You know what’s thrilling? The moment I realized that vintage fashion was, by definition, sustainable. You mean to tell me I can indulge in the craftsmanship of the 1950s, put together a one-of-a-kind look, and be conscious of the environment, all with an Etsy click? Victory has surely never tasted sweeter.

I’m always on the hunt for these opportunities: ways to approach getting dressed that reduce my closet’s environmental and social impact and simultaneously help me tap more deeply into my sense of personal style. So, in honor of Earth Day, I hereby present you with my latest discovery: sartorial splendor courtesy of some DIY fabric styling.

The basic idea is this: procure for yourself some of the loveliest fabric you can find. I’m heavily in favor of 100% silk for its quality, luxuriousness, versatility, and the way it unfailingly makes my heart sing, but you are the master of your fate, the captain of your soul, so to speak, so you can use whatever fabric you desire. Aside from the fabric, you’ll want to have some safety pins and double-sided tape on hand. And last, but most importantly, your imagination!!! Things are about to get F-U-N.

Before we begin-begin, a few notes in the spirit of the big blue and green ball convening us today:

First, if you’re wondering why this exercise is Earth-friendly, it comes down to versatility. Usually, our garments serve a single purpose — whether a top, skirt or dress, these pieces are limited by their design to playing circumscribed roles in our closets. A single piece of fabric, on the other hand, can morph into anything we need from it, so we can create more by buying less and everyone wins. Many cultures around the world have been doing this for ages, and there is always much inspiration to be gained from looking closely at human dress across culture and time. I get lost in old images of humans in clothes frequently and post the most compelling ones I find to Instagram (including a set of images packed with fabric-wrapping inspiration).

Second, when fabric shopping, consider buying vintage, deadstock, or remnant fabric, which are widely available online (Etsy and eBay are great for this). Vintage fabric refers to those produced in the past but not used to create clothes, until now, that is. Deadstock and remnant fabrics are those left over from the design or production process. Because these fabrics already exist, using them spares natural resources and also averts fabric waste, thereby putting us back in win-win utopia. And really, once you spend time here, you’ll find you don’t want to leave.

Third, while there is no perfectly sustainable material (more about this here), I tend to favor silk, linen, and Tencel® for their relatively lighter ecological footprint.

For this piece, I’ve used mostly new fabric and one remnant, all of which are 100% silk. The fabrics were cut at three yards, which I’ve found gives me maximal versatility. Also, I haven’t had the seams sewn, which I should. Note to self.

That’s it. Time for trains, tops, skirts, belts, turbans, bows at the hip, ties on appendages. I could go on…and on…and, you get the picture.

Beginner

For this dot-on-dot-on-jean look, I’ve wrapped a piece of buttery silk charmeuse around my bodice as a top. I folded the fabric in half over one shoulder and then wrapped it until something was staring back at me in the mirror that looked awesome. I then took a contrasting polka dot remnant (¾ of a yard of silk organza, which is a stiff material with natural structure), shaped it into something interesting and tucked it between the wrapped red silk charmeuse and my jeans.

Intermediate

This one is easy, I swear: Here’s a piece of lustrous silk charmeuse again (a dream against the skin) worn as a dress. I’ve folded the fabric roughly in half (I kept a little extra length in the back) and draped it over one shoulder. Next, I brought both sides of the back fabric panel to the front, and tied them around my waist to make it a dress. I joined the fabric on the other shoulder with a small safety pin to create a strap-like feature. Then I played with the draping a bit by doing some pinning and tucking, interspersed with dancing because the occasion of making oneself a stitch-less dress clearly calls for that.

Advanced (But Even a Beginner Could Do This!)

Silk charmeuse is a great starting point for fabric experimentation because of how easily and naturally it drapes. Once you’re ready for the next level of fabric styling, consider silk faille, a thick fabric that you can shape into something voluminous and dramatic. Here, I’ve dreamed up a yellow bustier accented with some silk charmeuse. The charmeuse adds to the look, yes, but it’s there for a stealthier reason: to help me hold up the faille. Oh what a web I’ve weaved…

A quick how-to:

1. Start by holding up a panel of silk faille in front of your body. Gradually gather the faille into a sort of accordion tube top, and put it where you’d naturally put a strapless top. I had plenty of faille at either side that I tied into an x at my low back.

2. I then tucked the end pieces of the fabric into the top of my skirt in the back to hold the whole thing in place temporarily (the trickiest part!) while I styled the charmeuse.

3. For the charmeuse, I put the midpoint of its longest side right at my neck and brought the fabric around my shoulders to my back, so I had fabric hanging off my shoulders down both sides of my back.

4. Here’s the key: I crossed the hanging charmeuse into the same x at my low back and then brought the ends to the front, thereby fashioning a belt to hold the silk faille in place. Once my creation was secure, I had my customary fun pinning/tucking/dancing until I felt I had made something lovely.

Your turn! What are you making?

(P.S. A few of my favorite fabric resources: In New York City: B&J Fabrics and Mood Fabrics; In Paris: Tissu Market; Online: Mood Fabrics has a great website for fabric shopping online. On Etsy, I like this shop and this one, and on eBay this one, but a search is the best way to find what you’re look for.)

Nadine writes about fashion, thoughtfully, at One Who Dresses. Follow her on Instagram here.

Photos by Bridget Badore

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