The height of Oscars season can lead to inner conflict for an ecofashionista. On one hand, beautiful red carpet dresses typically have a huge labour, economic and environmental cost – all for a ‘one night only’ appearance. On the other hand… ooh! Look! It’s Nicole Kidman in sparkly sequins!
Being an environmentalist and science journalist, and having been in a telly show or two, I’ve had the fun of attending a few awards nights.
For a girl like me, it’s a delight and a dilemma. Red carpet fashion is all about glamour, with many guests (depending on what type of awards night it is) spending hundreds, if not thousands, on dresses and accessories that will be worn once. The Logies were over the top! The science and environmental awards are much less competitive in the glamour stakes, but they still tend to have ‘special occasion’ dress codes.
There’s an environmental cost to fashion as well as an economic one. A simple cotton T-shirt takes an average of 4,100 L of water to make and gold is extracted from ore using cyanide. How does an environmentalist glam-up for a special event without throwing her values out the window?
This blog post is basically my collection of red carpet moments. It’s a long way from the Oscars red carpet, but I hope it provides some ideas for those of you who have a special occasion ‘frock opportunity’ coming up and want to look and feel special without it costing the earth!
These are my top strategies:
Try vintage and secondhand style
I made myself a commitment to ‘buy nothing new’ for the 2011 TV Week Logie Awards (Australian TV’s ‘night of nights’).
This started me on a tour of Melbourne’s (and Geelong’s) secondhand shops, markets and vintage stores. I eventually bought a beautiful 1930s dress from Circa Vintage. If ever there was a dress waiting in storage for a red carpet outing, this was it! The dress was teamed with a silver bag from Chapel Street Bazaar, shoes from Thread Den (a vintage store that runs sewing workshops), a bracelet from the Mill Markets in Geelong and a borrowed ring (thanks Auntie Dian). The hot rollers I used were a 1950s set I picked up from East End Markets in Adelaide nearly 20 years ago.
Another red carpet moment was the Audi InStyle Women of Style Awards 2012, for which I was a finalist in the Environment category. This I approached with an even greater sense of fun and fear than the Logies. In the end, I had a ball in a cheongsam originally made in the 1960s for my mother when she and my Chinese father got engaged. It was nice to be wearing something of my mother’s as she has been one of my biggest influences. She taught me the importance of valuing what you have and nurtured my love of the natural environment. The fabric was a little fragile in places and it needed some minor repairs, but it was well worth it. I borrowed the shoes and an evening purse from my sister.
Wear a bridesmaid dress again!
The bride always tells you you’ll be able to wear your bridesmaid dress again. If you’re lucky, it can happen! Having done a story on fashion sustainability for Catalyst, I made an on-air commitment to wear a bridesmaid dress to the 2011 Eureka Prizes, a science awards program. The dress I wore was from bridesmaid duty in my sister’s 1997 wedding.
Borrow the style
If you have siblings and friends with the same size, you can have what I call an ‘open wardrobe policy’. This strategy relies on trust and responsibility. Borrowing clothes and accessories only works when you look after the items you borrow and return them cleaned and in good condition.
I borrowed my sister’s Morrissey Edmiston (remember them?) black knit dress for the 2010 Eureka Prizes, teaming it with accessories made from red beans. I later borrowed the dress again for hosting the L’Oreal For Women in Science fellowships announcement event, wearing it with a hot pink slip dress.
Another option is hiring. Special occasion dresses and accessories are available for hire at a fraction of the cost of buying new. The men folk have this down pat. I know very few men who own a tux, preferring to hire for special occasions.
Think/dress outside the square
You’d be surprised what you can push into a ‘cocktail’ dress code with the help of some heels, make-up and accessories. I wore a black beaded surf dress bought in Noosa to the 2010 UN World Environment Day Awards. Ssshh! Don’t tell!
Wear it again
Finally, when you do buy something new, go for something timeless; something that suits your personality, rather than the dictates of the current trends. I bought a strapless dress for my first book launch in 2003. The dress has a pattern that could either be a feather or palm leaf. I loved this ‘inspired by nature’ design. Since then, I’ve worn it to a couple of weddings, several dinners, the Premier’s Sustainability Awards and, most recently, hosting the FSC Australia Awards. And my long-suffering sister has worn it a few times, too.
The bottom line
All products—from loo paper to lounge suites and everything in between—represent an investment in the energy, water, labour and material resources needed to make them. It makes good sense, environmentally and economically, to maximise the return on investment and get as much use out of them as possible.
Even designer Vivienne Westwood thinks fashion is about quality, rather than quantity. During the recent London Fashion Week, she made the interesting suggestion that Catherine Duchess of Cambridge could send a sustainability message by being seen in the same clothes multiple times.
Livia Firth’s (aka Mrs Colin Firth) Green Carpet Challenge
Red Carpet Project – a collaborative research and design practice initiative of RMIT PhD candidate Georgia McCorkill. Based on the idea that a gown can engage people and be used as a conversation starter on questions of fashion, waste, consumption and lifecycle thinking.
The Clothing Exchange – swap ’til you drop!
Australian Eco & Vintage Fashion Blogs
Style Wilderness by the fabulous Melbourne writer & fashionista Leeyong Soo
Thinking Fashion with Yatu Widders Hunt