In 2019, the buzzword on everyone’s tongue was “sustainability.” Inspired by activists like Greta Thunberg, the whole world took up the rally cry of change.
In the fashion world, style icons like Emma Watson have been practicing sustainable style choices for years, like Watson’s 2016 Met Gala gown made entirely from recycled bottles. It was crafted so she could wear pieces of the ensemble again.
In the past, clothing was classified into four distinct seasons and well-made so it would last year after year. These days, “fast fashion” chains pump out 52 “collections” of clothing a year, with pieces intended to be worn only a handful of times.
The impact on our planet and its inhabitants has been devastating. Just making clothing can be a pollutant-heavy process that poisons waterways with dangerous chemicals. Factories that create fast fashion items are notoriously dangerous and have led to tragedies like the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, which killed 1134 garment workers.
Once the clothing makes it to our stores, according to the World Resources Institute, we buy 60 percent more of it than we did 10 years ago and keep it for half as long. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing a year. Since 60 percent of textiles are now made of synthetic fibers, these items will not break down in landfills.
Thankfully, the tide is turning and more sustainable brands like Everlane, Frank and Oak, People Tree and Ten Tree are making their mark with well-made, classic pieces, many inspired by designs that have been around for decades. Buying clothing from second-hand and vintage stores has also become a trend that allows thrifty consumers to give clothing items another chance to be worn and enjoyed.
With that in mind, we thought we’d give you a cheat sheet of some style staples that have stood the test of time. Whether you purchase them new or from a thrift store, you’ll be able to pull out these classics year after year.
1. The Little Black Dress
Popularized by Coco Chanel in the 1920s, the Little Black Dress is most often knee-length, and just as appropriate at the office as out for cocktails afterward or to brunch with friends the next morning. In fact, style bloggers like Sheena from the Uniform Project have proven the versatility and sustainability of the LBD by wearing it everywhere from a week to a year straight! Anette has a chic LBD that can easily go from work to play.
2. Straight Leg Jeans
It’s no wonder that this classic silhouette keeps coming back from the fashion graveyard. The very first pair of jeans, crafted by Levis in 1873 for cowboys and miners, were straight and are still in production—the storied 501. These days, straight leg denim is made by almost every clothing brand. Talbots has a great high-waisted straight leg option. Grab a pair and wear them in to perfection.
3. Trench Coats
These jackets have been keeping It Girls both past (Audrey Hepburn) and present (Alexa Chung) dry and warm since the 1800s. The most practical come with hoods, of course, but even without, they offer historically-proven protection against wind and rain. Choose a classic tan like this one from Milanoo, or get playful with a bright or pastel hue for spring.
4. Chelsea Boots
These footwear staples are comfortable, durable and will keep your feet toasty and dry in rain or slush. Queen Victoria’s shoemaker is credited with crafting the first Chelsea boot in 1851 with vulcanized rubber at the ankle, making it easier to pull on and off than traditional lace-up varieties. In many northern cities, Australian brand Blundstone is the most common maker of this particular boot, but there are myriad styles and companies to choose from like these trendy Chelsea boots from Other Stories.
Perhaps one of the oldest handbags in existence, the simple satchel’s history can be dated back to Roman soldiers and Scottish monks in 300 AD. In modern times, it has been used by schoolchildren in the 1960s, Indiana Jones in 1980s and It Girls at New York Fashion Week circa 2010. Its universal appeal is matched by its practicality as it can take you from school to work to trans-Atlantic flight with the ease of one strap and two clasps. Originally made in leather, fabric and vegan PVC options also mean there is a satchel bag for everyone in 2020. AKIRA has a great modern version of a side satchel purse.
Trends may come and go, but the most iconic fashion superstars incorporate items that look as fresh in 2020 as they did in 1920. Having a closet full of clothes that don’t need to be replaced with the whims of fast fashion brands? That’s just a bonus.