Eco shopping for non-puritanical women

I am not a puritan. If I’d been in England in 1620, I would not have thought, “This place is too sinful. Let’s all get on a miserable boat and endure incredible hardship to make a point about living our values.”

No, I would have been back in London, wondering if I had enough rotten fruit for the remount of a Shakespeare tragedy.

It’s just who I am.

While I want very much to be a good, contributing member of our society, nothing saps my inspiration faster than a strict code of conduct. Restrictive diets? Useless. Crazy detailed lesson plans? Not gonna get followed.

But unless I, and the entire fashion industry shape up, there’s not going to be much of a planet left for me to not follow rules on.

Time to get up out of my hammock and align my values with my habits.

Everyone, no matter their politics, depends on this earth. And we can all see how environmental degradation and bad labor practices are harming the poorest of our planet’s people. Fashion is among the worst offenders out there.

But how do we keep easy, interesting wardrobes while not participating in sketchy environmental and labor practices?

What follows are some of the best ways to lessen the impact our closets have on the environment. But we will avoid the frumpy, eco-friendly hairshirt. Building a wardrobe in line with our values should be a joyful challenge, rather than an unstylish experiment in martyrdom.

Second hand

Buying used clothing is the easiest solution to this problem. Some of my favorite pieces came from our local Buffalo Exchange.

I love you, beautiful Aran sweater I found at Buffalo.

But it is extremely hard to create a highly functioning wardrobe in a second hand environment alone. Thrift shopping depends on being open to out-of-season and unexpected finds. Creating a functional wardrobe depends on planning and shopping for boring pieces like layering t-shirts and perfect black leggings. In the last 25 years I have probably bought a hundred t-shirts at second hand stores and worn five of them regularly.

And what about underwear? Socks??

Second-hand boots? OK. Second-hand socks? Ew.

And some of you readers just don’t feel very comfortable in second hand clothing. This does not make you a bad person. The whole point of effortless dressing is to feel good in your wardrobe, and if you don’t like wearing second hand clothing, don’t beat yourself up about it.

I love the hunt of thrift shopping, and resale items will always make up a good portion of my closet. But if this isn’t you, don’t gather up the rotten fruit just yet, read on.

Do your research, then do some more

There are fantastic ad campaigns out there geared at making us all feel better about ourselves as we buy clothing. But beyond the green-washing there is a complex web of suppliers and owners that funnel the money from your well-intended purchase into the wrong hands.

Your research will depress you. Dove, with its gorgeous, body-positive advertisements, is owned by Unilever. Unilever also owns Axe, which beyond making every boys’ locker room in America smell nasty, has a crazy objectifying ad campaign. All the Dove money and the Axe money goes into the same pockets.

Seriously people?! I’m just trying to buy some soap.

Research clothing companies off their own sites, and see who owns them. Then look at their chain of supply. A company might have good practices, but get their fabric from another company that is destroying farmland and using near-to-slave labor to grow cotton. A small company under private ownership with a short chain of supply is your best bet.

Keep it simple with go-to companies

Obviously, I’m not out googling every clothing brand, every time I shop. To simplify things for myself, I have a few companies where I know I can, in good conscious, shop. And truth be told, most of us buy most of our clothing from 2 or 3 primary shops.

Without reservation, I recommend Patagonia. Founder Yvon Chouinard (my imaginary grandpa) has taken every possible move towards sustainability and not just decent, but down-right awesome labor practices. Plus he’s an incredible climber.

Ann and me, in Patagonia dresses.

Eileen Fisher is a model company, very progressive and always looking to improve their practices. I’m not at a point where I can afford much from here, but you might be.

Maybe someday.

BedStu Boots are amazing. Handmade in NYC with ever-strengthening environmental practices.

I found my BedStu boots in a second hand store, but I would buy them new if I needed to.

This article has some interesting looking places. I haven’t investigated yet, but I’ll report back if they are promising.

The problem, of course, is that these companies are expensive. If you know you are going to wear a piece for years, invest. We can also support positive change by seeking out companies who are moving towards better practices all at price points.

The power of one good piece

These pants are from Old Navy. They are a perfect color and fit for my wardrobe. They get a lot of wear.

I like to avoid Old Navy, and other fast fashion stores. But in buying one perfect pair of pants, I haven’t bought five pairs of imperfect pants. Every piece of clothing made impacts the environment, no matter how green the company. Buy one piece that works, rather than seven that kinda work, then wear it for years.

In regular rotation since spring, 2002.

Sustainability is a complex and noble goal. None of us will be perfect as we take the steps needed to save our planet. I have to be careful of taking a few baby steps towards environmentalism and allowing that to justify the rest of my behavior. “Look! I planted a garden while wearing a second-hand pair of shorts! So I’m off to go buy some quirky plastic dishware at Target to serve these veggies on…” But having broad guidelines, rather than nitpicky, puritanical rules, helps me do my best.

Not exactly hard core about anything.

Sustainability is at the heart of much of the Mud and Grace philosophy. Don’t buy something unless it is perfect. Shop second hand while experimenting. Love your body the way it is and effortless style will follow. Wear what you own for a long time. Then  get out there and have some fun on this beautiful planet.

Fall Style Research Part 1 – Value Village


The demands on my wardrobe increase significantly in the fall. I’m back in the classroom, my mom duties amp up and social affairs become less casual. Piecing together a workable wardrobe while keeping a lean closet is a challenge.

