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Make your clothes last longer

With a little care, your duds won't die early.

By Karen Datko Oct 10, 2009 7:31PM

This post comes from Andrea Dickson at partner blog Wise Bread.


With everyone trying to stretch their dollars further these days, it makes sense to take care of the things we have, rather than buy replacements. This goes for clothing as much as anything else we own and use on a daily basis.


As a reformed clotheshorse, I struggle to prevent myself from shopping for new duds on a daily basis.


Know thyself. The first step in maintaining a wardrobe is to be aware of your cleaning limits and your clothing habits.


If you can't afford to dry-clean clothing, don't buy dry-clean-only clothes. If you despise ironing and avoid it with all your might, don't build your wardrobe around French cuff shirts or blouses that need starching. You'll only regret it later when you can't be bothered with the cost or hassle of upkeep, and you'll either have to get rid of the clothes, or wear them wrinkled.

If you have a habit of spilling coffee down your front, there's no shame in wearing lots of chocolate brown, charcoal gray and navy blue. Dark colors hide a multitude of clumsy moments. 


Make sure that you don't fold clothes that need to be hung and don't hang clothes that need to be folded. Sweaters stretch on the hanger and dress shirts don't do well folded, unless you are an expertly masterful folder of some kind.


Dress for the task at hand. It can be tempting to simply get messy chores done while wearing whatever it is we wore at work, but that's a fast way to ruin work clothes. There's a reason why moms frequently make a distinction between their kids' play clothes and school clothes. If tacking a potentially dirty project, don't do it in a dress shirt and slacks. Change into your grubbiest before you get muddy. Also, wear an apron while cooking. I've ruined many a lovely dress over a pot of simmering Bolognese.


Stop laundering so often. It's really easy to want to wash an item of clothing after having worn it just once. But washing an item of clothing is the fastest way to help the fibers break down. The fewer times you have to wash an item of clothing, the longer it will last.


If you are too lazy to rehang worn (but clean) clothing, it's OK to drape it over surfaces like your dresser or a chair, just as long as you don't drop it on the floor. Once clothes are on the floor, they will have to be washed before being worn again, but a draped shirt will live to see another day of wear.


The following items can help you wear a shirt or a pair of pants more than once before washing:

  • Tide to Go pen. These little pens cost less than $5, last a long time, and will save your blouse when you manage to drop a dollop of marinara down the front. Co-workers and friends are always wowed by how quickly this trick works to remove stains from fabric. I use a Shout stick stain remover as well, on large stains, but the Tide pen allows you to use the stain treatment without having to wash the clothing item immediately after.

  • Lint roller. Sometimes a pair of black slacks doesn't really need to be washed; it just needs the cat hair removed from around the cuffs. My white dog really loves to jump on my lap whenever I'm wearing dark colors (it's like he knows), and it's not that he's dirty -- he just sheds like it's going out of style. I have lint rollers in every room of my house, and they keep my slacks looking professional. I also keep one at the office to pick up stray hair and fluff that inevitably lands on my back and shoulders during long days spent scratching my head.

  • Deodorant. Your shirts will smell better and stand up to multiple wearings if you yourself don't stink.

Keep all those buttons. Every time you buy a new clothing item that comes with spare buttons, immediately put the buttons in a jar or box reserved entirely for buttons and spare thread. It's easy to lose track of these important surplus buttons, and it's one of the fastest ways for a cardigan to become useless.


Wash everything in cold water. People who wash their clothing in cold water will notice a drop in their energy bills very quickly. In addition, many fabrics (especially nylon and elastics) hold up better when subjected to less heat. Cold-water detergents are designed to remove dirt even without the help of hot water, but even normal detergent will work well. Also, even though I try my hardest to be a stickler for the environment, a good capful of bleach will do amazing things for your whites -- it's almost like having new clothing.


