It’s good for the environment and your wallet to extend the life of your clothes. Experts share their tips for making your clothes last longer.
If you don’t plan on wearing a suit or armour every day of your life, there are no ways to make your clothes last forever. If you’re willing to darn, you can make your clothes last forever. We have lost the ability to make things work. The advent of fast fashion has made it so cheap that there is no incentive for us to fix them. The acceleration of trends has also meant that consumers are constantly enticed by new products. Previously, there were only two seasons: spring/summer and autumn/winter. Now there are resort, cruise, and pre-fall collections. The average life expectancy of clothing in the UK is 2.2 years.
It’s not only good for our wallets, but it also helps the environment. The fashion industry is a major polluter worldwide and there are many human rights violations in the garment industries in developing countries.
People learned basic sewing skills not too long ago. There are good chances that an older relative or friend will be able show you how to fix things. It is obvious that if you want to make sure your clothes last as long as possible, taking care of them is the best thing to do. How can you ensure your clothes last forever? We asked experts.
Make sure you check the seams
Although it sounds obvious, quality fabric and well-made garments will last a lifetime. Do not assume expensive items are the best. Check it out.
Orsola De Castro, Fashion Revolution: “When you look at clothing, the first thing you should do is to turn it upside down and grab every string that you can find. The seams of clothes made cheaply are often frayed. Don’t buy it if it begins to unravel.”
She recommends that the seam allowance of a pair or skirt of trousers is sufficient to allow for you to pull them out, and that the hem be long enough so you can make it longer if necessary. Also, make sure you have a spare button in your shirt so that if one of them falls off you have another.
Amy Winston-Hart, a vintage clothing expert from Amy’s Vintage says you should hold your garments up to the sun: “If there’s light coming through it, it’s going fast.”
Get to know your fabrics
Although every garment eventually will wear out, repeated washing and wearing can cause it to become brittle. The jury is still out on the best fabrics for long-lasting use. Experts prefer synthetic fibres like polyester for their durability, while others prefer natural fibres like cotton.
Charles Ross, sustainability expert and lecturer from the Royal College of Art states that synthetics are better because they are stronger fibres. From two identical T-shirts made of cotton or polyester, the cotton one will eventually wear faster.
De Castro prefers natural fibres. She recommends purchasing items made from single fabrics, such as 100% cotton and 100% merino Wool. Although they may not be as durable as synthetic fibres, they will withstand repeated washings better than those made from synthetic fibres. They are also more breathable so you won’t have to wash them as often. De Castro warns against polyester being worn for environmental reasons. Polyester sheds microfibres when it is washed. This has been linked to plastic pollution in our oceans.
Do you really need to wash it?
You can make clothes last longer if you don’t wash them as often as possible. De Castro agrees with Stella McCartney’s recent advice that we should avoid over-cleaning clothes. She says that wool suits, especially men’s, are meant to be brushed clean, not washed. To reduce the possibility of tearing delicate fabrics, wash them in a machine at low heat.
There are many ways to revive clothes without having to put them in the washing machine. De Castro recommends spot-cleaning difficult stains or steaming whiffy garments in the bathroom while you shower. This will make clothes last longer and is more eco-friendly. An average washing machine uses 13.500 gallons of water per year. This is the same amount as what you consume in your lifetime.
Winston-Hart offers some clever tips for cleaning items without having to put them in the machine. She says that a mixture of vodka and lukewarm warm water will eliminate odors. If something is extremely stinky, use three to two parts vodka and water. Or three to two parts water and two portions vodka if the smell is mild. Spray the mixture into a spray bottle. Mist it around. For an overnight refresh, you can put clothes in the freezer if they smell bad the next day. Hang them on a sunny day to dry if they are still a little pongy.
Experts I spoke to were not fans of dry cleaning. However, they do accept that it may be necessary. Winston-Hart says that dry cleaning can sometimes not clean things as well. Winston-Hart says dry cleaning can sometimes leave clothes smelling worse.
If you have to, wash it properly
Important caveat: Items close to your skin, especially socks and underwear, must be washed with the right heat. You shouldn’t wash your pants with your dish towels at 30C. All items should be washed at least 60C.
You don’t want to ruin your underwear if you are concerned about it. Wash at a lower temperature and add an antibacterial cleaner.
How to store clothes
Katrina Hassan is a professional organizer who recommends decluttering your wardrobe every so often. I recommend that you keep all of your clothes in one place – I call this the power of the pile. Many people don’t realize how many things they have until they actually see them.
Make a decision about which items you want to keep and inspect them for any damage. Properly store things – Hassan shows clients how to fold clothes and then stack them upright so that you can see all of your belongings at once. You are less likely to buy things if you store things vertically.
