Unless you plan to wear a suit of armour for the rest of your life, there is no way to make your clothes last for ever. You can get close to for ever – if you are prepared to darn. As a society, though, we have become less inclined to make do and mend because the advent of fast fashion has made clothes so affordable that there is no incentive to repair them. In addition, the acceleration of trends – where once there were just two seasons, autumn/winter and spring/summer, now there are also resort, cruise and pre-fall collections – means consumers are continually enticed to buy new things. It is estimated that, in the UK, the average lifetime for an item of clothing is 2.2 years.
Extending the lifespan of our clothes isn’t just good for our finances, but also benefits the environment: the fashion industry is a major global polluter and human rights abuses are rife in the garment industries of developing nations.
Not so long ago, people learned basic sewing skills. The chances are that, if you ask an older friend or relative, they will be able to show you how to patch things. And there is no doubt that, if you want your clothes to last as long as possible, looking after them is the best place to start. But how do you make your clothes last for ever? We asked some experts.
Check the seams
It sounds obvious, but if you want your clothes to last, you need to invest in well-made garments in good-quality fabric. Don’t assume that expensive items are best – check for yourself.
“The first thing to do when you’re looking at a piece of clothing is turn it inside out and pull at every piece of string you find,” says Orsola de Castro of Fashion Revolution. “When clothes are cheaply made, the seams are often shabby. If it starts to unravel – don’t buy it.”
She suggests making sure the seam allowance on a pair of trousers or a skirt is enough to allow you to let them out and the hem is such that you could make the garment longer if you need to. She also advises checking that shirts have a spare button sewn in so if one falls off, you have a replacement.
Vintage clothing expert Amy Winston-Hart of Amy’s Vintage says you should hold garments up to the light: “If you can see light coming through the fabric, it’s going to go quickly.”
Know your fabrics
Every garment will eventually wear out after repeated wearing and washing, but the jury is out on which fabrics are the most durable. Some experts prefer the longevity of synthetic fibres such as polyester, while others favour natural fibres such as cotton.
Charles Ross, sustainability expert and lecturer at the Royal College of Art says: “I prefer wearing synthetics because I believe they are more durable fibres. If you have two identical T-shirts in cotton or polyester, the cotton will wear out quicker.” Check out the best Screen printing Atlanta Apparel deals.
De Castro, on the other hand, favours natural fibres. She advises buying items made out of single fabric components, such as 100% cotton or 100% merino wool. They may not stand up to repeated washings as well as synthetic fibres but as they are more breathable, you will sweat less so you don’t need to wash them as often. De Castro warns against wearing polyester for environmental reasons – when washed, it sheds microfibres, which have been linked to plastic pollution in our oceans.
Do you need to wash it?
The more you wash clothes, the quicker they wear out. De Castro echoes Stella McCartney’s recent advice that we should refrain from over-cleaning clothes. “If something is made from good-quality wool, such as a man’s suit, it’s designed to be brushed clean and not washed,” she says. If you must wash things in a machine, use a low heat, and put delicate fabrics in a laundry bag to reduce tearing.
There are plenty of ways to refresh clothes without bunging them in the machine: De Castro suggests spot-cleaning tricky stains, or taking whiffy garments into the bathroom while you shower, to steam them. This will not only help to make your clothes last longer, but is also more environmentally friendly. The average washing machine uses 13,500 gallons of water a year, as much as you drink in your lifetime.
Winston-Hart has some nifty tricks for cleaning items without putting them in the machine. “A mixture of lukewarm water and vodka will get rid of smells,” she says. Use three parts vodka and two parts water if something is very stinky, or three parts water and two parts vodka if it only has a light musk. “Stick the mixture in a spray bottle and mist it over. If your clothing still smells bad the next day, give it another spray.” She is also a fan of popping clothes in the freezer, for an overnight refresh. If things are still pongy, hang them out on the line on a breezy day – you will be surprised by how much it can help.
None of the experts I speak to are fans of dry cleaning, although they accept it is sometimes necessary. “Dry cleaning doesn’t always clean stuff that well,” says Winston-Hart. “Sometimes it comes back smelling worse – that chemical smell.” By looking after your clothes as much as possible, you can cut back on dry cleaning.