Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


fall favorites '14

fall favorites featuring mata traders, thredup, and everlane

I'm suddenly really into Dusty Rose, which is essentially mauve. I'm noticing it everywhere, but especially at the thrift shop, where we seem to get in another Dusty Rose item every day. The volunteers always ask me if we should save it for spring inventory, but I insist that it's totally in for fall. Am I making it up?

My closet is well packed with clothing, but I envision my alternate wardrobe with soft Everlane basic shirts paired with muted prints, cozy tights, and cognac loafers or boots.

I've hit this point in my fair trade journey where my style has had to change to suit the ethical options available to me. Things have gotten a bit more hippie and I don't mind, but I'm having a hard time even defining my personal style within the constraints. It's likely not normal to be so worried about it, but I'm learning that I'm an extreme perfectionist that has to have everything sorted out and defined.

the moral wardrobe: camel sweater

j crew camel sweater personal style post on
j crew camel sweater personal style post on
j crew camel sweater personal style post on
Outfit Details: Sweater - J. Crew via ebay (similar); Pants - thrifted; Earrings - Mata Traders; Shoes - Blowfish

I call that last photo "Camel-flage."

It's really looking like fall now. We've had a warm October, but everyone says this is the best leaf display we've had in years. I don't know about that, but it's certainly better than last year. 

I've spent the week marketing the thrift shop's Halloween costumes like crazy. I've almost convinced myself to buy one, but I'm on a spending freeze at the moment, partially because I finally broke down and bought J. Crew's Fall '13 camel sweater on ebay. I've wanted it for a year, so I guess that means it's not an impulse buy. I have a weird tendency of thinking that some items are so special I can't possibly purchase them.

the moral wardrobe: a little red dress

red dress
red dress
Details: Dress - c/o Synergy via FloydFest; Shoes - thrifted; Earrings - thrifted; Blazer - thrifted

People often don't realize that I have insecurities about my figure because they assume that my relatively small frame guards me from body-shaming. But it definitely feels like a risk to wear things that are clingy around the hips. I wore this Synergy dress in the FloydFest sustainable fashion show over the summer and they kindly gave it to me afterwards. What I enjoyed most about my modeling adventures this year is how they forced me out of my comfort zone. I got to pretend I was someone else for those quick strides down the catwalk, and that was enough to help me realize I was less boxed in than I thought. 

Here's to embracing our bodies and stepping out of our comfort zones!

fair trade and financial responsibility

I must admit that I've been pretty bad with money lately. I've always had a shopping problem, but the thrill of a new job and new connections with ethical clothing brands exarcerbated it over the past couple months.

Shopping is what I do when I have free time. It's a hobby and, like most hobbies, it can gobble up money rather quickly if you don't watch it. When I have a moment to spare, I like to plop down in front of my computer and seek out new products on the internet. I like to tweet ethical brands and feature product boards. But I'm here to remind myself once again that a fair trade lifestyle is just as much about cutting back as it is about redirecting my shopping.

Fair trade products add up! The ethos of the industry allows us to use positive words like support and invest instead of splurge and indulge, but we're not really off the hook for our spending. I knew from the start that this journey would be a challenge and that it would mean changing the way I think about consuming, but I got to the point where I thought, "I've abstained from a good shopping spree long enough. Why not go a little wild?" Going wild is dangerous no matter what avenue you choose, but it comes with startling financial consequences when you're purchasing high cost, fair trade items.

Indulging versus Supporting

The advertising industry has successfully convinced a lot of us, myself included, that we deserve to indulge. But that's an outright lie! Shopping shouldn't be conceived of as a guilty pleasure we get to partake in if we're good people. Unfortunately, ethical brands often employ the same tactics with a twist. They tell us: "Not only do you deserve to cut loose; by doing so, you actually help people! In fact, the more you indulge, the more you support the disadvantaged in faraway lands! It's a win win. It's the future, people!"