To prevent damage from moths, store expensive items in cotton suits bags. Winston-Hart recommends using an old single sheet bedsheet to make a DIY suit bag. A coathanger can poke through the hole and then sew up the sides.
Beware of moths
Clothes moths are becoming more common in UK homes. Rentokil figures show that moth-related calls increased by 60% between May 2014 and May 2018. Winston-Hart confesses to having a hatred for moths. Her time is not available for mothballs and paper discs. They’re a waste of time. Ask your arborist for a lump or cedarwood. Stick it in your wardrobe and the moths will not come near it. She also suggests lining your drawers using lavender-scented paper. If you find a vintage item that is worth saving, but you are concerned about the possibility of moth eggs, place it in a bag and freeze it for several days.
Protect your clothes and shoes with these treatments
You can get the best out of your footwear by taking care of the leather. Ross says he likes Timberland boots. He also uses a leather conditioner every six weeks to protect the leather. He prefers Nikwax.
It is not just footwear that you can treat to make it last longer: brands such as Polygiene use silver chloride technology, which is antimicrobial, to put a finish on fabrics. Ross claims that a finish applied to a polyester Tshirt can last five years without it starting to smell.
Help your cobbler and tailor in the community
De Castro says, “I have a deep friendship with my local tailor.” She sorts through her belongings once a year and takes them in for repairs. They’ll repair niggling things like dropped hems or change the zips of evening gowns.
Consider resolement options when shoes start to get worn out. Ross has worn the same pair outdoor boots since 1985. The soles have been changed six times.
Give it a try
Basic repairs are easy to make yourself. “If you are unsure how to repair things, you can start by repairing them yourself,” suggests Tom van Deijnen from the Visible Mending Program. To learn basic skills, he recommends that you watch YouTube videos and ask your family and friends for assistance. He says that “in my experience, mothers or grandmothers always come out trumps.”
Van Deijnen suggests sewing patches on worn jeans. Van Deijnen recommends sewing on patches using a similar color fabric in the same weight of the original fabric. If it’s not a woven fabric then patch it with a weave fabric. If it’s a jersey fabric use a jersey patch.
When darning knitwear, a common mistake is to make it too tight. It doesn’t allow for shrinkage – threads can shrink after they are new. You should not pull the hole tight enough to cause pucker. This creates tension and can cause the fabric to rip again.
Van Deijnen shows you how to attach a button. Thread the needle, sew the button on, and then make some stitches in fabric. Repeat the process several times. Pull the thread tight after you are done. If it comes loose, you didn’t do a good job.”
Learn when to admit defeat
Some items cannot be repaired. Van Deijnen says, “I’m very adventurous and will always give things away. But sometimes things can be totally beyond repair.” A knitted tie he had made was contaminated with moth eggs and he had to throw it out. The fabric just disintegrated in his hands.
If something isn’t fixable, find alternate uses. De Castro says that everything can serve another purpose at the end. To make hair ties, she cuts up swimsuits (old tights also work well). Old T-shirts are the best cleaning rags.
Spend intelligently. De Castro says that charity shops are overflowing with clothes. Therefore, you should only give to charity what you believe will sell. You’re just dumping your problem on someone else. Trainers can be recycled at Runners’ Need branches. Love Your Clothes has a locator for textile banks and other resources on its website.
Vintage is a dangerous subject
It is possible to purchase vintage clothes if you want them to last. Items made before 1980 are generally made to a better standard than modern ones. De Castro says that even cheap 1970s-made trousers can look like they are couture if they are turned inside out. There are also many factory-made imitation vintage. How can you tell the difference? How can you tell? It may be fake if it doesn’t. Another sign is the 40s-style dress with elasticated fabric. Stretchy material was not available then.
Look after your vintage. Winston-Hart says that armpit shields are very useful. They are just half-moons of cotton that you attach to your clothing with safety pins under your armpits. The pins can be removed and the pads cleaned by you. This saves you the hassle of washing the garment every time.
Slipping under a skirt reduces the frequency you have to clean it. The slip is not in direct contact with your skin. This means that dry cleaning costs are lower and wear is reduced. The slip can also regulate your body temperature if it is made from silk.
There are many places where you can find secondhand treasures. If you are a vintage aficionado, Winston-Hart recommends her favourite stores: Apple Tree Vintage, 1940s Style For You, Scarlet Rage Vintage, Blackout Vintage Fashion and Hunky Dory Vintage. Many of these stores also have an online store. You can also find vintage pieces on Depop or eBay. Hiut Denim will repair your jeans free of charge for the life of your garment.
It’s not about purchasing vintage or secondhand clothes. Ross speaks of “emotional durability”, or the attachment to our most loved clothes. Because the most sustainable garment in your wardrobe may not always be the one made ethically from non-polluting materials, It is the one that you love and will wear throughout your entire life.