September 28, 2022

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How To Sustainably Adjust Your Wardrobe When Your Body Changes

Our bodies change — a lot, and often. And while this is completely normal, it’s hard for our closets to keep up (and our hearts not to break when we say farewell to our favorite jeans). One of the pitfalls of shopping is overconsumption: Whether the intention is to adapt to your size shifting for a brief time or to shift your personal style to your new shape, there is always an impulse to fill one’s wardrobe up with better-fitting pieces quickly. But is there a way to balance self-confidence and personal impact on the rapidly changing climate? TZR asked three fashion industry insiders to share tips for shopping when your size changes in ways that are more environmentally and fiscally responsible.

Shop for Future You, Too

London-based Aja Barber, author of the book Consumed, centers her work on sustainability and inclusion in the fashion industry, and is no stranger to balancing consumption and comfort. The majority of her wardrobe now revolves around her changing body. “I have been anywhere from a US 8 to a US 18,” Barber tells TZR. “As my body has changed, sometimes I end up getting rid of so much of my wardrobe and it’s so sad. I’ve gotten rid of some beautiful clothing and as someone who has spent a lot of time, money, and effort curating a wardrobe that I absolutely love, that brings me joy. Not sad because I’m gaining weight — I don’t care about that. I really just like my clothes.”

In an effort to halt parting ways with pieces, Barber took matters into her own hands. She designed a capsule collection in collaboration with London-based brand Lora GENE, of which she had long admired for their ethical production and B Corp certification. The key piece, the Pure Linen Dress by Aja was constructed with flexibility in mind and boasts a multi-function belt and hidden snap on the neckline for days when one “feels too chesty.” Barber explains, “The dress might be a little looser on you at one point, and it might be a little bit tighter on you at another point, but it’s always going to fit.” The goal? To design clothes to last years, not just for temporary moments in time.

Barber’s shopping philosophy is always about staying true to her personal style and comfort, which generally start in oversized and breezy silhouettes. “I tend to say I dress in ‘Art Teacher chic.’ I love the dresses Marimekko makes, generally they’re very forgiving and my Elizabeth Suzanne trousers with the stretchy waistband are never far from me.”

Sizing up guarantees the flexibility in fit to keep up with the ebb and flow of her body’s shape but also adds a layer of preparedness for the years to come. “I just never buy clothing that fits me like a glove now. I always sort of factor in what my life is going to look like in the future and I think that’s how we have to buy. We shouldn’t be buying just for now, we should be buying with the idea that we will have this item for five or six years at least. And if not, why?”

Freshen Up Old Favorites

For fashion editor Emily Holland, expecting her second child comes with the experience of getting reacquainted with her pregnant body, but this does not mean a wardrobe overhaul. Her confidence in dressing lies in finding balance and being smart about what has longevity and using creativity to refresh things that are tried and true. “If you see me out and about, chances are I’m wearing something I already wore earlier in the week,” she says. “And, since my wardrobe is much more limited, I’ve gotten into accessorizing. Throwing on more jewelry or pulling out a bag I haven’t used in a while makes the redundancy of some of my outfits a little more exciting.”

courtesy of Emily Holland

Relying on basics during this time is also crucial, and goes hand-in-hand with her professional philosophy. “I do try to tailor my styling practices to include more timeless and less trend-based ideas. There is inspiration in the classic and nuanced; finding balance between trends and what people actually wear is definitely something brands look for when they’re creating content.”

In terms of more specific pieces, Holland calls out items with stretch, oversized construction, and classic items as keystones in her wardrobe — whether she’s dressing a bump or not. Proportion can always be tricky when things start to shift but she has some hacks to work around various fits, like treating layering pieces (i.e. things with buttons or zips) like accessories also. “I’m a big fan of the button-down and own quite a few, but as my belly grows, I’ve had to find ways to keep them in rotation. Adding a simple tank or tee underneath allows me to wear them partially or fully unbuttoned and makes me feel more put together than if I was wearing just a T-shirt.”

Invest In Secondhand

Taking time to find the right fit and style a piece in different ways is a commitment, but crucial. So rather than experiment with disposable mega-retailer pieces, consider stocking up on some thrifted and vintage styles you can easily resell. “I’ve tried every single type of material, every single type of cut, every single type of shape, every single type of proportion and just constantly experienced it, see how I felt in it,” says Michaela Malvasio, a senior content producer, who has often used secondhand shopping to balance out more affordable fast fashion buys throughout her gender transition. However, opting for higher-end, pre-loved pieces does help with the cost-per-wear situation, and the items can easily be put back into circulation on resale sites if kept in great condition. Some advice? Keep a roster of budget-friendly starter pieces in rotation (try looking at thrift shops and swap meets) on hand — and when it comes time to add more, level up with investment vintage designs.

courtesy of Michaela Malvasio

Still, Malvasio has found that when settling into a change that’s more permanent, finding one’s style can be an extremely complex process. “It’s so hard sometimes finding what makes you feel comfortable as a trans woman. When you actually do start to build a wardrobe that’s filled with things that make you feel comfortable, you want to hold onto those things. You want them to become part of your every day so you’re not constantly wondering, “How is this going to make me feel? Am I going to feel dysphoric in that and the next day?’” If we consider clothing as armor, it can be just as rigid to adjust. Feeling confident through fashion is a form of self-care and a way to protect oneself in a constantly evolving world. And while longevity is the goal for the end-game, she acknowledges the road there isn’t perfect. “Sometimes I prioritize my own experimentation and trend-trying over sustainability,” she says. “When it comes to transitioning people who like fashion, it becomes that much more urgent to want to find your personal style. It’s like, which one do you prioritize? If you’re doing it as frequently as I did, you have to layer in that conversation of sustainability to make sure you’re doing it responsibly.”

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