By Abby Davidson
As a self-proclaimed sustainable maximalist I often find myself thinking about the relationship between maximalism and sustainability and I reckon some of you might have too.
To start I want to consider what maximalism is. A simple search will bring you to this definition:
“maximalism, a reaction against minimalism, is an aesthetic of excess. The philosophy can be summarized as “more is more”, contrasting with the minimalist motto “less is more”.”
Maximalism exists in virtually an area where aesthetics can be considered. Design, literature, music and in this case fashion.
On first appearances this definition of maximalism exists in direct contrast to sustainability. Sustainability should be about consuming less and cutting down, and surely maximalism disagrees?
Estie Joy known on Instagram as @estielivessustainably is conscious that when it comes to thrifting, “there’s an element of overconsumption sometimes and that definitely doesn’t resonate with sustainability.”
I must be honest and say that I have fallen prey to overconsumption in charity shops one too many times. I’ve impulsive bought items that I’ve only worn once to twice because I can’t bear to leave them behind. Thrifting is as much about consciously picking your purchases as about finding cheap and fun clothes.
I have changed my habits more recently, shopping my own wardrobe before I make another purchase and consistently donating or reselling pieces that no longer fit, or I just can’t style so that someone else can make the most of them instead. Estie resonates with this too saying she does “frequently declutter” because “you can’t just accumulate loads and loads of stuff.”
So how can you be both sustainable and a maximalist. Perhaps it’s best to think about things in terms of maximal quality instead of maximal quantity. I have found that by choosing pieces that I know I can style over and over and will stand the test of time allows me to enjoy my clothes more. Like Estie put it, I “resonate with minimalism and maximalism.”
My discovery and exploration of maximalism began with becoming more conscious of my styling choices. In March 2021 I started my Instagram fashion account to force myself to think about my everyday styling and record it on my public page to what was then a handful of followers.
Since then, my awareness of what matters to me when it comes to my style has shifted. I no longer buy new unless it’s essential and I don’t tend to gravitate towards ‘trendy’ items, instead putting together eclectic outfits made up of my old clothes, borrowed items and thrifted finds.
According to Estie “it’s no coincidence” that many sustainable creators lean towards a maximalist aesthetic as “it lends itself to thrifting.” In her experience “thrifting is a lot more fun it you’re open to lots of different styles.”
I know that thrifting has allowed me to find pieces that I never thought I would choose to wear and given me the confidence to experiment with pattern, texture and colour. I find myself putting together a range of eclectic outfits in several aesthetics and even challenging myself to style aesthetics that I never thought I could.
I’m not they only one whose still has been changed by thrifting. Estie said, “since going fully sustainable with my clothing purchases I think that my wardrobe has become more maximalist and more eclectic” and acknowledged that she’s “more open to trying new styles.”
There is also a perception among many people and particularly the media that sustainable fashion must be ‘boring’ and neutral. The colourful Izzy Manuel (@izzy_manuel) shared her thoughts:
“I think there’s a really big stigma that a lot of people think sustainable fashion is really boring…I truly believe that you can make sustainable fashion fit whatever your style is”
Sustainable brands such as By Megan Crosby, Curse and Ilk and Ernie certainly fit the maximalist genre and are a great option for those who can afford to shop from these business however it has to be recognised that this is not an option for everyone.
She went on to say, “buying second-hand is a great way to get really out there, maximalist pieces while still being more sustainable”, a statement I couldn’t agree more with.
It’s clear that thrifting can help you experiment with styles you would previously have backed away from in a new and affordable way and take the aesthetics you love to a whole new level by finding unique pieces.
Another way that I have found those pieces that I know I can’t afford but want to wear for a special occasion is by using clothing rental apps. A favourite of mine is By Rotation but there are several others like Hurr and Baukjen offering a range of budgets and styles.
Renting clothes gives you the opportunity to try clothes you would never risk buying and discover more elements that you can incorporate into your everyday style.
It’s also important to note that maximalism is more than just bright colours – although for many is can be. It’s about making bold choices with pattern clashes, exaggerated silhouettes, unusual accessories and items that are likely to turn a few heads.
Some of my favourite statement pieces have been charity shop finds so I always pop my head into charity shops as I’m passing by to scan for those pieces that I know I’ll love and treasure.
Whether I remain a maximalist fashion lover forever or not, the lessons it has taught me on how to build and style a sustainable wardrobe will stay with me wherever my style journey takes me.
Abby Davidson is a 21-year-old journalist and content creator from Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is currently studying Liberal Arts at Queen’s University Belfast and works freelance for a press company. You can follow her on instagram, here.