A Week of Outfits: Melissa Lee

“I don’t box myself in fashion-wise. If something looks good, it doesn’t matter to me if it’s my ‘style’ or not,” says Melissa Lee, a neuroscientist getting her Ph.D. at Columbia. But even though she doesn’t stick to a certain look, she still has some sartorial rules. Melissa’s goal is to buy mostly or all ethically made clothing. She even put together a directory of the brands she discovered when going down internet rabbit holes. Here, she talks about weaning herself off fast fashion and shows us five outfits she wears in a week…

A Week of Outfits: Melissa Lee

Shirt: Everlane. Skirt: Everlane. Purse: Elleme, similar. Watch: Daniel Wellington. Shoes: Sevilla Smith.

“My little sister introduced me to ethical fashion. She’s a photographer who works with brands that emphasize doing good, like Thirty One Bits and Nisolo. I went through a phase where I wore lots of Urban Outfitters and Forever 21. I had a huge wardrobe of cheap, trendy pieces that I’d wear once or twice. But I realized that these companies often have bad practices; I didn’t want to be putting my money towards sweatshops or causing environmental problems. Over the last few years, I’ve donated all my fast fashion items. Now I only get things I know I’ll wear for years, and I shop from brands like Elizabeth Suzann and Everlane. I often wince when buying something because it tends to be pricier, but then again, I buy much less.”

A Week of Outfits: Melissa Lee

Shirt: Amour Vert, similar. Jeans: Rag & Bone. Backpack: Fjällräven. Cat pin on backpack: Boy Girl Party. Watch: Daniel Wellington. Shoes: Nisolo.

“I work in a research lab studying a disorder called Fragile X syndrome. Though science is still a male-dominated field, both of my bosses and mentors are badass women. This is an outfit I wear to work, under my lab coat. I have a watch, but necklaces get in the way if I’m leaning over a microscope. I always pull my hair up and wear long pants since I work with chemicals. I’m 5’2″, so jeans are often too long. I cut these because I was too lazy to get them hemmed — but I actually like the way they look with a frayed hem. With other clothes, I just buy what I like and get things tailored. Everything looks better tailored!”

A Week of Outfits: Melissa Lee

Shirt: Elizabeth Suzann. Pants: Aritzia. Purse: Skagen. Shoes: Everlane.

“I recently decided to quit bras. I’d been wearing lots of off-the-shoulder and backless tops, which didn’t work with bras. I thought, why don’t I just skip them all the time? It’s much more comfortable and I have tiny breasts, so I don’t need one. Instead, I’ve been using pasties, but I’m trying to find a way that isn’t so wasteful. My friend showed me a gauzy medical tape which works quite well, but it’s also disposable. I’m experimenting with different things. (Any ideas?)”

A Week of Outfits: Melissa Lee

Shirt: Jamie + the Jones. Pants: Cynthia Rowley, similar. Sunglasses: Jonathan Saunders. Purse: Steven Alan, similar. Watch: Daniel Wellington. Shoes: Dieppa Restrepo, similar.

“I’ve tried to create a capsule wardrobe, where you buy basics that mix and match. This green shirt doesn’t really follow that rule, since it won’t go with everything, but I’m a sucker for emerald. I do a thing called ‘The French Wardrobe,’ which I read about on Reddit, where you have a core of basic clothing, but then get only five other pieces for the spring/summer and five pieces for fall/winter — including accessories. If I find myself going back to an item over and over, then I’ll get it. There’s a cool website called Parcel that consolidates all the things I’m looking at and helps me keep a shopping budget. So, when I say ‘slow fashion,’ it’s not just slow fashion in that things are made slowly and will last, but I’m also trying to slow the process down from the consumer end, too.”

A Week of Outfits: Melissa Lee

Dress: Isabel Marant, similar. Bag: Nisolo. Shoes: Nisolo.

“I try not to put too much pressure on myself to be perfect about my shopping habits. This dress was an impulse buy on the outlet site The Outnet. Every once in a while it’s nice to wear something really pretty. I still browse websites like Zara to see what’s out there. Wearing a trendy outfit is tempting, but I try not to give in. Making big changes in life is always a process; you are constantly getting better at it. That’s what’s important.”

Thank you so much, Melissa! You are awesome.

P.S. More women share their go-to outfits, and nine summer looks.

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo. Interview by Megan Cahn.)