How to create a sustainable school work wardrobe

When you work in a school, your clothes need to be smart, affordable, practical – but they can also be green. Grainne Hallahan explores how to build a wardrobe that both looks great and helps the planet

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Does what you wear to work matter?

Yes. But not just for the reasons you may think.

As you may have suspected, research has found that what you wear to work has an impact on your performance (thanks to something called enclothed cognition – the idea that our behaviour matches our clothes). 

But what we wear has a global significance: the fashion industry is the second-biggest polluter in the world, only beaten by the oil industry. 

So what you choose to wear to work, and how you choose to dispose of your old clothes, really can make a difference.

Overbuying and leaving outfits hanging in your wardrobe doesn’t just negatively impact your bank balance – it’s also bad for the planet.

So how can you get a greener wardrobe? Follow our step-by-step guide:

1. Find the joy

Many people claim that Marie Kondo’s now-infamous clearing method has changed their lives.

A good wardrobe sort-through can certainly help you to see how many clothes you have, and free up space by revealing items that you no longer wear.

2. Dispose of your clothes ethically

There are many ways to get rid of old clothes in a way that won’t add to landfill. First of all, you can sell pieces online. Second, you can donate to charity shops and shelters. And third, you can take clothing that really isn’t fit for purpose any more, and repurpose it, with old T-shirts becoming cleaning cloths, for example.

3. Build a capsule wardrobe

Try to create a 10-piece work wardrobe that you can mix and match. 

For women, for example: a pencil skirt, a dress, a fine-knit cardigan, a longer chunky cardigan, black ankle boots, two shirts, a pair of trousers, a wrap skirt and a smart jacket.

These can create 20 different outfit combinations.

If you're not wearing skirts or dresses to work, planning mix-and-match suits can be equally useful.

4. Don’t give in to shopping temptation

If you’re someone who shops away your feelings, or buys for a body you don’t have, you’re going to end up with loads of clothes you don’t really want or need. 

Instead of buying items randomly, consider how they fit in with what you’ve already got. Seen something in a gorgeous yellow? Great, but if you don’t have any shoes that you can wear with it, it’s just going to sit unworn in your wardrobe.

5. Buy for the job you have

Forget this dressing-for-the-job-you-want stuff. Let's get practical, people. Floaty pastel dresses and statement block heels might look awesome on Pinterest, but are they going to look as great once you’ve got to the afternoon session and paint has been splattered down the front? 

Our idea of what we need to wear for work, and the reality of what we need to wear for work, needs to be more closely aligned.

Think instead about what your clothes need to do for you: and when the temperature of your room changes more frequently than the education secretary, you probably want to stick with layers.

Finally, never underestimate the power of a good blazer to smarten up any outfit.

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