After cruising a few shops and seeing what my favorite on-line retailers had to offer, (bomber jackets, wide leg crops, midi skirts. so. much. denim.) I realized I needed to do some serious research.

But I want to try clothes out, wear them around for a few days, let them hang in my closet to see if they can play well with others. I need a few cheap flings before I say yes to a streamlined wardrobe for the next few months.

At Value Village, you can try out just about any color, style, shape or fabric at very little cost. It’s a long, exhausting afternoon, but a treasure hunt that will leave you satisfied. Because you are recycling, you’ve made no environmental impact if an item doesn’t work out in the long run. You are reusing, not contributing to the world of throw-away fashion.

On this trip I bought 20 items, and spent $101.83. Three of the items didn’t last 24 hours in my house. Five are already new favorites. The rest are still under evaluation.

I urge you to give it a try. Here are a few tips for a research trip to Value Village:

Try something new, at very little cost

This is the primary reason to take a Value Village run. As you see trends move in and out, you can try them, love them or reject them as you see fit.

Bomber jackets are everywhere right now. I’ve been unsure about how the shape will work on my body. Trying it out at $90? Not so comfortable. $5.99? Sure. I found this sweet little jacket with the tags still on. I’m very comfortable in denim, which also eased the risk of trying a new trend.

I’m just dipping a toe into the world of the bomber jacket.

Similarly, high waist, wide leg crops couldn’t be more on trend right now. (I don’t exactly know how this happened? Maybe the fashion industry got bored?) But being that they’re on trend, that probably means they’re going to be off trend just as quickly.

I found a pair for $3.99, wasn’t sure about them, but brought them home anyway. Four hours after purchase I looked just as silly as I thought I would. Honestly, I looked like a load of laundry on spin cycle. It was ridiculous. So I put them back in a donate bag less than 24 hours after bringing them home. Now I have tried wide leg crops and I don’t have to do that again. You’re welcome.

Oddly, no picture survives of me in these pants. Weird.

Be open to off-season finds

I have found the most awesome winter coats in July, and perfect sundresses in January. If you stumble across something truly wonderful, don’t worry about the season.

This pink and green plaid flannel is exactly the sort of thing I reach for in late February, when I desperately long for the soft colors of spring but it’s still 38 degrees and raining.

Just waiting for February…

This lavender Nike jacket will be great for cold morning walks with my neighbor in a few months.

Pretty sure the original owner never wore this. Maybe lavender just wasn’t her thing?

Walk in with a plan, not a list

Anyone who has gone second hand shopping with a list knows how futile that exercise is. Just as you would never hit the cookbooks before you go to the farmers market, you should never have specifics in mind when you shop second hand. Let the clothes you find inspire your creativity.

On the other hand, a large secondhand store can be overwhelming without a plan. It’s a good idea to have a color, a particular silhouette or a fabric in mind.

I knew I wanted my fall wardrobe to incorporate a little peach/pink this year. In each section I headed straight for that color, coming up with this versatile find. I can see how well this pairs with the rest of my wardrobe, and if it works invest in more of the color later.


Since I was conducting research for a fall wardrobe, I by-passed sections for items I don’t need. I’m all sweatered up, and really don’t need anymore cozy sweaters (well maybe just one more…) and don’t have any pressing sweater questions that can be answered by research at this time. I skipped the sweaters. For now.

Hidden treasure

This summer when touring the American Southwest I saw so many European women rocking denim skirts. Seriously, there were Dutch women in denim everywhere. If you were in Amsterdam in late July and didn’t see any people, it’s because all 780,000 of them, and their jean skirts, were at Bryce Canyon. It was awesome.

I wanted to try a 2016 denim skirt, but was looking for the classy feel of a European tourist, rather than the trashy feel I remember from 1987. What should pop up but an Anthropologie denim skirt? Love!

Have worn this nearly everyday since purchase.

I recognize that I got really lucky this time. Every so often, I find something incredible at Value Village. Other times I find nothing. But it’s the hunt that keeps me going.

Don’t go completely hog-wild

Pushing yourself to try a new look is one thing, buying something you don’t need, or clearly doesn’t work for you, is another. I found a well-maintained suede jacket, but it didn’t fit or feel good. It’s not a bargain if you never wear it.


If it helps, set a limit on the number of items you plan to buy. You have to get all this home, and test it out, so it doesn’t make sense to buy anything you aren’t seriously willing to try. Also be sure to bypass anything that’s pilled, ripped or stained. You are here for research, not repair.

Be prepare to laugh, to cry, and to get really tired

I have tried on items that looked so silly I laughed out loud looking in the mirror. I have also found gems so close to perfect, but… not perfect. Jeans that were just a little too tight. Blouses that were amazing… except for the coffee stain on the left sleeve. I once opened my mouth to ask a salesperson if they had a dress in another size. Saying no to BCBG dress that almost works is difficult, but part and parcel of second hand research.

Doing some serious research at Value Village also takes a full afternoon, and it’s exhausting. There isn’t the oxygen-rich air, soft music and elegant lighting of a boutique. But getting the chance to try something new for next to nothing is worth the time, and will save you frustration in the long run.

I think I can… I think I can… I think I can…

When I was very poor, Value Village was a treat. As many of you know, it’s a little more expensive than Goodwill or St Vinnie’s, but better organized, brightly lit and not quite so musty. I discovered the research value in the Village after I gained financial security, and was struggling to figure out which wardrobe items to invest in. Whenever my closet needs some experimentation, this is where I head first. Give it a try and let me know what you find!