A single outfit you wouldn’t be ashamed to wear to an interview, from shoes to scarf, can easily cost over four hundred dollars. Men have it somewhat easier: the average American woman spends 76% more on clothes; $205 compared to $117 per month. Even if you’re in the latter group, that’s still a ton of money just to stay comfy and presentable.
You may, in fact, be spending much more than that: someone on the dating scene or in a job that requires a dress code doesn’t have much of a choice. Once you have an adequate wardrobe with something for every occasion and enough variety to keep your friends from worrying about you, you should be thinking of ways to make your clothes last longer. Shopping is fun for some people, but it’s much more enjoyable when it’s to get something you really want instead of replacing a garment you liked just fine. Here are our 10 top tips on ways to take care of your clothes:
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Shop for Quality, Not Trendiness
The two areas of your life where you should never try to save money by being cheap are your mattress and your everyday shoes – when one isn’t supporting your tired bones, the other usually is. Unless you’re looking for clothes you’ll wear only on special occasions, the same applies to every garment you buy. One pair of jeans that fit well and will last for years gives you a lot more joy than two so-so pairs and works out much cheaper in the long run besides.
Rub the fabric between your fingers: is it paper-thin and scratchy, or textured but creamy? Though synthetics have come a long way, natural fibers are still more durable (and certainly feel a lot better on your skin). Look at the stitching: there should be no loose threads, buttons hanging on by a fingernail, or seams that move when you tug on either side. Actually try it on: women, in particular, have a variety of body types, so the measurements on the tag rarely tell you how anything will fit. It’s also essential to see how it looks on you from the back. You should probably steer clear of anything that comes with plastic zippers or without spare buttons.
In general, an everyday garment like a warm jacket should last you long enough to wear it at least 30 times, or in other words about a year. Other items, like socks and underwear, can be replaced more frequently, but they contribute enough to your comfort to still look for the best you can afford. Once you learn to look past brand names, you’ll find that there are plenty of high-quality garments out there at affordable prices.
Plan Your Wardrobe
Building up your wardrobe around two or three fairly sedate colors that look good on you will save you a lot of money. An unpatterned, beige, knee-length skirt can be worn either to work or out on the town depending on the accessories it’s paired with. Doodads like scarves tend to be much cheaper, so once you own a couple of staples like jackets, blouses and slacks in your chosen style, you can spice them up or tone them down as the occasion demands. Some people go as far as recommending wearing 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. This may be a little extreme, but also ensures that you’ll be able and willing to pay top dollar for that fundamental 20%.
Never buy anything, no matter how pretty on its own, which you can’t envision working as a complete outfit with what you already have. Knowing how to make your clothes last longer is one way to save money, but crowding your closet with stuff you’ll never wear is no way to stretch a dollar. If you need to throw out a couple of useless items to make room, so be it: you can even set up a party and get something you really like in return.
Learn Basic Sewing
Have you ever thrown away something just because a button had come loose and asking the dry cleaner to fix it seemed like too much trouble? You may not yet be willing to start a vegetable garden and churn your own butter, but even the most undomesticated twenty-something can learn how to repair a seam that’s come loose, replace a zipper, darn a hole, in a sweater, and hem a pair of pants. A simple Youtube video and a sewing kit costing under ten dollars can easily save you twenty times that amount if you can find five minutes to spare. You don’t even have to be able to thread a needle: there are gadgets that will do this for you.
Later on, you can try to expand your horizon to altering clothes that no longer fit and perhaps even buy a miniature sewing machine. This will not only save you money by giving older garments a new lease on life but also allows you to express your creativity and perhaps create a couple of unique, inexpensive gifts. Slap some customized embroidery onto a shirt you found on sale, for instance, or whip up a couple of personalized iPad sleeves for Christmas.
Resuscitate Old Clothes By Letting Them Dye
Did you know that a little bit of white vinegar in the rinse cycle helps clothes keep their color longer? Still, this only delays the inevitable, and it’s kind of a tragedy when your favorite pair of pants starts losing their luster even though the material is still in good condition. As long as they’re made primarily of natural fibers, there’s a good chance that you can dye them back to their former color or a darker shade.
