Whether you’re a total fashionista or you avoid the mall at all costs, you probably spend a lot more than you think on clothing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spent $1,736 on clothes in 2012. Although kids outgrow their clothing fairly quickly, adults can hang onto theirs for years – as long as it doesn’t wear out.
Since longer-lasting clothing means more money in your pocket, be sure you do all you can to preserve your wardrobe. Of course, it may require changing a few habits. Luckily, you don’t need special products to keep your whites sparkling and your dark garments looking sharp.
Making Clothes Last
1. Start With Quality
While I don’t recommend buying overly expensive brand-name garments, it’s always a good idea to purchase quality clothing. By spending more on quality pieces that never go out of style, you create a solid base wardrobe with longevity in mind. You can then add in cheaper, trendier pieces for a season or two without feeling guilty. Those quality investment pieces last longer thanks to thicker fabrics and better construction.
It’s also a question of quantity versus quality. When purchasing kids’ clothes, you usually want to go for quantity, since the items are only going to fit for a few seasons. However, when purchasing professional clothes for yourself or a pair of jeans to wear daily, it’s better to invest in one quality item than five poorly made pieces that may need to be replaced in a few months.
Decide where to allot your clothing budget. Set some money aside for trendy, fun items, and reserve some cash for pieces that are bound to stand the test of time. Some of the clothes and items I don’t mind investing in include the following:
- Two-piece business suit
- Classic trench or pea coat
- Comfortable, well-made shoes
- Well-fitting jeans
- A few crisp button-up shirts or blouses
When clothes shopping, look for clues that an item is made to last – and remember, price isn’t the only indicator. Instead, try to spot attention to detail, as well as tight seams and buttons. If the material is overly thin, or you see loose threads, buttons, or snags, those are clues that an item may not be very well made.
2. Pay Attention to Laundering
That tag found on the neck or down the side seam of your shirt is not for decoration: It gives you a garment’s laundering instructions, which are designed to ensure that it stays in great shape.
If you know you hate hand-washing and line-drying, avoid buying clothes that require special care. You’d be better off spending your money on sturdier items. In fact, looking at laundering instructions is part of my shopping process. Even if it’s a steal, a piece that requires dry cleaning could cost more in the long run – especially if you choose to ignore care instructions and end up ruining it.
Some other laundering tips can help keep your clothes in great shape. While you should always check the instructions on the tag, these are some general techniques to keep in mind as you hang out in the laundromat or laundry room.
- Wash Dark Clothing Inside-Out. Dark-wash jeans, black blouses, and other darker material can become faded in the wash, particularly as it rubs up against other garments. Always launder your washer-safe dark clothes inside-out to ensure they hold their color.
- Invest in a Clothesline or Drying Rack. If you don’t have a place to line-dry your clothes, they usually end up in the dryer – a death knell for line-dry-only garments. A clothesline only costs a few dollars and it can also help you save on energy costs. If you don’t have the yard or the climate to dry clothes outside, a drying rack for your laundry room is only about $20.
- Wash Metal Separately. Buttons and zippers often find their way into the wash, but can become seriously hot in the dryer, which can lead to scorching and melting on your other clothes. Wash clothing with metal components separately and never with delicate clothes, such as silks or knits.
- Go Color-Safe. Is there anything more frustrating than ruining clothes with bleach? While it helps make your whites whiter, it can also stain colored clothes and damage delicate fibers. Swap your regular bleach for a color-safe alternative, which is also gentler on fabric.
- Wash Your Clothes Less. The washing process is famously tough on clothes. Agitating, tumbling, and coming in contact with other garments can leave garments faded, stretched, pilling, and damaged. Unless your outerwear is visibly dirty, you probably don’t need to wash it after each wearing. See if you can extend washing to every other wear, or even three wears, before you toss your garments in the laundry.
