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Can you be sustainable and stylish?

A lot of people get fashion confused with style.  Fashion is all about trying to keep up and fit in whereas I believe that style is enduring. I look for a way to cut through consumerism and find something more lasting and meaningful.

We are all unique beings, but if we all shop at the same places, we all start to look the same, which means we start to think the same. By shopping secondhand and sourcing clothing from op shops, we can personalise our look, break away from fast fashion and bring new life to the volumes of garments donated to second-hand stores.

General styling tips

I recommend combining items purchased second hand with new, quality high-end items. If you go 100% op shop, your look starts to become sloppy. Aim for about 50% new and 50% second hand.

It is better to buy your wardrobe staples (for example a crisp white shirt) brand new and ensure that they are really well fitted and made from quality fabrics (look for tailoring and style rather than brand names). You can then complement your staples with interesting one-off pieces from op shops like a skirt from overseas that no one else has seen or could buy and this way you build a unique personalised style. Some things I would advise not to buy second hand are swimmers, leggings or stockings.

Create a mood board

Who we are on the inside is not always reflected in our outer appearance. Your personal style translates who you are into a visual expression.

Creating a mood board is helpful when you are trying to develop your personal style. Think about people who inspire you with the way they dress. Cut out pictures from magazines for ideas to help you develop your unique look. Pinterest is a fantastic tool that allows you to ‘shop’ without spending any money.

Once you know your style, you are more attune to selecting the right items when shopping. You also know what you are looking for when sifting through racks of clothing in packed second-hand stores.

Clusters and capsules

Building a functional capsule wardrobe of about 29 items where everything mixes and matches is the way to go for simplicity and getting dressed easily.

A capsule wardrobe consists of a series of clusters (5 or 6 items that all mix and match together). Clusters and capsules help you create a wardrobe for any occasion, in your perfect colours and colour combinations. Start by selecting 2 neutrals and 3 colours (or the reverse if you are more conservative) and build from there.

Op shop styling is a fantastic way of resourcing a capsule wardrobe. A cluster can be built using a fabulous skirt found at an op shop as a hero piece. Take a cue from the fabric and colour and select items that will work with the item for different occasions. An emerald green skirt could be paired with a crisp white collared shirt for a classy look, something black, something green or a plain t-shirt for a more casual look. Embellish with a handcrafted, second-hand brooch or scarf or other accessories.

(Check out Emma’s Step-by-step guide to creating a stylish capsule wardrobe. If you’re keen to learn more, check out the Minimalist Wardrobe sessions presented by Emma as part of Sunshine Coast Council’s Fabric: Slow Fashion – Artful Living program.

Be creative

Consider how you can personalise your finds. Diamantes can be glued onto a pair of plain tan sandals to make them unique. Holes in jeans can be patched with different coloured denim. A plain men’s t-shirt can be transformed by adding a contrasting pocket. Change the buttons on a cardigan. Take a plain top and add trim to make it your own. You don’t have to wear everything the way it looks on the hanger, be inventive.

Look for different ways to wear second-hand items:

  • a boxy jacket paired with a one-off belt that brings it in at the waist
  • a silk dressing gown found in the sleepwear section of an op shop can easily become a stunning evening gown with a stylish Obi belt
  • combine something feminine and flowy with a utilitarian jacket to create intrigue
  • wear a shirt backward
  • turn a men’s business shirt into a skirt by tying the arms in front


Accessorising can be fun to invest in a variety of items you love that work with the clothes in your wardrobe. A single outfit can become many when good quality clothes are matched with a variety of accessories. You can’t go wrong with a white shirt worn with a beautiful scarf. A simple charcoal knitted dress can take on a bunch of different looks with various necklaces, shoes, belts and bags.

At op shops or car boot sales, keep an eye out for one-off pieces that have been handcrafted by artisans such as necklaces, belts, brooches, jewellery, or hand-knitted scarves. Consider how they can be transformed into something that works with your wardrobe.

Intentional style

There are ways to live and shop according to our values. For those that value stewarding resources, we can express that with an intersection of style, fashion and sustainability. Sustainable fashion is not all about bag-shaped calico dresses … it is far more multifaceted than that.

By being really intentional about where you shop, what you buy and the fabrics you choose, you can curate amazing personal style and promote sustainable fashion to the next generation.

Fabulous follows

Do you have an op shop styling hack you would like to share? Let us know in the comments below.

[PHOTO] This skirt is from fabulous New York designer Tibi and retails at around $600 but was found for $8 in a Melbourne op shop. Teamed with a crisp white shirt and edgy Solsana shoes, it becomes a hero piece.