Ask Umbra on eco-undies
Q. Dear Umbra,
I’ve converted myself to clothing made in the USA, hemp, organic cotton, etc. The issue I am struggling with is the panties and bras. I am a 34D, and I need a decent amount of support. Even sports bras do me no justice (I usually wear my regular bra under them when I mountain bike or hike). Are there any good alternatives for bras and undies? Any advice would be helpful.
A. Dearest Coree,
Underwear and socks are sticking points in the overall attempt to make a greener wardrobe. Buying other people’s discarded bras and underpants is not so tasty. To me, anyway. Others might find it a useful route, and it’s feasible that some secondhand socks are not worn to the quick. On the upside, the washing and maintenance of clothes is often the highest-impact life phase, and few underpants and socks need to be dry cleaned.
Organic, hemp, and made-in-USA underpants are easier to find than bras. I would even say they are easy to find, on the internet if not at actual stores near you. Amazon is always stunning me with the amount of stuff they carry. Which I guess is why they are Amazon — but in any case, from Amazon to Fairies Dance, there are plentiful organic cotton underpants for the ladies and the gents. I also had some luck finding Made in the USA products, and a couple of union-made sites.
In general, we know to buy used clothing and not buy items that need dry cleaning, and we also know we are meant to buy fewer clothes (fewer defined in contrast to the commercial imperative to seasonally refresh our entire wardrobes). Again, undergarments provide a challenge here, because in theory the more underwear we own, the less often we need to do laundry, the less heat and water we use, and the higher our general quality of life. But buying 20 pair of ecologically correct underpants can set a person back hundreds of dollars. Perhaps it’s something to chop away at bit by bit, rather than to tackle whole hog.
With bras, of course, as Oprah says, we need only three of top quality: one to wear, one to wash, and one in the drawer. The three will perhaps also cost quite a bit, but they should last longer than a set of underpants. If any readers know where to find three decent, supportive, organic or fairly traded bras that fit anything above an A cup, write in immediately. One union-loving vendor offers union-made bras for large-busted women, but many “eco” sites offer the same series of cotton bras, which don’t look particularly supportive. Look for yourself at Gaiam and the above-mentioned Fairies Dance and see what you think. As an aside, I have to mention one hemp bra I found on the internet, which time-travelled here from a 1960’s macramé workshop.
Another option, after you exhaust your fingers typing “organic bra”: handmade bras and underpants. Etsy.com is full of handmade items, including “intimates,” and you may come across other sites from there. And my final offer as we wait for reader input: make your own underwear! All you need is fabric, elastic, and a sewing machine, and the bra and panties of your dreams can be … somewhat re-created. I think underpants are feasible for the beginner, though I am quite daunted by the bras. But perhaps other will rise to the challenge. Sweatshop-free, made in the USA, and organic if you can get it. Or you can knit your own hemp hippie throwback, as above.