- Get to Know Your Settings. While each make and model of washers and dryers is different, they all have something in common: They come with instruction manuals. Read up on your model so you know when to use “wrinkle release” as opposed to “delicate.” Delicate settings traditionally work well for lingerie, but they’re also effective for clothes that you want to preserve and treat gently. The delicate cycle uses less agitation, so there’s less wear and tear. This setting is perfect for lightly soiled stuff that requires a little extra care, or for items that specify the “delicate” setting on the tag.
3. Practice Good Hygiene
It may sound simple, but practicing good hygiene – such as showering daily, wearing deodorant, and using proper undergarments – can help keep your clothes cleaner and in better condition. Don’t forget that sweat also causes stains. By insisting that your family members treat their clothing with cleanliness and care, you should get some extra uses out of each piece.
It also pays to make sure you wear the right clothes for the right events. If you know things are going to get messy at a birthday party, don’t send your daughter wearing an expensive lace dress. Or, if you’re going out to a bar where people smoke, opt for your cheaper wardrobe items.
4. Learn Basic Repairs
Learning to complete basic repairs on your clothing – such as replacing a loose thread or a missing button – can make them last longer and save you a ton of money. Even if you’re perfectly careful with your garments, fallen hems and buttons that pop off can take shirts and pants out of commission. You can always bring your clothes to a tailor for a fee, but why spend the money if you can do the repair on your own?
A simple sewing kit – which you can find at many big box retailers – costs just a few dollars and contains scissors, a variety of needle sizes, and thread. Even if you’ve never sewed before, online videos can teach you everything you need to know, from buttonhole stitching to repairing a zipper. If you can tie a knot in the end of the thread and weave the needle in and out of the fabric, that’s enough to get started.
5. Iron With Care
When you iron, you’re using heat to loosen fabric fibers and press them flat. Unfortunately, there’s also a good chance you can end up burning or yellowing the fabric if you’re not doing it properly. Using too much heat on delicate fabrics can completely ruin them, so make sure you always use the right heat level for the type of fabric you’re ironing.
Many irons have different levels for various fabrics on the heat dial, but here’s a general guide:
- Linen: 445° F
- Cotton: 400° F
- Viscose/Rayon: 375° F
- Wool: 300° F
- Acrylic: 275° F
- Polyester: 300° F
- Silk: 300° F
- Acetate: 290° F
- Lycra: 275° F
- Nylon: 275° F
Another option is to invest in a steamer for about $25 to $50. It uses moisture and heat to release wrinkles while clothes are on the hanger, and it can be a lifesaver for the perpetually time-crunched. Because you don’t have to continually reposition your clothes like you do when ironing, steaming can save a lot of time. I love steamers for items that need to be deodorized and straightened, but don’t require clean creases.
6. Rotate Your Clothes
The idea of “last in, first out” doesn’t only apply to produce, but to clothes as well. We all have a favorite pair of jeans that are snatched out of the dryer as soon as they’re clean, but rotating your clothes means less wear and tear.
One way that I track my garments is by rotating them in my closet. After laundry day, the clean stuff goes to the back, while the items still in the closet are moved forward where they’re easier to see and grab. Eventually, my favorite items rotate from the back to the front of the closet, where they can be seen and worn again.
This can be especially helpful for kids’ clothes. Children are traditionally pretty hard on their gear, so rotating it can mean fewer holes in their jeans and less fading on their shirts. Unless, of course, your little one has a “favorite shirt” – in which case, you might just be out of luck.
7. Practice Good Storage Habits
Whether you have a walk-in closet or a couple of shelves, the way you store your clothes can make them last for years or, alternatively, leave them looking misshapen and damaged in just a few months. Here’s how to store your clothes to make sure they last as long as possible:
- Fold Heavy Sweaters on a Shelf. While you might think that hanging is best for your expensive sweaters, heavier garments such as wool sweaters can actually stretch out when you hang them in your closet. Your best bet is to stack them folded on a shelf so they keep their shape – and save that precious hanger space.
