Sunday, January 12, 2020

Weekend Review: Dress [with] Sense: the Practical Guide to a Conscious Closet

Dress [with] Sense: the Practical Guide to a Conscious Closet
Christina Dean, Hannah Lane, Sofia Tarneberg; illus. by Charlotte Trounce
London: Thames & Hudson, c2017.
224 p.

I picked up my own copy of this book recently, after having read it via my library. I wanted to own it, as it is a clearly laid out, practical, and also pretty book about fashion and ways to be more conscious with your closet.

The three women who wrote it started Redress, an NGO that focuses on reducing textile waste in the fashion world. They have an interesting website as well, with lots of info and events that they hold locally to them, in Hong Kong. 

The book is broken up into four sections: 

BUY better & make more responsible choices when shopping

WEAR clothes more creatively

CARE for your clothes -- laundering, mending etc.

DISPOSE of clothes by non-trash means: swapping, up/recycling, donating etc.

The structure is very logical, and the content is useful and inspiring. The way the book is designed encourages quick reading, and hopefully will engage those who won't pick up a huge tome of research based arguments as to why we need to think about the environmental impact of our wardrobes. 

The book is really lovely -- the illustrations are charming, there are single page comments from well-known models, actresses, bloggers and other fashion revolution folks who are into sustainability, and there is a fair bit of useful information I haven't seen everywhere, like how to make your own stain removers that are non-toxic, as just one example. There are also a lot of photos; this feels a bit like a chunky magazine. 

The BUY chapter talks about the impact of fashion, and how to buy more consciously, break bad habits, and take action via options like Fashion Revolution. It encourages you to think differently about buying, like perhaps shopping for a capsule wardrobe instead of impulse buying. 

The WEAR chapter looks at editing your closet, tailoring, mending, diy-ing and refashioning. This article published by Redress goes over the Edit Your Closet steps which are also shared in the book but in a cuter, illustrated way.

The CARE chapter is interesting, because it goes more in-depth into this area than other books I've read so far. Redress even gives local workshops on washing and drying your wardrobe more sustainably. This chapter covers how to understand care labels, suggests hand washing, spot cleaning or airing out clothes rather than washing after every wear. If you do want to wash your clothes, it's key to understand your machine, wash in cooler temperatures, and hang to dry as much as possible. It also talks about mending, storing, hanging clothes properly, finding professionals to mend your clothes and shoes, and so on. There are recipes for refresher spray and stain removal mixes made from natural ingredients, too. I found this chapter really helpful!

The final chapter, DISPOSE, is a tough one since there really is no ideal, magical tech-based solution to the problem of too many clothes. There just needs to be fewer clothes in the first place. But, they do go over ideas to divert clothing from landfill.

These include hosting clothing swaps (with a how-to included), or reselling your clothes in-person or online. There is a section of different charities who accept donated clothes for various purposes, in case you want to direct them somewhere besides just the local Goodwill. 

The book finishes with a section of resources for further study -- suggested books, websites, and organizations to check out. This appendix is small print and four pages long so there is lots to explore.

I enjoyed this book and found it informative, even if it doesn't really talk about home sewing. The chapters on wear and care are most directly useful for sewists, I think; there is a lot there to use when I'm looking at my own handmade wardrobe. From choosing the original materials to caring for them so they last as long as possible, this will add to the sustainability of my own sewn closet. I'd recommend it if you can find a copy. It's a quick read, not text-heavy, but I think it would appeal to readers newly interested in this topic.


  1. Looks like an interesting book. The thing about purchasing clothing/fabric is having to weigh the cost of manufacturing vs cost of decomposition. There is no way that someone who sews and adores fabric can balance these things.

    1. It's impossible to have zero impact when we are alive and existing in the world, but we can strive to have a better impact, as much as possible.

    2. Well, of course. I'm just saying that any choice is going to have a negative impact. The processing of fiber vs the decomposition of fiber. It's basically a no-win situation. But of course, we do our best. :)

    3. That's so true Linda - every choice has an inevitable impact. It's good to know that we are starting to think more about it but it is there.

  2. A very thoughtful sounding book. This could easily be part of my 2020 sewing goals. I rarely buy new clothes these days, but I could try harder still to reduce fabric purchases and look more at upcycling. If I have the skills I should do it and 'lead' by example. Plus .. it is very satisfying.

    1. Hello Sara! Glad that blogger has decided to work for you again. I'm focusing on the tips in this book that will help me care for my current wardrobe better, but there is lots of other great content too.

  3. Yeah!! First time I have been able to successfully put up a comment for ages!!

  4. The Redress people are doing a great thing and the book sounds like a good one. The care section sounds very much like some of the common sense guides given in my old sewing books from the 40s and 50s. Clothing was not disposable back then and care and mending were essential practices.

    I will definitely look for this one as I could use some more ideas about disposal.

    1. It's a short chapter on disposal but there are some good ideas there. Their website is really interesting too -- they seem very busy, and they are focusing on educating younger people so hopefully that will have a lasting effect on fast fashion!


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!