(Some parents might note that it is very difficult to remove grass stains from a kid's pants using cold-water washes. To this I respond: This is why children should be dressed from head to toe in black. Not only can you imagine that they are little ninjas (or French poets, if they are pouting), but it'll save you the pain of trying to remove all kinds of goobery stains from their clothing. Those of you who would like to note that I am not, in fact, a parent, and thus don't know what I am talking about, I would like to say this: You are right. I'm still planning on having black-clad children of my own, no matter what you say about how adorable they look in T-shirts with froggies on them.)


Obey the laws of color separation. At the end of a long day, with loads and loads of laundry facing you, it can be tempting to just throw the reds in with the blues, but try to keep like colors washed with like colors. Reds and blues fade easily, and everyone knows how one red sock can turn a whole load of whites a light shade of rose. Try your best to keep dissimilar colors apart in the laundry.


Zip up jeans/hoodies before washing them. Unzipped zipper edges on pants and hoodies are often very rough, and if left unzipped during the washing and drying cycles, they'll chew up the rest of your clothing in no time. Make sure that all zippers are zipped to the top before tossing them in the wash.


Be considerate of your underthings. Don't tumble dry your over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders. Bras and underwear made of fabrics and fabric blends (especially nylon) besides cotton don't do well in the heat of a dryer. Hang or drape them to air dry instead. And those little mesh bags that your mother used to nag you to use when washing delicate brassieres? They really do help to keep bra straps from wrapping around other clothing while in the wash. Be sure to fasten the bras, too, to prevent hooks from catching on delicate knits or sweaters.

Slip into something new. Consider wearing some of the more traditional underclothes that have fallen out of fashion as of late -- slips, body shapers and undershirts will both help your clothing drape better over your body, and also protect clothing from sweat stains and friction that can cause wear and tear. I recently spent $70 on a body slimmer by Spanx (I used to buy the cheaper ones called Assets), and not only do I look slimmer, but the darn thing actually helps improve my posture. Also, it keeps my wobbly thighs firmly encased in fabric, which means that the insides of my pants don't wear as quickly because my thighs don't rub together as much.


You obviously don't have to spend nearly as much for a cotton undershirt or a silk slip, but these things keep clothing away from your skin, and it doesn't matter if they get stained, since no one else is going to see them. Undershirts, slips and camisoles can help your clothing last longer.


Notice your surroundings. Those Aeron chairs, while comfortable, really rub the seat of your pants the wrong way. If you are noticing increased wear on your clothing, look around to see what part of your work or home environment could be contributing to it. The edge of your desk might be wearing down your shirt cuffs. Look for small ways to improve your position so that your clothing isn't taking a beating while you are working.


Clean and/or polish your shoes frequently. Polishing may seem a bit tedious, but frequently wiping down your shoes with a barely damp cloth will prevent dirt from settling into cracks permanently, and keep leather from getting too dry (which causes cracking).


Don't wear dress shoes while driving. I've ruined many a pair of dress pumps by doing nothing more than driving -- the back of the heel rubs against my car's floor mats, and before long, my black shoes are spotting fuzzy gray patches on the back where the carpet did its work. I'm not high class enough to wear driving moccasins, so I just wear sandals or Crocs in the car and put my shoes on once I arrive at the office.


Patch early, patch often. Blue jeans are usually the first items of clothing to develop little holes in them. You can patch clothing by buying fabric patches and applying with heat-activated adhesive, sew a cute patch over a tiny hole, or just stitch it up with a little needle and thread.


Reinforce hems. Even cheap clothing can last a long time if you reinforce the hems with a simple stitch on a normal sewing machine. Skirts, pants, even underwear will wear longer and better when the hems are less flimsy. You don't have to be a talented seamstress to hem a pair of pants -- anyone can do it with a little practice. In addition, once a shirt's wrists are looking ragged or your slacks are starting to wear at the hem, you can always take them in a bit. Hemlines rise and fall every season, but you can probably safely remove a half-inch from your favorite jeans without anyone noticing. This keeps hems nicer and overall appearance neater.


Any reader tips would be appreciated.


Other articles of interest at Wise Bread:

Published Nov. 6, 2008
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