But I'm convinced that the future is really about being as thoughtful as possible about each step we take on our path through the world. Think about where you spend, but also think about whether you should spend at all. Think about the repercussions of a choice from every angle. Think about your life goals and financial responsibilities.


So, I sent a lot of stuff back, but I'm left with many things I shouldn't have purchased. I'll be alright, but I know I didn't make the best choices.

The silver lining in all this is that I realized I have successfully gone a year without purchasing from brands with poor corporate social responsibility standards. I now naturally steer clear of companies that don't align with my values. That's progress. But I've still got a ways to go.

sale alert: Ruche

Ruche is currently putting on a big sale and lots of ethical options are included. They carry Synergy, one of my favorite ethical brands, so it's a good time to stock up on their dresses. There are also a couple of 31 Bits fair trade pieces included in the sale. Hooray!

an ethical outfit: exploring midtown

ethical outfit with sseko designs, vintage, and people tree on

ethical outfit: exploring midtown by fracturedradiance featuring a long wool sweater

Sources: People Tree Sweater, Paige Denim, Recycling History Beret, Sseko Designs Bag, Nemres Boots

UVa students rarely refer to the area of Main Street between campus and Downtown as Midtown, but townies, of which I am one, proudly do. It's a small area - only a few blocks long - but it boasts the best local pastry shop in town, an upscale market, several good restaurants built in old industrial buildings, a tattoo parlor, and a few hoity toity shops.

This outfit would be perfect for a sunny, cool day like today. I'd bring a local paper and a book in my bag then settle into an outdoor table at Albemarle Baking Company with hot tea and a chocolate croissant. Alas! Today is Homecoming, so I'll have to wait for a quieter weekend.

the moral wardrobe: hippie dippie

mustard sweater and clarks shoes on
clarks shoes

How serendipitous that I would wear my Clark's Originals (with a style that originated in the 60s or 70s) the same day a hippie bus was parked in my neighborhood! If you'd ever visited my neighborhood, you would know that it's unusual to see this sort of vehicle parked in this area (though this branch of the neighborhood was built in the early 60s, so maybe it makes more sense than I thought).

If you squint, you can just make out the message, "Listen to your children more!" scrawled on the side.

mustard sweater and clarks shoes on

Speaking of hippies, my bracelet was graciously gifted by Jesus' Economy, a Christian non-profit that aims to build wells, churches, and infrastructure for communities in India, with a particular interest in supporting women. You can read more about it here and shop their fair trade market.

Outfit Details: Sweater - H&M; Top - American Apparel; Bracelet - c/o Jesus' Economy; Shoes - Clark's; Jeans - AE

reviews: the shoes blues

For the past couple years, I've relied on thrifting for most of my shoe purchases. It's challenging to find a good pair of shoes and it's even worse when you've spent a lot of money on a pair just to realize they aren't meeting your expectations. But I want to support ethical brands when I can, so when I got a new job, I saved up some money and bought a few new pairs of shoes for the first time in a long time.

Unfortunately, I wasn't pleased with the results.

The Sseko Designs Flats - so beautiful, so disappointing

Item 1: TOMS Flats

I actually found these secondhand online and thought it was the perfect opportunity to get a pair of TOMS. The brand is still working out kinks with production standards and transparency, but I consider them a better option than your standard department store brand. I bought these in a size 7, my usual size, and found them to be both unusually wide and shallow at the heel. As a result, my feet are constantly flopping out of the back and getting shoved to one side or the other.

Item 2: Sseko Designs Lalibella Flats

The website suggests sizing down one size, so I opted for a 6.5 instead of my usual 7. When I got them, I found them to be too small, with the left shoe feeling slightly tighter than the right (my right foot is a bit bigger, so it's not a matter of foot inconsistency). I ordered the next size up and found that the left shoe fit the same if not tighter than the 6.5 and the right shoe fit fine. What?! To their credit, they have incredible customer service and free returns.

