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A Wardrobe for Life

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A Wardrobe for Life

Writer Nina Karnikowski on the joy of treasuring clothing that tells a story: a vintage piece, family heirlooms, or something picked up on travels, as an antidote to over-consumption in a world of fast fashion.

Nina Karnikowski

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I spent my youth gorging on fashion.


At university, I worked three jobs and lived at home, leaving plenty of excess cash to spend on whatever latest trends or brands I felt I could not live without. Weekends were spent scouring the shops and hunting down sales so I could feel fabulous and fashionable, lauded and loved. 


As the years passed and my wardrobe grew, I started organising market stalls and visiting charity stores, trying to offload the excess so I could buy more, more, more.


I was on a treadmill, and it was going so fast I could barely keep up.


It was at these markets and second-hand stores, however, that I discovered the joy of vintage fashion, hunting one-of-a-kind pieces from faraway places and bygone eras.

Pieces like a yellow silk jacket from the 1870s with an inbuilt corset and lace collar that I picked up at a Sydney vintage fair. I relished, and still relish, their uniqueness, and knowing I’ll never rock up at a party to find someone else wearing the same thing.

Ever since, I’ve made a conscious effort not to follow designers or trends too closely.


My wardrobe now revolves around treasures bought on my travels, clothes handed down from family and friends, vintage and second-hand (I love Worn For Good and The Harmonic), and the occasional artisan piece that I wear over and over until it becomes a personal signature.


Much better for our ailing planet, and for the bank balance.


Rather than being ashamed of rarely owning new things, I’m proud my clothes tell the story of my life. Of the adventures I’ve had, and the people I’ve loved.

As Orsola de Castro, co-founder of the Fashion Revolution movement says, “loved clothes last.” And I can say from experience that the more we’re personally connected to an item of clothing, the more likely we are to hold onto it and love it.


With 80 billion articles of clothing being produced each year, and 80 percent of discarded textiles ending up in landfill or incineration, this is something we could all think more about.


When I look through my wardrobe, it’s the clothes with stories attached that I feel most connected to.


The ochre-coloured handwoven huipil I bought in Guatemala, created on a backstrap loom using a centuries-old technique handed down through generations.


Or the green embroidered silk coat I discovered in a vintage store in Istanbul seven years ago.

The older and more artisanal the piece, the more value I find I give it.


And the more we learn to love the clothes that are already in existence, the more we can reduce landfill mass and slow down the production of unnecessary virgin textiles.


Recently, I read the excellent climate change book The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac.


It describes something called the South Indian monkey trap – basically, a coconut with a hole in it and a ball of rice inside.


Monkeys put their hand in to grab the rice, only when they try to pull it out, the hole isn’t big enough for their clenched fist.

If the monkeys let go of the rice, they’d be free. But they don’t. They’re trapped by their desire.


This, said the book, is how we behave as consumers. We buy, we use, we discard. Over and over, knowing we’re trapped but being so addicted to the cycle that we can’t let go.

Second hand shopping tips


+ If you want to choose pieces to last a lifetime that won’t shed microplastics into our waterways, look for natural fabrics, including 100 per cent wool, cotton or linen.

+ Shop with a clear vision of what you need. Taking a list of what you need will be a more streamlined, stress-free experience, and help you avoid purchases you’ll regret.

+ Stick mostly to block colours and classic shapes. Get clear on the colours and shapes that suit you, and zoom in on those.

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