- Button Buttons and Zip Zippers. I can’t count the number of times a wayward zipper on one garment has snagged or scratched the fabric on another while hanging in my closet. Sharp zipper teeth, studs, and even buttons can catch on clothes and result in damage, so make sure they’re fastened when you hang them in your closet.
- Invest in Better Hangers. Sure, you can score wire hangers from your dry cleaner for free, but they’re not made for long-term storage. Wire and plastic hangers can stretch out the shoulders of your garments, which means they won’t lay nicely on your body. Consider investing in better hangers with wood or plush arms, which help garments keep their shape.
- Give Clothes Some Breathing Room. Even if you’re short on space, resist the urge to pack your closet full of clothes. Squishing a ton of items next to each other can result in wrinkling and fading as the fabrics are constantly mashed together. If you’re having to squish hangers and garments just to squeeze in another shirt, it may be time to look into other storage solutions. For example, a standalone armoire can help reduce some of the pressure on a bulging closet.
- Think Cool and Dry. Excess moisture and heat can encourage mold growth – even on clothes. The mantra for your closet should be “cool and dry.” Never store clothes in a humid bathroom or moist basement closet.
8. Dye Faded Clothes
I have a pair of black skinny jeans that fit like a glove. Of course, after near-constant wash and wear, those black jeans are beginning to look gray and worn-out.
While looking for laundry soap at my local grocery store, I came across some easy-to-use clothing dye for just a few dollars. Simply add it to your sink or a bucket, add water, and follow the package directions for getting the best color. It usually takes 20 to 30 minutes of stirring to ensure even coloring. After the garment has been colored, rinse it with cool water and hang to dry.
Typically, garment dyes work best on solid colors, and can help to bring faded or stained clothes back to their former glory. A box of dye costs around $6 and contains two treatments. Just make sure that you wash your newly dyed item with like colors the first time you run it – the dye can come off on other items.
9. Dress After Your Hair and Makeup
Women’s clothing often takes more of a beating when compared to men’s. Why? Because women use cosmetics that can stain and fade garments. By doing your hair and makeup before you get dressed, you can avoid those pitfalls. Buy a robe to wear while you go through your daily routine to prevent things like lipstick and bronzer from getting on your garments.
Unfortunately, hair dye and hairspray can seriously damage clothes. Hairspray is a main culprit for fading, so resist the urge for a final spray before you head out the door. Also, if you dye your hair at home, make sure to wear old shirts while you’re doing it. Hair dyes are generally permanent and can easily ruin a favorite shirt. You can also wrap a thin towel around your shoulders to protect your clothes from your various cosmetics products if you don’t want to mess up your hair by putting on a shirt after it’s done.
Don’t forget about deodorant and antiperspirant. When you apply, make sure it’s completely dry before putting on a shirt. The aluminum contained in many antiperspirants can turn clothes yellow and cause brittleness.
10. Adjust Your Dryer
If you were to name the appliance in your home most damaging to clothes, it would definitely be the dryer. The heat can scorch clothes and cause shrinking, fading, and even pilling. However, it’s hard to argue with the convenience it offers – you use the appliance because it saves you time.
If you want the best of both worlds, check your dryer settings – many allow you to configure temperature, timing, and dryness. You can try lowering the overall temperature and keeping the same dry time, taking clothes out while they’re still damp. Or, if you don’t have temperature settings, you could just set the timer for 15 minutes fewer than normal, then transfer your clothes to dry on a laundry rack. Taking clothes out of the dryer before they’re done also minimizes shrinking in many fabrics such as denim – so your jeans might actually fit better.
Unfortunately, not all clothing items are meant to last forever. They’re bound to wear out, fade, and change shape after repeated use. Still, by being a little more careful in the way you clean, handle, and store your clothes, you can get months and even years of extra wear out of each piece. When you multiply those results by the number of members in your family, it adds up to big savings.
How do you make sure your clothes last longer?