I'm terribly disappointed that the Sseko flats are a no-go because I love the style and the company. It sucks because fair trade and small scale are the best ways to ensure fair labor and greater sustainability, but the quality control is (often) lacking. I take my time on making more expensive ethical purchases because, on my budget, these things are investment pieces. They've got to hold up.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the necessary price differences between fast fashion items and ethical/artisanal ones. I get it, but it's hard not to hold items you've spent more than a day's wages on to a high standard. It's a struggle with every new purchase and it makes ethical fashion blogging a bit more challenging because I can't feature tons of ethical brands in personal style posts. Still, important things are often the hardest things to achieve and it's worth it to keep having these discussions, to keep saving up, and to keep discovering and featuring brands that change the industry for the better.

a history of fashion

Daniel and I are working our way though a podcast on the history of American fashion from Back Story with the American History Guys. They talk a lot about the relationship between how we dress and who we are, as well as issues of class and cultural appropriation. I figured this group would enjoy it, so you can listen here.

discarding things and people

I became the manager of a church-affiliated thrift shop two months ago. I thought I knew what the challenges would be. I thought I had a grip on the industry. But I've learned a lot: about consumerism, about prejudice, about deeply held, deeply misinformed ideas about poverty and giving. For the sake of clarity (I tend to ramble without a clearly defined topic), I've grouped what I've learned into three categories:
thrift shop ethics blog post,

Lesson 1: People buy too much stuff. 

One full day was spent sorting through Girls' clothing size 7/8 that had been donated by a single family. When we receive toys, we typically receive them three garbage bags at a time. I walked up to the front door this morning to discover 8 full bags of junk and an old TV scattered around the porch (please note that we only accept donations during open hours and we don't accept TVs; thanks, buddy). I ask "WHY?" so many times a day, it's practically a mantra. What the heck are we doing?

Lesson 2: Donating eases consumer guilt to our detriment. 

Though thrift shops are a great resource and a great means of raising funds for charity, they've also become a justification for over-consumption. Judging by the types of things we get in on a regular basis, it's clear that people give things to us so that they don't have to feel bad about throwing them away. But, really, what are we going to do with jeans with a hand sized hole in the crotch? We're forced to throw it away since you weren't willing to.

Lesson 3: People massively undervalue the lives of people less fortunate than them. 

This is the saddest part of my job. At least once a week, someone says something terrible about poor or homeless people. One week, someone was angry that I gave one of our "nice shirts" to a woman using a voucher to get clothes for her son. Today a woman exclaimed, "Homeless people don't care if their clothes look bad!" Maybe this is lost on a lot of people, but it's our responsibility to acknowledge the innate dignity of everyone. Part of that is giving to others as we would have them give to us. 

It pains me to think that we would save the best for ourselves and let the "poor people" have our discards. It bothers me that our thrift shop structure nearly requires us to send the crappy clothing overseas because we hate the thought of throwing it away.

This must stop. It all has to stop: the buying, the discarding of things and people.

Charity shops are wonderful. They're a happy place where goods can be re-used and re-loved. But they simply can't solve issues of character. It's up to us to buy less and care more. It's up to us to carefully consider the repercussions of our actions as consumers and, more importantly, as people.

P.S. The post, Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor, inspired me to write this post. Give it a read!

sseko designs' fall footwear

I bought my first pair of Sseko sandals earlier this year and wore them all through the summer. Their model is great because it provides both jobs and scholarships to Ugandan women. And the quality and community can't be beat. I wrote about them in more detail here

I got early access to the fall lookbook a couple months ago and flipped out when I realized they were coming out with loafers! I waited and waited and they're finally available online. The price is steep when you're used to thrifting, but they're made of quality materials sourced at fair prices from Ethiopia.

When it comes to conscientious consumerism, leather goods are a tricky subject. I'm not a vegetarian, though I don't typically eat meat at home, but leather production requires a rather inefficient use of resources. On the other hand, leather goods can withstand years of use and abuse, which makes them a good choice when you're trying to buy smarter. Buying from a small scale production line is a middle ground I'm ok with.

