How to Care for Your Clothes So They Last

How to Take Care of Your Clothes So They Last

Whenever I hear someone talk about wanting to buy more expensive clothes, they usually say, “I’m tired of clothes that fall apart.”

And I can’t really relate.

My clothes tend not to fall apart easily. Not even when I bought a lot of fast fashion stuff. Well, except for those J. Crew tissue tees. But that’s because tissue cotton is basically as durable as well, a tissue.

So do cheaper clothes really fall apart with just a few wears? Or are we just bad at taking care of our clothes?

I’m going to guess the latter.

But nobody tells you how to make your stuff last. I guess that’s what happens when marketing convinces you cheap and more is better. An H&M shirt with some slight pilling? Throw it away and buy another.

Or sometimes I see arguments romanticizing the idea of “lived-in” clothes. Life’s too short to baby your clothes, they say. But the truth is, the earlier your clothes get trashed, the sooner you have to spend more money to replace them. Finding ways to make your clothes last longer will save you money.

I have some clothes that are eight plus years old, and they STILL look good. Coincidence? I think not. Today I’m showing you exactly how I take care of my nicer things so they last longer.

Wash Everything LESS

If you wash your clothes after every wear (and you don’t have a sweat problem), you’re probably making them die too soon. Here’s a general guideline for how often I’ll machine wash certain items:

Denim: Every 4-6 months
Cotton Pants: When I notice they’re overly wrinkly or stained
Cotton or Linen T-Shirts and Tank Tops: Every 3-4 wears
Cotton Button-Down Shirts: Every 4-5 wears
Cotton Sweaters or Sweatshirts: Very rarely. I layer cotton shirts underneath and machine wash those instead. Any other sweater fabric I have it dry cleaned.
Workout Clothes: 2-3 wears (depends on how much I sweat)
Underwear and Socks: Every wear (duh)

If something isn’t listed above, it means I don’t machine wash it.

My rule of thumb: the more I care about said item, the less frequently I wash it. The life hack side benefit is that your folded laundry piles start to look like tiny, like the one on the left:

Laundry Piles

Don’t Wash Everything the Same Way

If you’re throwing everything in the machine and turning the water setting to ‘warm’, that’s another clothes killer. There are a couple clothing categories that have unique washing recipes:

DENIM

Jeans are my workhorses. As if they don’t work hard enough with all the speed walking I do, I also wear them almost every day. Sorry jeans, you do NOT get a break. To keep denim colors from fading, I turn the jeans inside out and wash cold with Woolite Dark.

WHITE T-SHIRTS

I have one white linen T-shirt that I love, and it shows in how I care for it. If you’ve ever had a white T-shirt, you know that yellowed armpits are the bane of your existence. So first, I try not to wear deodorant when I wear white shirts, since the yellowing happens when sweat is mixed with the aluminum from antiperspirants. But I can’t skip deodorant when it’s hot outside, unless I want to offend people around me. So after a few wears I’ll pre-treat the armpit areas with Oxyclean before hand washing with regular detergent in warm water.

LINGERIE

Finding bras that actually fit you AND are comfortable feels like winning the lottery. That’s why I always hand wash them. Like hell do I want those suckers to leave me hanging. Bras are soaked in warm water and regular detergent for about half an hour, swished around, then gently rinsed.

SWIMWEAR

Salt, chlorine, sweat and sunscreen? Those need to be taken care of right after a swim, so I’ll always make a point to rinse my swimsuits ASAP in cold water. After a few wears I’ll hand wash them with regular detergent.

Skip the Dryer

Air dry clothes
Ideally, knits would be laid flat, but I don’t have the space for that.

The clothes I care about don’t go anywhere near a dryer. The lint that you have to clean out of the dryers? It’s literally little bits of fabric that came off the edges of your clothes. Kind of unsettling, huh? Since I don’t have a backyard, I air dry my clothes on our stairwell in the hallway.

