10 Ways to Get More Wear Out of Your Clothing

By Jeff Yeager on 30 July 2009 13 comments
Photo: Paolo

With the average American family of four spending almost $4,000 per year on clothing, think of the money you can save by extending the life of your clothes and hanging onto them longer. Here are some practical ways to do just that:

1. Launder Less Often, and Only in Cold Water

Many of us are guilty of over laundering our clothes, which costs time and money and is usually unnecessary. Washing and drying is often actually harder on clothing fabric than wearing it! Consider wearing apparel items more than once between laundering, and wash most clothing in cold water only; cold water costs less, is gentler on fabrics, and will get most clothes just as clean.

2. Hold the Bleach

Bleach can cause clothing to disintegrate more quickly. If you need to brighten white clothes, try using baking soda and hot water instead.

3. It Pays to Get Hung Out to Dry

Electric- and gas-powered clothes dryers not only cost a pretty penny to own and operate, but they cook and beat the life out of your clothing too. Drying your clothes on a good old-fashioned clothesline can increase the lifespan of some garments by as much as fifty percent...plus your clothes will smell terrific.

4. Zip Up Before You Wash

Metal zippers on jeans, jackets and other apparel items are like tiny chainsaws in the washer and dryer, ripping away at other clothes the whole time unless you zip them up first.

5. Don't Let Small Problems Become Big Ones

Most rips and tears start out small, so check your clothes carefully after every washing to catch and mend snags while they're still small and easy to fix.

6. Soggy Shoes

The lifespan of footwear is often cut short by the effects of moisture, even more so than by pounding the pavement. To make your shoes last longer, don't wear the same pair every day. Give each pair at least a day in between to dry out from the moisture they absorb from your body and the environment. In humid or rainy weather, crumple up a couple of pieces of newspaper and stuff them in your shoes before you go to bed at night; by morning, the paper will have wicked-up the excess moisture. Frequently shining or sealing shoe leather helps protect it from moisture as well.

7. Don't Throw It Away, Remodel It Instead

Even if you're challenged when it comes to needle and thread, there are a lot of simple, fun things you can do to customize and update clothes that you're bored with or that are out of fashion. Check out the book (from the library, silly) Sew Subversive (Taunton 2006) for some easy and creative clothes remodeling ideas.

8. Think "Vintage" Not "Used"

We're getting rid of a lot of our threads before they're threadbare. Only a small percentage of the clothing we throw away in the U.S. is truly "worn out." Fortunately, some of those duds make an encore appearance at thrift stores, yard sales and resale/consignment shops, where you'll usually pay only ten or twenty cents on the dollar compared to new/retail. Also, form a clothes swapping club with friends and family members who wear similar sizes, so that when you get tired of a garment you can pass it along to someone who will wear it.

9. Storage and Organization Are Key

"I forgot I even had that in my closet!" How many times have we all said that? Store off-season clothes in plastic totes and add a couple cedar blocks for extra protection. Keep a written inventory of your clothes, and make a "progressive shopping list" of new things you'll need to buy in the near future; that way you can pick them up the next time you see them on sale.

10. Buy Classics, Not Fads

Build a wardrobe around just a few colors that look good on you and that combine well with one another, giving you diversity without needing to buy so many clothes. Look for classic styles, well made garments, and durable fabrics, and don't get suckered into trendy fashions and colors that will become outdated before you even get out of the store. When it comes to paying top dollar for the latest designer fashions, remember what billionaire Warren Buffet once said: "I buy expensive suits. They just look cheap on me."

This post from the Green Cheapskate by Jeff Yeager is republished with the permission of The Daily Green.  Check out more great content from The Daily Green:

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Guest's picture

Shirts with prints should be turned inside-out to reduce abrasive rubbing. The prints last much longer.

Guest's picture

I love number 7! However, I am not exactly coordinated with a needle and thread in my hands. My best friend is instant hem. It's like a strip of glue that you can use with an iron to hem things together that's is extremely sturdy. Everyone should have some on hand for minor emergencies, but its great for creating new clothes as well! Another fave of mine is double sided tape, works like a charm.

Guest's picture

Don't let your weight fluctuate. Outgrowing clothes is one way to make them last a very short time indeed.

Guest's picture

I already follow most of these tips, but I sometimes forget about zipping up the zippers. Thanks for the reminder! I have a couple of skirts that fasten with velcro, and I fasten the velcro before washing, otherwise it snags on sweaters. Also, turning new jeans inside out will keep them darker, longer.

