch. : ( You poor thing. Leather soled shoes are surprisingly slippery. I will take your lesson on board and be careful… Glad to hear you’ve recovered now : )

      I think longevity is so important. I’m not good at polishing my shoes but I do keep an eye on the soles and re-heel/re-sole before they get damaged. Most of my shoes – no, actually all of my shoes – came with me from the UK, so they are all more than 3 years old. Buying quality is so important, and cheap shoes are definitely a false economy…

  5. My 3 yr old leather sandles are more hole that not so I am in pretty much in the same boat. I am having trouble finding the perfect ones, finding second hand shoes is quite difficult when you are as picky as me about shoes and new ones are over $150. There is a brand called Planet shoes which make hemp ones but I had a pair a few years ago and they only lasted 3 months which is a bit of a waste. I have a bunch of work shoes that I never wear any more, size 6 1/2 if they will fit. Standing in a kitchen all day requires a different type of shoe than sitting at a desk :)

    • I keep my shoes way after they should be gotten rid of because I find replacing them so hard too! I haven’t heard of Planet shoes so I’ll add them to my ethical shoe research list : )

      Is that an Australian 6 1/2? If so that’s too small for me :( That would have been handy!

  6. My fall/winter shoes have almost worn out and I’m not sure how to replace them. The weather is still warm here, so I’m wearing sandals as long as possible. I’ve thought about buying custom-made shoes. As for jeans, I have a couple of pairs that had been my daughter’s. One pair was too big so I had a wonderful, inexpensive tailor near me take them in.

    • I hate cold feet, otherwise I’d wear sandals far more often! Being in America, surely you have far more options for ethical natural-material shoes? Or is that wishful thinking?

      That’s something I’ve never really explored (because I like the idea that one day I will be master seamstress!) but taking clothes to a tailor for modifying isn’t a bad idea. There’s a few nearby so I will investigate how much they charge. Until the day when I am master seamstress : )

      Getting a sewing machine might be a good first step for this.

      • I’m not sure about the ethical shoes. So much of the marketing is just greenwashing.

        My tailor is great. She charges very little too. I have a sewing machine and an overlock, but I don’t sew many clothes anymore. I used to sew my daughters clothes when they were little, but I would likely make a mess of jeans if I tried to take them in myself. I mostly sew extremely basic things, like cloth serviettes and produce bags, or I’ll hem something. Oh, the other day, I cut up some worn out linen pants and finished the edges for straining cloths. I find cheesecloth utterly useless.

        My library actually has a sewing machine room now with four machines and one overlock. They are a recent addition. It’s such a great idea for a library.

        Good luck if you get a machine :) You’ll no doubt find a lot of uses for it.

        • Oh my goodness, and I thought our local library was amazing! (That’s because they have magazines and DVDs which you can rent for free, which keeps my boyfriend happy and keeps our house uncluttered). But sewing machines…ooooh! We need this here!

          I will get a machine. I’ve been banging on about for so long! You guys will all have to hold me to account. I’m going to give myself to the end of the year!

  7. Second hand is where I get all my clothes with the exception being shoes and underwear, for the same reasons you mentioned.

    Each of us has our own reasons for buying or not buying certain materials, personally I won’t purchase leather, even used, after watching the documentary Earthlings but having said that I commend you for the amount of thought and time you put into finding shoes that matched your values. I did notice your shoes were made in Italy not China or some other third world country where working conditions are closer to slave labor and environmental concern can go out the window all for the almighty profit so kuddos on your find.

    Love your sandals, real worn in.

    • I thought more people would buy second hand shoes, actually. I feel better knowing I’m not alone with this! I haven’t seen that documentary but I’ll look out for it. As I mentioned to Sarah above, leather is my compromise until I can find something better. And good leather shoes are often made in Italy, rather than Asia, so that is another reason why I like them. I hope they are much better made and will last. Ethical in some ways, but also a compromise. Always a compromise… : /

      Those sandals are pretty horrid now. The cracks pinch my skin when I walk and the soles get slippery when it’s hot weather, so I kind of slide about in them. Ew! They really need to go but I need an ethical replacement first!

