You know that thing where you show up for a fashion show in such amazing clothes that the photographers there assume you’re Someone Famous and photograph you? But actually you’re a sixty-something Fordham social work professor and just have really fabulous taste? And because of that photo shoot, you become a fashion icon, model, and influencer and suddenly gain 600k followers on Instagram?
Yeah, that has never happened to me, either. But it did happen to Lyn Kennedy Slater. Capitalizing on the sudden spotlight, Slater created a blog called Accidental Icon, which, in her words, targets “women who live what I call ‘interesting but ordinary lives in cities’. Women (like me) who are not famous or celebrities but are smart, creative, fashion forward…and most importantly clear and comfortable with who they are.”
When Fashion Scares You
Can I just pause a second here and say never before this past year would I have considered writing about fashion on a blog. I have not subscribed to a fashion magazine since high school. When I open said fashion magazines (Elle, Glamour, Vogue), I find the clothing inside incomprehensible. I try to shop as little as possible, have vowed never to wear heels higher than an inch, and find maintaining lipstick throughout the day so annoying that I use untinted lip balm almost exclusively. For most of my life, I would have told you I don’t care about clothes or how I look, so I wouldn’t waste my time worrying about them. Because (I thought) I’m too authentic to care about clothes.
(Let’s pause and consider the story I was telling about women who do care and enjoy clothes. Not so generous).
But then last year, I accidentally-on-purpose bought a necklace that was bigger than I felt comfortable wearing. It cost three times what I normally spend on jewelry, and was made ethically by artisans in a developing country. When it arrived, it frightened me.
I finally decided that I wanted to be the kind of person who wore a necklace that bold. That meant I had to wear the darn thing. In the process, I discovered that if you change what you wear, you absolutely change the way you feel about yourself.
Wearing that necklace, I uncovered how much I actually love clothes and dressing up. (Which is A LOT). And so, when I came across Lyn Slater, I thought, I want to be more like her.
The Power of Clothing for Good or Ill
Look, I’d be the first to admit that nice clothes and jewelry are nice to have, not essential. Having the time, energy and money to shop is a huge privilege. However, being afraid of clothes or worse, dismissive of those who wear them beautifully isn’t exactly laudable.
I’m also learning that knowing how to buy clothes that fit well and make me feel good is a valuable skill. It’s not unlike knowing how to budget, shop for, and prepare simple, delicious, and nourishing meals. Sure, you can survive just fine on peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks, or while wearing ill-fitting, ugly clothes you don’t like. But life is richer with more beauty in it.
One thing I love about Lyn Slater is that she knows she’s strikingly beautiful in a culture that does not value women with silver hair and wrinkles. She is so noteworthy, so confident in her skin, that she overcame the invisibility that many older women say descends with menopause. She likes herself, and is thoughtful about what she wears, and uses her fashion to engage with the world in interesting ways.
All my smug dismissiveness about fashion hid the fact that I wanted to be more creative with my clothes. I wanted to wear clothes that made me feel good, inside and out. Most importantly, I wanted to think more about how I shopped, because the fashion industry is implicated in a ton of environmental and human rights problems.
According to the World Resources Institute, we buy sixty percent more clothes than we did in the year 2000, but keep each garment half as long. A person survive for two and a half years on the water it takes to make a cotton t-shirt. And human rights abuses run rampant in the fashion industry, where many key players do not have transparent supply chains guaranteeing minimum safety and wages for workers.
Also, the average person only wears 20% of the items in their closet. Those clothes we don’t wear cost a lot.
The Rightness of Clothes
What I see when I look at Lyn Slater is not just a fashion icon, but a woman who understands and thoughtfully stewards the power of clothes and beauty. Often, women like me have shamed ourselves for “caring about appearances”, but appearances matter. Clothing is part of the story we tell about ourselves, and the money we spend on it creates some kind of impact, for better or worse.
Lyn Slater inspires me to use the power of beauty wisely. She inspires me to think about, in her words, the “rightness” of my clothes—whether they help me move through my day with more confidence, spend my money in ways that support my values, and bring more beauty and light into the world.
If you’re interested in learning more about ethical and minimalist fashion, check out these resources.
Minimalist Fashion Blogs and Books
Caroline Joy at Un-fancy
Be More with Less’s Project 333
Ethical Fashion Brands
Look, buying ethically-made clothes is more expensive. The companies I list here are competitive with brands like Banana Republic or J Crew, though that’s still pricy. However, buying used clothes from local thrift or consignment shops is generally budget-friendly. When I need clothing, I try to shop used first, and then save up money to spend on nicely made, ethically produced clothes that will last me for years. That’s affordable with a much smaller, more versatile closet. Still I recognize that these brands are still out of reach for many.
ThreadUp (online consignment store)
Everlane (clothes and accessories)
Pact (organic cotton underwear and apparel)
Rothy’s (cute shoes made from recycled water bottles)
Nisolo (leather goods and jewelry)
Noonday Collection (jewelry and accessories)
Trades of Hope (jewelry)
Cuyana (leather goods and apparel)