Guest's picture

Tip #4 is new to me! Also, separate dark colored clothes from the light colored ones when washing using the washing machine as some dark colored clothes can run and ruin the light colored clothes.

Guest's picture

How does anybody spend $1000/year on clothing?

I feel spendthrifty because so far my boyfriend and I have spent about $400 this year on clothes (and they were mostly his).

OK, I can understand special uniforms and nice suits for work and kids outgrowing things faster than you can blink, but that still works out to $1000/person, and that...*mind boggle*

I'm going to miss the summer--clothes dried in the sun are so nice.

Guest's picture

Buy a simple wordrobe and focus on fit. Dont have too many prints, stripes, and patterns. Also dont go all out on fads and trends like Ed Hardy shirts. For guys this might be easier. I've stopped buying patterned shirts and just stick to solid color polo's and plain colored t shirts. They go with anything and I dont worry too much about people noticing I wore the same thing a few days ago. Also be sure to try on the clothes before you buy them to make sure they fit well. I used to buy alot of unfitting clothes just because they were on sale. After a while I hated the way they made me look so I'd just revert back to my great fitting shirts and pants. If you have a simple great fitting woredrobe you wont have to buy new clothes every season.

Guest's picture

"Zip Up Before You Wash" This is a good tip, I have ruined so many pairs of good jeans by not zipping them up! Great tips and good post here!

Guest's picture

Also on black pants or shirts, always only was in cold water, and make sure to turn them inside out. Heard this tip years ago, and it does cut down on the fading of black items.

Shoes: I live in MN so winters can be tough on shoes and purses. Every fall as I sadly put my sandals away, I clean my fall/winter shoes, and then I mink oil them. Mink oil will shine them and protect from wetness, and salt stains. I have some shoes and 2 Coach purses that you would never guess were 6 years old. I will also reappy by December if it has been a harsh winter.

Another tip I got years ago that has worked for me is on stains on clothes: White bar soap----it must be white like Ivory, but any brand will do. I have even got blood out of a white tee shirt. Dampen the spot, and rub the bar quite thickly on the stain. I usually let it sit for several hours, or do it as soon as i notice the stain.

Guest's picture

I didn't know about zipping up before doing the wash.

I agree with the other poster -- $4000 wow! We budget $300 a year for clothes, with much of it going to school uniforms for our two kids. I try to buy used clothes for the kids, but when school starts, sometimes we fall back on the department store. Kids are so hard on clothes, often the used kids clothes are well used.

My wife works as a librarian at a college, and a lot of our clothes come from the free piles there that are left behind at the end of the school year.

I usually hit the $5 a bag sales at the thrift stores for my clothes.

Guest's picture

Buy around a theme. What are the things you wear in your closet day after day? Can you turn them into a "uniform"? (e.g. cable sweater with jeans? dress over leggings? t-shirt and blazer?) This way you can look pulled together and maybe even stylish without schizophrenically following every trend that comes down the catwalk.

Know what colors and styles look good on you.

In areas that have seasons, your worn-out sweat-stained summer shirts can turn into extra layers under your winter sweaters.

Buy multi-packs of socks. This way, if the dryer sends a few through some interdimensional wormhole, you can still wear the rest with each other. Note: if you wear both navy and black socks, pick distinctive knits so you don't mix them with each other. You will be SOOOO glad you did. Likewise, buy tights instead of nylons, or buy good nylons (I used to have good results with Leggs Silken Mist) to avoid early casualties. Tights can often be washed with your clothes in a lingerie bag!

Things that can be worn with "almost" anything: jeans, black pants, simple dark sandals or shoes.

If you can't find the kinds of accessories you like at your local thrift shop, another place to look for handmade and vintage items is Etsy.com . Not as cheap as your thrift shop, but a lot of personality for the same price as K-Mart or Penney's. Search for your item, then sort by price. This is how I have bought several purses that I love, get tons of compliments on, and spent less than $30 each for.

Also, check out thrift shops when you travel. Second-hand shops in Toronto have a completely different personality than those in Sioux Falls, for example. A dress or piece of jewelry or whatever it is you like to wear can make a great souvenir because you will have it out more often than you would some other tchotchke.

Guest's picture

Get rid of clothes you don't wear so that you know what you have in your closet so you don't have to go out and buy more stuff

Guest's picture

wear an apron! Especially if you cook a lot of Indian food : ) Turmeric stains never come out.