      • You may not want to watch that particular documentary I found tears rolling down my face at several points but couldn’t turn it off.

        I get the need to find compromises, we have to do it every day in our quest to find what works and meets our values. The sandals are great for one reason, I do the same with my shoes. I have friends and family who will beg me to toss shoes that I believe I can get more life out of. Now that I can’t walk any more I figure I never need to buy another pair. ;-)

  8. I sympathise! I’ve been lucky in picking up almost unworn shoes from charity shops but the thing I couldn’t find was summer sandals. They all just seemed to be worn to death or smelly and like you I opted for new. I reasoned that to fave a good second hand clothing market purchases still have to get made, the important thing is to buy wisely and look after your purchases. I also find jeans hard to pick up second hand and I’m on my second major jeans repair of the year now! I draw the line at second hand underwear and look for ethically sourced.

    • Thanks! Summer sandal are what I need right now! I’ve been looking but so far no success.

      Buy wisely and look after your purchases, exactly. Do I need it? Will I use it? Is it worth it? Will it last? Far better than deciding because it’s pretty, or cheap. Both of those factors lead to bad decisions being made and end up costing more anyway, either because things don’t get worn (especially when they don’t match anything else I own) or because they wear out too fast!

  9. Hi Lindsay. I have transitioned to buying mostly second hand clothes. There’s a wonderful shop close to my home. For shoes I really need to buy new. There are only a few brands that work with my “Polish” (high instep) feet! Congratulations on the new job!

    • That’s great! Regarding shoes, I have the same problem – narrow feet and a high arch. Most second hand shoes have been widened by people with ‘fatter’ feet than me!

      Thanks! : )

  10. Interesting read, thx! I have a pair of sandals exactly the same as yours in black, and love them to bits! Mine are full leather, over 5 years old, worn nearly every day in summer and still going strong :) My rule is everything second hand except underwear and tights, which I’m mostly able to stick to. Shoes can be tricky…I was grossed out by the thought of wearing something another person had had their foot in at first, now I don’t really care but I still struggle to find quality- I can imagine “business” shoes might be tough!

    All my kids shoes come from charity shops, and we’ve done really well with many near new brand name sneakers for them and me. End of life is an issue with synthetic soled shoes, but like others have mentioned sometimes leather is just not practical from a safety perspective. I’ve started using old shoes in my veggie garden as planters for herbs and leafy greens- they look great and give the old shoes a bit more life :)

    • Thank you! I wish mine were leather rather than plastic – an ode to my pre plastic-free days! They would probably have lasted much better if they were.

      I’m getting there with the second-hand rule slowly. Moving country and not knowing the brands or sizes, or having charity shops close by has hampered my efforts a bit – it’s much harder to browse a charity shop when you don’t know what things are! (In terms of quality and fit). I know I’ve lived here 3 years, but I’ve never bought anything new from an Australian shop except underwear, so I still don’t know. I figure I don’t want or need to know either and i like it that way : )

      I’m not really grossed out by second-hand shoes, but that one pair I bought from eBay totally stank! I tried bicarb but no luck. My mum had a pair of scented insoles so i use those with them – they kinda help but it’s still not great!

      That’s a really cute idea! Maybe I can try that when I get a garden with my current boots – they might have worn out by then!

  11. I’ve been cycling out my remaining ‘work’ clothes (already gave many away but had kept a few) and noticed in the process that the consignment shops here have quite nice things. I used to love vintage, and still have several interesting items bought long ago that I should also find homes for — eBay maybe? As for shoes, they last a long time. I’d say, don’t worry about making them fit your eco-principles for other items, make an exception and fit your feet instead!

    • Haha, that is a good point! Ill-fitting shoes are the worst!