I haven't gotten my pair in the mail yet, but I'll review them in a post as soon as I can. Click the links below the photo collage to browse.

the moral wardrobe: gray gray, go away

american apparel green fleece cape outfit on
american apparel green fleece cape outfit on
american apparel green fleece cape outfit on
Outfit Details: Top - thrifted; Jeans - AE; Boots - thrifted; Cape - American Apparel

Today was Day 4 of endlessly gray skies. It's somewhat unusual for Charlottesville this time of year and it's especially unfortunate because we have friends in town. We've been having fun in spite of the weather, though, and managed to do lots of quintessential Charlottesville things like eating downtown, apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard, visiting Skyline Drive, and going to Peter Chang's restaurant (it's the bomb). 

Tomorrow I'm heading back to work, but Daniel's on fall break, so hopefully they'll have successfully cooked our apples into a pie by the time I get home. 

fog on skyline drive

my favorite ethical style bloggers

ethical style bloggers,

I read a handful of other ethical style blogs. It's great to see what other people are finding, wearing, and thinking about. I'd love to interview more of them for Style Wise, but in the meantime, I thought I'd provide a few links for your perusal.

What are you reading? I'd love your recommendations.

Style Wise's new home

After a couple great years on WordPress, I've switched Style Wise to the Blogger platform. Though I love the WordPress community, it's fairly limited in terms of design and sponsorship opportunities unless I opt in (and pay for) self hosting.

This isn't so much a rebranding as a redesign. You can expect the same content on a different platform. If you currently follow me through WordPress, please consider following me on Bloglovin' instead. Just click the heart on the sidebar to be redirected.

Note that I've transferred all previous blog posts to the new platform, so you can look back through my archives without having to visit the defunct page.


the moral wardrobe: sandals' last stand

free people tunic outfit boho outfit, personal style on stylewiseguide.comtattly tattoo outfit, stylewiseguide.comOutfit Details: Top - secondhand; Jeans - AE; Shoes - Sseko Designs, fair trade; Fake Tattoo - tattly

You can tell fall wants to show itself, but the temperature's still hovering at 75. I put on my sandals as soon as I got home; might as well sun my toes while I can.

Being an ethical style blogger is stressful sometimes. While I've gotten much better at buying things through more sustainable channels, I find that some things are awfully hard to find on the secondhand or fair trade market. I finally just gave up with jeans and bought a couple pairs that fit me well. My logic is that dark wash, good quality denim will last through several seasons, so at least I'm not succumbing to a trend. It's not a perfect justification, but it is what it is. It's something I'm living with, but not celebrating.

platinum no more: how to get rid of the blonde at home

how to dye blonde hair brown at homeMy hair has been through a lot this year.

I had my hair professionally bleached and dyed to platinum blonde back in April for a fashion show. I was able to keep the look up for several months thanks to a touch-up I received as payment for a styled shoot I did in June. But then things started growing out and I knew I didn't want to pay $70.00+ every couple of months to maintain a color so distant from my natural one.

I decided to dye my hair darker at home. The only hitch was that home dyes are made to go over hair with pigment in it and my hair had been bleached out. With nothing for the dye to hold onto, it was inevitable that my at home hair color would fade back to blonde or, even worse, turn a weird color. After consulting with several local stylists and doing some online research, I came up with a plan. And it worked!

dyeing your hair at home

What you'll need:

  • Warm Red semi-permanent dye

  • Warm Dark Blonde/Light Brown semi-permanent dye

  • Permanent dye in the color of your choice


Follow instructions on box to dye your hair a warm red tone, concentrating more color at the roots than on the ends, as bleached hair is more absorbent than your natural roots. I waited a couple weeks before doing the next step, but you could do this all on the same day, if desired.

Next, follow instructions on box to dye your hair a warm dark blonde or light golden brown no more than 2-3 shades lighter than your desired final color. It is imperative that the dye you choose is listed as a Warm tone, as you really need to get the brown-red base of a natural hair color back in your hair before permanent dye can adhere to it.

