How to have an ethical wardrobe on a tight budget

Ethical fashion is expensive.

I’ve mostly gotten over my sticker shock these days, but when I first started building a more thoughtful wardrobe, my shopping journey pretty much went like this:

Click. That’s a nice sweater. Click. In stock, awesome! Scroll. $350?! Nevermind. X.

(I pretty much only shop online, hence all the clicking.)

It turns out, though, that having an ethical wardrobe doesn’t have to cost much, and you can easily save your clothing budget for those splurge pieces.

But how?

The easiest thing we can all do, which doesn’t cost us a dime, is take better care of the clothes we do have. I always make sure to read the care instructions before I wash my clothes these days, because even though it is time consuming it saves me a lot of frustration and protects what I own. I also hand wash my clothes whenever possible, and try not to wash things each time I wear them, as long as they stayed mostly clean.

Delayed gratification is also another way to shop ethically. I’m still working on this one…obviously. 🙂 Fast fashion has programmed us to mindlessly buy clothing. A $10 t-shirt won’t break the bank! New styles arriving every day! Those old habits die hard – we are so used to being able to buy new clothing whenever we feel like it. If you can’t afford to purchase from ethical brands, one way to still have a more ethical closet is to simply buy less. Instead of buying three or four fast fashion pieces, just buy one, and make it last as long as possible. Or, don’t buy anything and save up the funds for one of those ethical splurge pieces.

Shopping secondhand is something I’ve learned to embrace as well. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in secondhand clothing. Harsh, but true. I didn’t know any better. And my gosh, the things people part with! I’ve gotten Madewell overalls with the tags still on them, rag & bone boots that had been worn only a handful of times, and a Miranda Bennett top, among other items. The hunt is pretty fun, as well.

Something I want to do more often is borrow pieces. I’d love to trade items with friends (but sadly all my friends live far away), especially for those one-off occasions, such as formal events.

What’s your favorite way to build an ethical wardrobe on a budget? Did I miss anything?





  1. I think avoiding buying many fast fashion pieces like you said is one way to build and ethical wardrobe, but also consider getting creative with styling the clothing you have. Who knows, you might start a new trend, right?? Pinterest is great for outfit inspo!

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