Hangers, They Matter

The Hanger Project Petite Women's Hanger

You know how there’s that popular Instagram hashtag #ihavethisthingwithfloors? Well, my version would be #ihavethisthingwithhangers.

Birch wood finished with felted shoulders? Swoon.

Those free wire hangers from the dry cleaners are obviously a no-no, but I don’t even like those slim, velvet ones. I know they add more space to your closet, but wooden hangers are preferred to help keep the shape of the clothes. Since all my hangers were wooden, I thought I was all set.

But then I noticed a problem with the hangers, especially when it came to my coats and jackets. Most hangers are 17 inches wide–wider than the shoulders of my clothes–and were causing these little bumps to form in the sleeves, what I call “shoulder nipples.”

One year I got a American Express gift card from work, and I decided to use it to upgrade to proper hangers for my coats and jackets. Coats and jackets are heavier, so weight combined with gravity means they’d be most affected by ill-fitting hangers. I ended up buying petite sized suit/jacket hangers (15-inch) from The Hanger Project. At $30 for a single hanger, they aren’t cheap. But I tend to spend the most money on my outerwear, so it makes sense for me to invest the money to maintain them.

Here, you can see the comparison. The fancy hanger is on the top, and the regular one is underneath:

The Hanger Project vs. Regular Wooden Hanger

And here you can see how the blazer sleeve hangs differently with each hanger. With the regular hanger (on the left) you can see some stretching happening, but with the petite hanger the sleeve hangs nice and smooth.

Regular Hanger Versus a Petite Hanger

Drycleaning

Anything I haven’t listed in the sections above gets sent to the dry cleaners. This includes:

  • Silks
  • Wools
  • Coats and jackets

Because dry cleaning is expensive and I don’t like the idea of the chemicals they use on your clothes, I usually limit the dry cleaning to once or twice a year.

Treat Stains Right Away

I keep a Tide to Go pen in my bag at all times. I once spilled some sauce on a sweater, didn’t take care of it for a few weeks, and now it’s impossible to remove. If I had taken care of it right away, I would have stood a much better chance of removing the stain. Don’t be like Past Me. Treat that sucker while it’s still fresh, and half the battle is already won.

Shoes

Supplies to care for your shoes - Shoe brush, shoe trees, shoe mitt

I know what you’re thinking: besides never wearing shoes outside of the house, what can you possibly do to make them last longer? Plenty.

When I’m not wearing my leather shoes, to minimize wrinkling, I stuff shoe trees inside them so they keep their shape.

When I get home, right after I take my shoes off, I’ll sweep them with the shoe brush to remove any loose dirt or dust. It literally takes 15 seconds.

If I see any scuffs or caked-on dirt, I’ll grab the shoe mitt, dampen with water and wipe the dirt away.

For shoes I wear infrequently, I store them in their original boxes to keep the dust away.

One other thing I do with expensive leather-soled shoes is take them to the cobbler to add Vibram half rubber soles. The rubber prevents the soles from getting worn down, and also adds extra traction.

Sidenote: Anyone in NYC know a good cobbler? I don’t think the guy here did a great job.

Vibram half soles for leather shoes

Handbags

When I’m not using my handbags I’ll stuff them with acid-free tissue paper so they’re not flopping around in the closet, losing their shape. Stuffing them will help them keep their original shape, especially if you have a bag that’s made out of softer leather, like nappa leather. I also store them in their original dust bags, and in the original box, if I still have it.

Final Thoughts

Some of you might be thinking all of this is way too fussy to bother with. But here’s my point of view: If you truly value the things in your life, then treat them that way. And all these small things honestly don’t take up much time at all. Like your money, it’s all a series of habits. Once you work them into your life, you hardly notice. So treat your favorites like they’re actually your favorites. They deserve better than being thrown into a crumpled heap on the floor.

What about you? Do you have strategies to make your clothes last?

Image: Unsplash

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