An infatuation with matching sets has been my stepping stone towards a more sustainable wardrobe— here’s how it can clean up yours too
I open the doors of my wardrobe and feel a wave of anxiety at the sight of all of the hangers squished together, carrying clothing that once excited and fulfilled me. I eye the various gingham prints, frilly collars, and tiered hemlines and my mind works overtime trying to create complementary outfits out of this mish-mash of garments. In my head, the resulting looks appear overworked and fussy.
I briefly scan the amalgamation of colours and patterns before my eyes settle to the hangers on the extreme right-hand side of my closet. The solid tones, freshly ironed, tempt me with their simplicity, and I pull out a hanger that houses a khaki-coloured linen set. The elastic-waisted, wide-legged trousers are paired with a long, button-down shirt and I happily slip on the matching set before looking in the mirror and breathing a sigh of relief.
A year ago, I would have called this outfit drab at worst, naval-chic at best. But I’ve become so enamoured with this simple co-ord set that I’ve bought numerous other versions, and now own seven different colours —one for every day of the week, one for every mood, and with numerous ways to make it unique. Sometimes I wear the shirt fully tucked in, making the outfit look like a utilitarian jumpsuit; other days I wear it open, over a vest, revealing a trio of layered necklaces, or half-tucked in for an effortlessly chic appearance. While putting together outfits once felt akin to how an inspired artist must feel when beginning a new painting, the whole process now just causes stress. I’d rather have the canvas already painted a solid colour or print, awaiting its finishing touches.
View this post on Instagram
Let’s rewind. For the past decade or so, my personal style has gravitated towards maximalist, kawaii and cottagecore aesthetics with a ‘more is more’ mantra that fuelled my passion for fashion. That all changed this year, after I gave birth to my second child. I found myself with less time to get ready in the morning, and learned that neither silky textiles nor dangling jewellery work well with a handsy, breastfeeding baby. My wardrobe needed to be reworked and refined to become a collection of easy-to-wear ensembles instead of the overwhelming and overflowing assortment it was. Now I wear my different co-ords in rotation — from my go-to all black version to the hot pink one that I naturally wore to go and watch the Barbie film.
Perhaps what’s most astonishing about my new affinity for these sets is that it has made my approach to fashion more minimalist —and, as a result, sustainable. I may not have vetted the production process or ensured the fabrics were eco-friendly, but the mere fact that I’m wearing them so frequently and refraining from buying more clothes to conform to whatever is currently trending has curtailed my consumption quite drastically. Sustainability is one of those big words that I understand and support, yet have struggled to actually implement in my wardrobe. I’m admittedly a sucker for fast fashion, getting tempted by high-street window displays and sometimes spending frivolously on fashion that ends up collecting dust in my home. A purple raw silk peplum top printed with very realistic cat faces, for instance; or a denim jacket featuring Uzbek embroidery that looked beautiful online, but doesn’t seem to match anything in real life. My clothing collection is full of such finds — kitschy and statement-making, but challenging to style and as a result, rarely worn. My matching sets, however, have helped give me a new lens when shopping for fashion. I now consider some key questions before swiping my card — is the garment long-lasting and timeless? Is it versatile and wearable? Easy to transition from day to night? Made from good-quality fabric, which will last more than just a couple of washes?
As I trot around in my co-ords in the UAE, I notice that the silhouette is a popular one here, especially among locals. Perhaps these monotone sets, offering both comfort and modesty, are an extension of the modern-day abaya, providing a similar amount of coverage albeit in a two-piece form. I recall speaking to Saudi fashion editor Mariam Mossalli when the Kingdom announced that abayas would no longer be legally mandated for women — she mentioned that in the coming months and years, we would discover what the new modest power dressing for women in the Gulf would look like. Could this be it?
View this post on Instagram
Trouser-shirt co-ords do appear to be more popular in this region, not only among Khaleeji women but also South Asians, for whom cultural dress consists of matching tunic and trouser sets. When I wear an emerald green co-ord in the middle of central London, meanwhile, I look like a Crayola crayon among the predominant greys and blacks of commuters and tourists. But I know I’m far from the only woman weaving a long-term love story with co-ords. ‘Matching separates’ is its own section on Net-a-Porter, showcasing brands like Max Mara, Tote Me and The Frankie Shop. Queen of the sustainability movement Stella McCartney has designed a handful, as has The Row — a label that’s long held a reputation for championing quiet-luxury minimalism.
I lived in linen co-ords all summer long, transitioning from brunch to school-pick-up, to indoor play area, to dinner, with unmatched convenience. Now, for Autumn/Winter, these sets will remain my trusty staples. For the cooler months, I plan on switching out my vest layers for turtlenecks underneath open linen tops, completing the look with oversized hoop earrings. Maximalism has, after all, been touted as one of AW 2023’s big jewellery trends, and is a great way to spruce up minimalist sets. If I do feel like looking a little more extravagant there are co-ords that serve as elegant eveningwear. A quick textile upgrade and designer stamp will provide you with a Prada pyjama set in a lush golden tone, while a feathered trim adorns signature Nadine Merabisat in sets. Rest assured I will be experimenting with all sorts of shinier, silkier textiles this autumn as I transition my newfound co-ords into the cooler months. For more casual occasions, I look forward to investing in a matching-set trend that I have yet to try — the knitted co-ord.
But all in moderation, of course. It looks like the biggest fashion challenge I’ll face going forward will be curbing my consumption when it comes to collecting co-ords.
- Words by Hafsa Lodi