Taking care of your clothes can give them a life of 15 years or longer, compared to about three years if they're worn often and not maintained, says Grant Harris, owner of Image Granted, an image consultancy company in Washington, D.C. Extending the life of your clothes doesn't have to mean hours of work, but it does require a bit of effort and planning. Here are some clothing care tips and ways to make your clothes last longer, which will in turn keep your wardrobe budget more manageable.
Give Your Clothing a Rest
It's basic advice, but it makes sense to rotate your shoes, suits, and other apparel so that they're not in constant use or get prematurely worn out, Harris says. "Rotation is key across your whole wardrobe. You don't want to wear the same suit two days in a row." Trousers get twice the stress of wear and tear that jackets do, and should be kept in the closet more often, he also advises. Shoes should be given time to air out, too.
Store Everything Properly
If you're not going to wear an outfit for a full season, then you should store it with care, Harris notes. Suits that are being put away for the summer, for example, should be hung on a suit hanger in a canvas bag that's breathable, like this Mainstays Suit Bag 3-Pack ($15.97 with $2.97 s&h, a low by $1) which features canvas and a clear front. And it's best not to jam your closet full of items, either.
It's important to also consider how you're storing your clothes. Cheap plastic or wire hangers will stretch out the shoulder of a garment while wooden hangers are best for men's suits or heavier items. The styles and prices run the gamut, from this Honey-Can-Do Wooden Hangers with Nonslip Bar 24-Pack ($28.99 with $2.95 s&h) to the single Deluxe Natural Wood Suit Hanger ($8.25 with free shipping via Prime). The latter is pricier no doubt, but the wider form is excellent for preserving a nice suit jacket's shoulders. And remember that knit fabrics shouldn't be put on hangers at all because the weight of the item will stretch it out over time.
Don't Use Dry Cleaning Too Much
Not only is dry cleaning expensive, but harsh chemicals such as starch, will harm fabric, Harris says. "Most men dry clean things too often," he says. It's better to steam your clothes at home with a steamer — like this SteamFast 407 Fabric Steamer ($59.99 with free shipping) — or in the bathroom during a shower, in between dry cleaning visits. If you do take them to the cleaners, ask that they be laundered, which is a less stressful option if the tag on the clothing says it can endure it, and have them ironed without starch.
Take Care When Washing
The easiest way to prevent clothes from fading or wearing out is to wash them with cold water and use less detergent. You can also turn shirts with graphics inside out before washing; wash jeans separately so the rough denim doesn't rub shirts raw over time; and wash delicate clothes on their own. Many consumers also swear by the clothes-preserving power of Woolite products. For example, this Woolite Extra Dark Detergent 100-oz. Bottle ($13.97 with in-store pickup, a low by $5) purportedly keeps your blacks from looking more like gray.
Avoid the Dryer When Possible
High heat fades and shrinks material. In fact, the balls of lint you remove from your clothes dryer are actually fibers from your wardrobe. It's therefore advisable to use a dryer sparingly, and when possible line dry your clothes, says Linda Arroz, a former Hollywood stylist and co-author of Affordable Couture. What's more, heat breaks down the elastic fibers in clothes — especially intimate apparel — Arroz says, causing breakage and stretching. It's better to dry-flat or hang-dry such items.
If you do use the dryer, you can cut down on the time required to dry your clothes with a few different products. The Steam Mate Dryer Ball ($5.89 with free shipping, a low by $2;) is a plastic dome-shaped egg that you moisten and toss in the dryer with clothes so they purportedly dry faster and come out with fewer wrinkles. Dryer balls ($4.51 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $7), or even tennis balls, can also help lift and separate clothes for better airflow and quicker drying time.
Refresh Clothing With a Dye Bath
If you're like photographer Catherine Fiehn and wear a lot of dark clothing, you may sometimes notice your blacks appear, well, not quite black. When Fiehn's outfits start looking dingy she picks up a simple black cloth dye, like Rit Dye, and gives her items a dye bath. It's relatively simple to do and makes her apparel appear new again, Fiehn says.
With these simple care instructions, you'll find that your favorite shirt and your perfect pair of pants can withstand longer wear. And with the money you'll save on not buying replacement T-shirts, you can invest in finer fabrics and higher-end wear knowing you will get the most out of each item.Note that this feature has been updated since it was originally published last year.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has worked as a reporter and an editor for newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter — @AaronCrowe.