In this material universe things wear out. Mountains become boulders become pebbles. Roads get cracks. Old logs rot. And our clothes are no different.
We control the rate at which our clothes decay. When we slow down this process our clothes last longer and don’t need to be replaced as often. Hence you buy fewer clothes over the course of your lifetime, which is gentler on the planet.
Here’s how you can show your wardrobe some TLC and make them last longer.
Start with quality.
Yep, the first step happens before you actually have the clothes. Clothing made with high quality materials last longer, making a greater return on your investment. Poorly made clothes will degrade quickly even with your tender administrations.
Look for brands that already have a reputation of being long lasting and are made of a natural fiber(no petroleum-based synthetics here!).
The better the materials and the better the make of the garment, the longer it will last you, which is the first step in showing your clothes you care. Without a demand for cheaply made items, manufacturers are forced to slow down production, which in turn means fewer resources from the planet being used up.
A Clean You means Cleaner Clothes.
Your family, friends, and coworkers will thank you for practicing good hygiene. So too will your clothes.
The main reason clothing gets dirty: You. Your skin is an active living, breathing, organ. And life brings dirt. Your skin is constantly producing new cells to replace the old ones that slough off as your clothes rub against you.
Clothes start to “stink” when your dead skin cells and and sweat build up on the fabric of your clothes, and become a breeding ground for microorganisms. These little critters create unpleasant smells as a waste product.
Keeping your body clean helps keep the less pleasant bacteria and fungi in check. By preventing your clothes from becoming gross and smelly, they require less washing.
Note: I’m not saying shower every single day. Actually, that’s not really good for your skin either. A regular cleaning routine removes the fuel(the dead skins cells and sweat) that feed the growth of microorganisms. And there are various methods to do this that supports a natural, sustainable lifestyle.
HOW you wash and dry your clothes actually matters!!
Different materials truly have different washing requirements. The longevity of most people’s clothing is cut short due to careless laundering. The washing and drying machine have certainly made our lives more convenient, but they are cruel on our clothes.
The mechanical processes inside these machines are rigorous , and very destructive. Here are a few points on how to navigate this landscape more wisely.
- Read tags. Most clothes have correct washing instructions.
- Wash darks inside out. The outside surface of an item in the wash abrades the most. Turning them inside out keeps them from fading so quickly.
- Launder less. Don’t wash your clothes until they actually are dirty! Shirts can be worn several times before they actually require laundering, and items like jeans can go weeks or months between washes.
- Use a drying rack or clothes line. If you can completely skip the drying machine, all the better. Air drying is non-abrasive.
- Educate. Learn how different materials should be washed. Wool does better with an acidic laundering agent. Cotton handles alkaline substances better.
- Use less soap. The ‘recommended’ amount prescribed on laundry detergent packaging is much more than your clothes really need. Laundry detergent can chemically eat away at your fabrics over time. Using less will still get the dirt out, while also keeping your fabrics safe. Plus the fish will thank you.
- Air out your clothes between wearings. This can help to dry out the moisture from your skin that would otherwise fuel the growth of those micro-organisms we talked about. Avoid tossing your clothes on the floor in a pile.
Darn it! There’s a hole in my sock!
Holes in your garments are not the end of the world. With some very basic mending skills, (like sewing and darning) you can give your clothes a second wind. And a third wind. And a fourth. Fifth….
It’s best to catch holes while they are little. A small patch is faster and easier to sew on than a large patch. But if you do wait too long, no worries! There’s still time.
Different kinds of materials will require different kinds of patch jobs. Woven fabrics like in dress shirts and denim jeans don’t flex, and you’ll want to use a patch of woven material.
With knitted items, if the hole is quite small you may only need a bit of thread to tighten up that space. If it’s larger, some knitting skills might be required. It can be fun knitting differently colored yarn into a hole in your socks.
You can also make patchwork an opportunity for decorative creativity. Check out boro, a Japanese mending tradition using rags and scraps, and sashiko which is a form of Japanese decorative mending stitch work. You can add beauty and story to your clothes as they age.
Faded? Dye it!
As clothes age, whatever color they started off will slowly fade, becoming lighter and lighter. Sometimes you can’t even guess at the original color.
Either embrace this, or if you prefer vibrancy, dyeing your own clothes is always an option.
The internet is chalk full of resources for dyeing techniques. Each of them has their own pros and cons. I obviously recommend going the route of using natural dyes.
Natural dyes tend to be healthier for you, and your skin. Most natural dyes don’t create super vibrant colors, though there are exceptions for things like wolf lichen, cochineal, and indigo. These subtler hues create a wardrobe that reflects the natural world.
Dyeing a faded cloth brings life back into it. And you can dye a garment over an over again. Keeping it, and you, looking fresh for years.
Treat your clothes like a part of you.
Your clothes are your second skin. Treat them that way. Just like you have a regimen to keep your skin healthy, your clothes deserve the same thought and care. Do that, and they will take care of you too.
How do you care for your clothes that makes them last longer? Let us know in the comments below!