I have been thrifting pretty regularly for about two years now. I’ve gone through many phases during that time. There was the throw-it-all-in-the-cart phase, where I would toss in every single thing that I *might* like. There was also the spend-half-an-hour-in-the-fitting-room phase, which was the most annoying to other shoppers. Oh, and who could forget the homewares-only phase, which left me with 72 mugs and no place to put them. Now, I am on the buy-only-what-I-really-need phase, which is my personal favorite of all of them. I’ve gotten a clear focus on what my personal style is and now I’m on to the search for all natural fabrics — linen, cotton, and silk.
Why natural fabrics, you ask? Well, to put it simply, synthetic fabrics are harmful to you and bad for the planet. That’s the short explanation. But to dig deeper, you need to know a little more about synthetic vs. natural fabrics. Natural fibers are created by animal, vegetable, or mineral sources. Synthetic fibers are man-made textiles that are made entirely of chemicals. You can probably guess from reading their definitions why one might be deemed “better” than the other.
Of course, no fabric is completely perfect. There are ups and downs to just about everything in the fashion world, and ultimately what you wear and buy is a personal decision. Fashion, in general, is personal. What you choose to wear on your body may differ from someone else. Personally, I like to stick with natural fabrics for a few reasons; 1) They feel better on my body and 2) They create no chemical or microfibre runoff when in the laundry.
I’ve thrifted so much that I can pretty much tell what an item is made out of when I touch it. I love to walk through the aisles and push the hangers from one side to another to feel the fabrics. While I don’t go through every single item in the store, I can easily push through the colors — mainly grays, whites, olive greens, and anything striped — and styles that I like. But I didn’t start out with having the sixth sense for fabrics. I started searching for natural fabrics by reading the labels.
Reading labels is the number one way to learn about fabrics.
I know, I know. Reading labels takes time. But if you’re committed to knowing what’s on your body, it’s worth it to take the time to read. Think about it this way: you wouldn’t buy a new product in the grocery store without checking the ingredients, right? The same goes for your clothing. Your skin is your biggest organ, and what you put on it matters. Your skin will absorb what sits on it. If that is chemicals, dyes, and pesticides, then that’s what you’re absorbing. That’s true no matter how many times you wash it.
Of course, even natural fabrics have their downfalls. Like I mentioned before, fashion is personal and so is the decision of what you buy. Personally, I will always stick with natural fabrics. Here’s the low-down on my top three favorite fabrics to shop at the thrift shop, so you can make your mind up about what to buy too.
Before we get all technical about what linen is, let me gush about my love of the fabrics for a little bit. Now that summer’s here, I am all about that linen life. First of all, it’s breathable. I absolutely hate sweating, and there’s nothing worse than wearing a fabric that makes you even hotter in the summertime. This lightweight fabric keeps you cool at all times.
Secondly, I really love that it wrinkles. I love fabrics that look lived in, because, let’s be honest, that’s what clothing is for. I don’t want to walk around in a fresh-pressed, stuffy outfit all day. Instead, I want people to know that I love and live in the clothing that I wear. It’s the ultimate sign of comfort.
Now let’s get into the technical reasons to love linen. The fabric is made from flax plants, and every single part of the plant is used. It’s extremely versatile, is stronger when wet, and doesn’t absorb bacteria. Pretty much the only downside to linen, besides that it wrinkles, is that it’s pricey. This is because linen takes longer to manually produce than other fabrics. Thankfully, it’s super affordable at the thrift shop.
Nothing beats the feel of cotton. Well, except maybe organic cotton. This fabric is a staple for a reason. It wears well, is comfortable, and last a super long time. On top of being light and breathable, it’s also completely natural.
Cotton, as you might know, is a plant. It’s completely natural, but there are plenty of downsides. Cotton is extremely water intensive. It can take up to 700 gallons of water to make a single t-shirt. The plant is also often genetically modified, which can be harmful to the plant and the farmers growing it. This is why it’s great to shop for cotton at the thrift store, instead of buying new. Let’s make the most out of the cotton that’s already out there before buying new.
Ah, silk. Is there anything more satisfying than slipping on this smooth, delicate fabric? Rhetorical question. It’s expensive feel, and, well, expensive too. Unless, of course, you get it from the thrift shop. Silk is a fabric that’s been around forever. Seriously, it was first observed in 27th century BCE, when a silkworm cocoon fell into her cup of tea and began to unravel. Come on, that’s incredible.
One of the biggest and most obvious downsides to silk is that it’s made by silkworms. That means that it’s not vegan. Unfortunately, the silkworms die once they are done making the fabric. They are also domesticated to create silk until then. At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision to buy or not buy silk.
There are — and will always be — ups and downs to all fabrics. But, by far, the most ethical choice of them all is to shop secondhand. Using what is already made is always the best way to go. You know, besides not buying anything at all. The more you thrift, the more you will find what fabrics are your favorites. It takes time and awareness to figure out what fits your lifestyle. Do your research, read your labels, and get excited about learning about new fabrics.