You can either try this at home or ask your local dry cleaner whether they offer this service. If going the DIY route, the first thing is to ensure that they’re totally clean – even invisible stains can stop the new pigment from sticking. Follow the instructions on the package to the letter, including when mixing different colors to create your own hue. The whole process should take about an hour, but there is a kind of catch. Unlike with professional dyeing, you probably won’t use a fixative (or at least not a very effective one) to keep the color from running, so that item will have to be washed separately for at least the first few times.
Another common problem is clothes that appear fuzzy after a few washes. Called pilling, this is caused by some fibers escaping from the threads and getting tangled up with each other. Luckily, there’s a perfectly simple way to restore them to their former glory: just run a cheap fabric shaver over them.
Become a Laundry Day Ninja
Modern fabrics aren’t just knitted or woven, they’re designed. The fiber mixture, dye, weight, and finishes are all chosen for the perfect balance of affordability, endurance, look and feel. All of this has one important implication: not everything can be washed as if it’s a T-shirt.
The most important precautions will all be listed on the tag. Most often, ignoring any of them – once – will not totally destroy the garment. Taking the easy way out and making a habit of this will, however, reduce its lifespan considerably. It’s therefore a good idea to check the cleaning instructions before you buy new clothes: if you don’t want to pay for dry cleaning every week or wait for your washing to air dry, choose something similar but more forgiving.
Though you probably know how to get clothes clean already, don’t neglect the following tips:
- A high-quality fabric softener, as well as special, gentler detergents for materials like silk and wool, are investments worth their value many times over. Contrary to what you’d expect, you’ll probably get better results by using less detergent and tossing in half a cup of baking soda instead.
- Turn clothes inside-out, close buttons and zippers on pants, and unbutton shirts before washing. This will keep them looking fresh for much, much longer.
- It’s disappointing when you have to throw out a $50 jacket because of a single drop of spaghetti sauce. A portable stain removal pen or a pre-spotter similar to those professional laundries and dry cleaners use can take care of a variety of stains. Some marks, however, need a little special care.
- While a lot of clothes today are pretty rugged and don’t run their colors, you’ll still extend the lifespan of whites and delicates considerably by sorting your laundry by shade, washing/drying temperature, fabric weight and degree of soiling. A white tank top really has very little in common with the jeans you went paintballing in, so there’s no need for them to hang out together. Remember that the machine really does all the work, so moving some stuff from basket to washer to dryer to closet twice instead of once a week isn’t that much of a chore.
- Even if you wash everything together, putting delicate garments in a mesh bag will prevent them from getting bruised too much. These bags are also great for keeping socks from wandering off.
Iron Like a Pro
Wash-and-wear clothing seems like a great idea in principle, but somehow it’s difficult to actually find classy clothes that don’t need at least a touch of ironing. The problem is that heat – from washing, from machine drying, and certainly from ironing – is the natural enemy of all fabrics.
The first thing to know is that, however much you like the touch and smell of freshly dried clothes, you should really take them out of the dryer just before they get all toasty. If you’re lucky enough to have a clothesline or indoor drying rack, hanging them up while they’re still slightly damp will cause most wrinkles to magically disappear.
You should also use the correct temperature for whatever kind of material you’re ironing. This implies that you’ll start each session with the gentlest fabrics, like silk and artificial fibers, and work your way up to the toughest, including linen and cotton. It’s also a good idea to allow a few minutes for the iron to reach the correct temperature: many cheaper irons heat up unevenly, so the part of the sole nearest the element can actually scorch clothes even when it’s on the correct setting.
In order to avoid your clothes becoming unappealingly shiny over time, it’s best to iron them inside-out whenever possible or use a spare piece of fabric between the iron and garment. A clothes press avoids this problem completely and gives you fantastic, long-lasting creases. Using one requires some patience, though. A steamer works much faster, especially if you just want to do a quick touch-up.
Arranging Your Arsenal
Once you’ve done your ironing for the week (or, if you’re like me, tomorrow), make sure you store your clothes correctly. This often makes all the difference between clothes that lose their shape and those you’ll happily wear for months to come.