      PS eBay is great for finding homes for everything you no longer need. It must have saved so much stuff from landfill : )

  12. Good luck with your new job! I would a au that corporate casual is nice pants without the need to add a jacket and tshirts or nice jeans are likely to be acceptable. You’ll work out the boundaries as you work there longer :)

    My work wardrobe is mostly second hand now, with the exception of some pairs of trousers as that’s where I draw blanks on in terms of quality and fit. Jeans surprisingly I’m Ok on though! I’ve bought underwear and bathers/togs/swimmers from op shops before as well as tights, but I suspect the underwear and rights hasn’t been worn before. I find it surprisingly easy to find as-new Stockings at op shops, so long as you’re not too fussy on tone.

    Shoes ive only been able to buy one as I have difficult to fit feet like you too. So far my solution to that has been to repair my shoes for as long as possible – most pairs I own are around seven years old, and my ankle boots are 17years old! You’ve given me food for thought re: repairs though, I hadn’t considered before that there’s plastic involved in that. I’ve taken to writing a reminder in my diary to polish my sites as I’m terrible at upkeep too!

    • You’re right about working the boundaries, that’s for sure! The make-up lasted a week, and slowly my older (more worn) bits and pieces are working their way in : )

      I have to confess I’ve never really looked for these type of things, but maybe I should. I’ve looked for second-hand “with tags” things on eBay but never actually bought anything. I know tagged swimwear is quite common to find – probably people in the UK are hopeful they will be able to wear it in the summer, but then it’s always too cold!

      I’m super impressed your boots are 17 years old! That is seriously respectable! : )

  13. Hi Lindsay, good to read your post. Wow, you have got a lot of feedback already so I hope you have the time to stay on top of them all! Clothes for me are from Op Shops (the exception being T-shirts if I cant find any, cause I wear them heaps). But shoes are harder for sure. I have a collection of new and second hand, but like you I need to buy a smart pair for an upcoming job interview. I have no smart shoes at all cause I’m not a “smart’ dresser, so it’s off to the shops for me :(. I don’t even like the sort that I will have to buy, which makes it worse, cause my rule is that if I buy new, then I have to wear them to death to justify the purchase in the first place. I don’t have many shoes, unlike many people, and just try to find a pair to go with most clothes I have, for most of the season. I do not envy your position of having to dress businessy :!

    • That’s my problem too – I don’t want to buy things that I won’t be able to wear to death! Fortunately they seem to be fine with what I already own and there doesn’t seem to be a need to move to pinstripes yet!

      Good luck with your job interview – if you get the job, does it mean you’ll be able to wear the interview shoes all the time?!

  14. Just wanted to let Jessica know that RM Williams is a proud Australian company that gives customer service like no other – no matter how worn or battered her boots get, she can send them back and they will restore and repair them like new. I’m saving up for a pair myself based on this alone – my old Blundstones are only good for gardening now I’m afraid and I wish I’d bought RM’s instead.

    I buy nearly all my clothes second hand but won’t wear second hand intimates or tights. I rarely see second hand shoes that tempt me but have had a couple of ok pairs in the past, lucky with the fit with both as I have very broad flat feet. I thank goodness every day that my workplace provides a uniform to wear.

    • Wow, I didn’t know about RM Williams – thanks so much for sharing! I’m going to investigate… I love the idea that a company is actually willing to repair something thy manufacture rather than making us buy a new one we don’t really need. So rare when really it shouldn’t be!

      Having a uniform definitely has its advantages! I’m lucky that so far no-one has commented on my jumble-sale assortment of random clothing combinations – I think everyone is too nice to be that bothered, thankfully!

  15. I was so excited to see an email from you in my inbox tonight. I had been thinking about you and wondering how life was treating you. Looks like life is better than good. Congratulations and enjoy your visit with your family.

    • Thanks Lois! I’m excited to be back. I’m looking forward to being able to read what you and everyone else has been up to in the last month – lots of inspiring things no doubt! : )

  16. Hi Lindsay,

    I only buy Vegan Ware shoes in Melbourne. They are expensive but they are so durable and last for years. They have the same ethos with sustainability etc and they will make to measure.

    • Thanks so much for the tip Maree! Since I wrote this I’ve been given loads of ideas and tips and I’ve done a bit of research on plant-based footware, but I hadn’t come across this store before. Looks great – thanks so much for sharing : )

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