After both semi-permanent dyes have been applied, dry your hair and apply permanent hair color in the Neutral or Warm tone of your choice (I used a neutral medium brown). You're finished!

As hair fades, it will have a natural base to hold onto, so you won't end up with pink or green hair. Dyeing your hair using this at-home method will save you $50.00 or more.

easy recipe: balsamic potatoes with arugula

balsamic potatoes recipe with arugula,

I didn't enjoy cooking until recently, so I still have the bad habit of not preparing something to eat until I'm ravenously hungry. I tend to fall back on black beans and rice and chickpeas with garlic and parsley, but sometimes I get tired of it and make potatoes instead.

My super easy recipe for balsamic potatoes uses the microwave, but I'm sure there are better ways to prepare this if you've got a little more time on your hands and don't mind cleaning up the stove top.


  • Salt

  • Thyme (fresh or powdered)

  • Balsamic Vinegar

  • Olive Oil

  • Yellow Potatoes (I used five in varying sizes)

  • Garlic (fresh or jarred preferred)


Wash potatoes and cut into bite sized pieces (keep in mind that smaller pieces will cook through quicker). Place in microwave safe bowl and add salt, balsamic vinegar, thyme, olive oil, and garlic to taste. Use a large spoon to coat potatoes evenly.

Cover bowl completely with plastic wrap and microwave for 5-8 minutes at a time, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are cooked through. Garnish with arugula to taste (I added a lot and it was delicious).

i don't think minimalism means what you think it means

simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Minimalism is in.

Capsule wardrobes; intentional living; clean lines; sustainable, closet-sized homes. But I hope you realize that the list I just spouted off represents two very different approaches to minimalism and that doing one doesn't necessarily indicate anything about the other.

Officially, the term minimalism applies to an aesthetic that favors spareness and simplicity. But more broadly, it has come to represent a pared down lifestyle that advertises itself as the answer to the breakneck pace and over-indulgence of American culture. We're stressed out, always working, constantly comparing ourselves to others, and we think that if we unclutter our living spaces, we may be able to make some room for stillness and reflection.

minimalism essay

Aesthetic minimalism places no barriers on consumption. But simple living minimalism is almost entirely about living with less. Though the two are at odds, they share enough in common superficially to conveniently allow us to feel like we're improving ourselves while consuming and curating just as much as usual.

Case in point: A very prominent blogger I follow is doing a series on simplifying life. In a recent post, she indicated that she got rid of everything in her closet to buy a whole new closet of more classic items like - wait for it - leopard print sneakers and jeans with holes in them. The only intentional living I'm seeing here is intentionally finding excuses to stock up on trendy items.


The reason this matters - the reason I'm freaking out about it - is that confusing a look with an ethic is really dangerous. It's destructive to the fair trade movement, too, because it distracts people on this really exciting, really hard path to long-term ethical living. It's like a snake oil advertisement: Ease your first world guilt by literally not changing anything! The only problem is that you're actually just swallowing a bunch of poison (or maybe corn starch, if you're lucky).

Look, it's fine if you like the minimalism trend. I agree, it's pretty groovy. But don't confuse simple silhouettes with moral living. Your capsule wardrobe is not for a good cause.

And please, for the love of God (this isn't me swearing; I really mean it), please don't pretend that donating your whole wardrobe to the local thrift store is a great philanthropic deed.

the moral wardrobe: it's fair trade month!

Happy Fair Trade Month!
mata traders outfitI'm more excited than I look.

ft6Levitating leaves

fair trade month style postOutfit Details: Dress - Mata Traders, fair trade / Earrings: Ten Thousand Villages, fair trade / Cardigan - secondhand / Shoes - old

Hooray for a whole month of celebrating a living wage! I'm wearing my new Mata Traders dress and fair trade tassel earrings from Ten Thousand Villages in celebration.

It's amazing what doing a little laundry and cleaning the dishes will do for my spirit. Things feel much more orderly now.