Wire hangers are rarely a good idea, as they tend to stretch out the shoulders or otherwise ruin the drape of shirts and jackets. Heavy, loose-knit sweaters shouldn’t be hung up at all: if you can’t find some shelf space for them, try using storage boxes. If you have to travel or need to store a special outfit between uses, a canvas garment bag will cut down on dust and last-minute ironing – plastic doesn’t breathe and traps moisture inside.
Depending on where you live and how your building is laid out, you may also want to get a small dehumidifier – if clothes that have been in your closet for some time smell musty, it probably means that mold is growing on them. Yuck.
Schedule Your Wearings and Washings
Having a well-organized closet may mean having to throw out a couple of items you bought on the off chance of them coming into style, or you losing or gaining enough weight to look good in them. At least some good causes will be glad to accept your cast-offs.
Besides making it easier to choose an outfit in the morning, there’s another advantage to systemizing your clothes storage. You probably don’t want to wear the same thing three days in a row, but neither is piling all your worn-but-still-clean clothes on a chair the solution. Most people end up washing everything as soon as it’s touched skin, even though there’s nothing wrong with its appearance or smell.
A trip through the washing machine does fabric no favors, even when you use the right temperature and don’t overload the machine. Daily use actually causes much less wear and tear than cleaning clothes. Dry cleaning, for its part, uses perchloroethylene: a highly flammable, highly toxic chemical. Both processes put stress on the fibers in your clothes – just think of how much lint you pull from the dryer’s filter! – so getting a system in place for wearing clothes until they’re actually dirty will allow you to spend much less on new outfits.
Washing something only after wearing it for a week used to be considered perfectly fine and, unless you work in a steel mill or on a farm, still is in many cases. Wool business suits, for instance, can be worn several times between cleanings as long as you brush and steam them now and again. On the other hand, you don’t need to sniff your socks or underwear: just toss them in the hamper when you take them off.
Making Children’s Clothes Last Longer
You’re probably proud to see your little ones shooting up like weeds, but the clothes bills are extraordinary. They’re also not always the neatest eaters and sometimes find the urge to chase a random frog right into its pond irresistible.
Even if you don’t trust your sewing skills on your own clothing, there’s little stopping you from darning, patching, and stitching away at your children’s everyday outfits. While clothes bought a size too large are a safety hazard due to the danger of snagging on something or getting tripped over, pants with elastic or adjustable waistbands can be worn for a little longer. With trousers and some shirts, you can also keep an extra few inches of fabric inside the hem and just let it out when their wrists and ankles start to show.
Suit the Clothes to the Occasion
You wouldn’t go hiking in high heels or skydiving with an umbrella. Why, then, do people wear their dress-up clothes to a party where smoking and spilled drinks are likely? You’ll have a lot more freedom to do what you want if you invest in a couple of nice-looking but less expensive garments for going out. Similarly, you should keep a couple of rags around just to take the hit for your regular clothes when required. You could, for instance, have both a nice set of workout clothes for when you want to impress and a ratty t-shirt/shorts combo merely for sweating. Remember: let what you’re planning on doing dictate what you wear, not the other way around.
It’s a good idea to do your hair and makeup before dressing so you don’t get mousse or mascara on your blouse. There’s also no reason not to wear a dressing gown over your clothes while you’re dealing with last-minute chores around the house, just like you should have an apron to put on while cooking.
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One benefit of taking care of your clothes and making them last longer is obviously having to spend less, leaving more cash available for buying the fashionable items you really want. There are other payoffs too: using up fewer garments means fewer new ones have to be made, reducing the long-term strain on the environment.
Many people act as if “new” and “better” are synonymous. In reality, style is very different from fashion and doesn’t force you to buy a whole new wardrobe every six months. This, as well as superior quality, often makes spending more on really nice apparel totally worth it. I, for instance, have a hand-me-down trench coat that’s literally older than I am. While it doesn’t look new, the worst you can call it is maybe “lived-in”, and not a single stitch or button has come loose in all that time.
Do you own a similar heirloom, or perhaps just a favorite skirt that’s been with you since college? Please let us know in the comments and help inspire others to take better care of their clothes.