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Shopping for Teacher Outfits on a Tight Budget: Shopping with Sustainability in Mind

When I landed my first teaching job, most of my clothing involved jeans, oversized sweatshirts, and tennis shoes that I wore around the university campus. I realized I had very few teacher-appropriate clothes in my closet but had a limited budget. I couldn't just buy a whole new wardrobe of blouses, dress pants, dresses, and shoes. So I had to get creative. If you are a new teacher building your wardrobe or are interested in shopping more sustainably, keep reading.

Thrifting vs. Fast Fashion

It can be easy to shop online with the constant flow of clothing ads and social media "clothing haul" videos that entice us to add clothes to our cart to keep up with the latest styles and trends. For me, I made a promise to myself that I won't contribute to fast fashion and the throw-away culture. Fast fashion is essentially companies that create inexpensive clothing in high volume based on current trends. Companies like Shein are notorious for creating knock-offs of high-quality and ethically produced clothing styles. Using low-quality materials like synthetic fabrics derived from fossil fuels and paying someone pennies on the dollar, these items are not as durable and are presented to consumers at a low cost.

Instead, one of the first places I always start is secondhand stores. I recognize that there can be a stigma around thrift shopping, but I have found some of my favorite high-quality pieces from secondhand shopping. I can't tell you the number of times I've found clothes new with tags because someone didn't get around to returning the item or lost the receipt. I've found Patagonia jackets, The North Face sweaters, Anne Taylor blouses, Prana dresses, and Alo workout gear. I know some people might be turned off by buying used shoes, but let's be honest, how many times have you purchased a pair of shoes only to find they pinch your toes and they just sit in your closet and later get donated?

With our tight teacher budget and the current recession, it can seem to make sense to buy into fast fashion. What I've found is that it's easy to spend even more money when the prices are seemingly so low. The trade-off is that those items don't last and we end up buying more. We've all had those items that fall apart the second they go through the wash. That's one of the reasons, I always start at secondhand stores and look for quality items. Start with the basics and items like jean jackets that can be paired in several different ways.

Questions to Ask Yourself As You Shop:

Will I still want this item in 5 years?

If I walk away, will I still be thinking about this item in a week?

Is this my style or is it a trend?

Would I buy this at full price?

Does this align with my values?

How does this clothing make me feel? (confident, comfortable...)

Here's another helpful trick if you tend to be an impulse shopper. If you have an armful of clothes, can you name every item in your hands without looking at them? Or if you are shopping online, can you name everything in your cart without looking? The items you can't name go back on the shelf or get deleted from your cart.

Everything I'm wearing in the photo below is secondhand. I found the jeans and top in a thrift store. The sweater is one I found at a thrift store more than 10 years ago that I still wear because it is high-quality. The shoes are from my sister who changed jobs and no longer needed them.

Shopping for Teacher Outfits on a Tight Budget: Shopping with Sustainability in Mind

Shop Secondhand Online

If you prefer online shopping, start with your local Facebook Marketplace or FB Buy Sell Nothing Groups. I've purchased some nice items from people in my local area selling clothes on Marketplace. You can always meet at a place where you can run into a bathroom and try on the item. The Buy Sell Nothing pages are a great way to find items for your classroom too. I've picked up books, consumable supplies for my classroom, and furniture for my classroom for free. There are other sites like Poshmark that make it easy to shop for particular styles or brands. These are secondhand items that may even be new with tags. I use Poshmark for some of my favorite brand items that I have in several colors.

Clothing Swap Boutique Parties

One of my friends came up with the great idea of setting up a clothing boutique in her living room. She invited a bunch of friends over to her place (only a few of us were teachers). We all brought clothes, shoes, and accessories to swap. We had snacks, wine, and a fun time trying on each other's clothes and swapping. The rule was it didn't matter if you left with more than you brought. Whatever was left over was then donated. Sometimes it's just fun to have something new in your closet to wear and this was a great way to do it on a dime.

Shopping with Sustainability in Mind

Supporting sustainable companies over fast fashion is always great, but try shopping secondhand first. That's actually a more sustainable and planet-friendly option. And if you have items in your closet that haven't been worn in a while, bring them out and spend an afternoon putting together some new pairings or creative clothing styles with what you already have. Think about what items you currently own make you feel your best. Which items do you feel most confident, or comfortable? Consider these things when shopping for new items. If you are looking to make some eco-friendly swaps for household items, follow the Instagram account

Use the Don't Show This Ad Feature

Did you know you can get rid of ads on social media and in your inbox promotions tab? If you keep getting enticed by those never-ending ads, you can click the three dots and choose to pause or no longer see those ads. This is a great way to keep things out of sight, out of mind.

What other shopping tips would you share with teachers? Comment below.


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