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Fashion reboot: an eco-friendly wardrobe makeover

Personal stylist Meg Gallagher of the Madison to Melrose blog helps Susan Carpenter fashion a new wardrobe with recycled and upcycled clothing items.

By Susan Carpenter

Los Angeles Times

April 22, 2012

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A lot has been made of organic cotton and other eco-friendly fabrics made from Tencel, hemp and bamboo as fashion rides the mega-trend of environmentalism. But recycled clothes purchased at thrift and consignment stores, as well as upcycled items reworked from out-of-date castoffs, may be an even greener choice. Almost half of the climate impact of clothing occurs before it reaches consumers.

It was this idea I embraced when I hired a wardrobe consultant for a desperately needed eco fashion makeover.

For years, I spent most mornings dreading getting dressed. My closet was stuffed, yet I found myself pulling the same five outfits every week, most of which looked exactly as I felt: dumpy. I'm not one of these women who intrinsically understands how to put together an outfit. In fact, since becoming a mother, one of the biggest factors in my wardrobe selection has involved the answer to this question: Is it clean?

I was so far down the rabbit hole of middle-aged frump that I needed a fashion overhaul, so, with Earth Day on my mind, I called Meg Gallagher, a personal stylist who, in 2009, started a bicoastal fashion consulting business and runs a blog called Madison to Melrose.

I heard about Gallagher from a friend of a friend who'd dropped $1,000 and had a transformative experience. I was hoping for similar results at about the same price point. I just wanted to do it in a way that was less wasteful than buying clothes new since manufacturing is so resource-intensive.

Gallagher, 40, is a fashion industry veteran who worked as a design director for a New York knitwear company for several years before moving to the L.A. area. Part of a growing legion of personal stylists, Gallagher does not specialize in eco fashion, though she does have some clients who prefer vintage. She thought my idea was "a super fun challenge," she said, and took it on because, at 5 feet 8 and 135 pounds, I'm an "easy fit."

A few days after an email exchange and a phone call, she was standing in my living room in a fetching peplum jacket, white skinny jeans and strappy black stilettos — a notepad in one hand and an empty clothing rack in the other — ready to take notes about my coloring, body type, color preferences, personality and lifestyle before tackling my closet for a thorough edit.

"For most people, the biggest frustration is that their closet doesn't represent their lifestyle," said Gallagher, who noted an abundance of jackets and an absence of pants, skirts, dresses and feminine shoes in a wardrobe that was a mishmash of motorcycling and mothering. For two hours I tried everything on while she assessed the condition and workability of each piece, created a pile of giveaways and came up with a shopping list.

The shopping list is critical, Gallagher said. Most people buy clothes impulsively: "They keep buying and buying and they wind up with all these clothes they don't know how to put together."

Part of my makeover goal was to dress with more femininity while maintaining some edge. Gallagher suggested several types of shoes to complement my half-dozen pairs of motorcycle boots and a few skirts that could sub in for the denim I wear almost daily.

My appearance already shouted it loud and clear — I've been thrifting most of my clothes for a couple of years now, my usual go-tos being Crossroads Trading Co. and my local Goodwill. But Gallagher had some additional ideas that incorporated the many fashion-forward thrift and consignment shops that have opened in L.A. recently, including Ampersand on Larchmont and Buttons and Bows downtown, along with the better-known, curated-thrift venues Wasteland and Crossroads, both with branches on Melrose Avenue.

Thrift often takes longer to shop than first-run because everything is one of a kind, so for our first shopping excursion, Gallagher went to Wasteland 90 minutes ahead of me to pull items. The next two hours included the usual series of dressing room hits and misses. In the end I walked out with nine items totaling $411, including a pair of black Marc Jacobs skinny jeans, a lace-trimmed Ella Moss sweater, a pair of fringe-y flats and two feminine leather jackets — all of them in excellent condition. We picked up a pair of Camilla Skovgaard slip-on heels across the street for $71 more.

Still, I was missing certain things, according to the shopping list Gallagher had created, including some neutral sandals and a taupe handbag. Because I don't trust my eye and was so pleased with what Gallagher was able to find, I hired her for a second round of shopping, which she bills at $75 per hour. (The cost for my first four hours was $300.) We hit up Reformation on Melrose, which deconstructs and reworks used clothes and over-runs of textiles into chic pieces such as leather shorts and slouchy sweaters. I purchased two drapey tank tops made from fabric overruns for $75 apiece from the shop I consider my new favorite.

Finally, we were off to Ampersand, where I made my biggest splurges, including two pairs of heels, a Chloé handbag and an Alexander Wang leather vest that represented, to me at least, a shift in my thinking toward quality and longevity rather than easy and cheap.

I ended up giving 57 clothing items, or about two-thirds of what was in my closet (most of which I didn't wear anyway) to my local Goodwill. I spent $710 purchasing six tops, four pairs of shoes, three leather jackets, two fabric jackets, two sweaters, one skirt and one dress, which are now in heavy rotation. I spent an additional $1,240 on two of the most expensive clothing items I've ever purchased in my life — the designer handbag and leather vest — and $40 more on a pair of white skinny jeans from Zara since I couldn't find them used.

In total, Gallagher's services cost me $875, including the last hour she spent with me at my house, assembling 30 outfits from the items she'd found for me, so I'd understand how to put them together, and taking pictures of them so I could use them for future reference. Gallagher warned that I might be tempted to go back to my old ways of doing things and counseled me to resist that temptation and "own" my new look.

I spent far more than I anticipated, but I justify it as "pent-up demand." I'm feeling a lot more attractive and confident than I have in years. And it's enormously satisfying to accomplish so much in a way that didn't compromise my environmental values. As a whole, that's priceless.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com