At the heart of the slow fashion movement is the pledge to buy less; however, when you buy less, maintaining those investment pieces is imperative in ensuring their longevity. If you don’t know how to care for your clothes, they won’t last. If your clothes are falling apart before your eyes, your efforts to live a more sustainable lifestyle will too. Fortunately, it only takes a little time and extra attention to keep your wardrobe in a clean and cared for condition.
Even if you only shop thrift stores (power to you!), vintage pieces and high-end brands still require care when washing. Just because something is secondhand doesn’t mean it can’t have a long closet life. Learn the best ways to pick, wash, and protect your apparel in our guide to caring for your clothes.
Be Mindful of Fabric Choices
Today, the list of fabric options is nearly unending, but in the past, natural fabrics like silk, wool, cotton, and linen were pretty much the only options. Because of science, synthetic fabrics have made clothing more affordable — but also more problematic. Some synthetic fabrics like rayon, nylon, pleather (or faux leather), taffeta, and polyester, are created from plastic. These types of fabrics will not break down quickly when tossed in a landfill. Unfortunately, our landfills are littered with textiles. Every year in New York alone “residents and businesses throw away almost 1.4 billion pounds of usable and recyclable textiles, including: clothing, footwear, belts, hats, handbags, throw rugs, drapes, towels, sheets and other linens. The potential market value of all these materials is almost $210,000,000.”
Silk, linen, wool, cotton and other natural fibers are degradable, and there are other benefits too. Natural choices allow better airflow, keeping you from overheating on hot summer days. They can also provide better insulation during cooler months. There’s something to be said for sticking with the original fabrics of the fashion game. While it’s best to hang onto your clothing for as long as possible, if garments made with natural fibers do end up in a landfill, it’s a much better story than synthetic fabrics. (Though, always consider swapping, mending, donating, and repurposing old clothes before trashing them — non-biodegradable clothing can sit in landfills for up to 200 years, and even longer if the pieces are made with plastic).
Something worth noting is that while synthetic fabrics aren’t great for the environment, if you shop at thrift stores, buying synthetic items is a great way to keep them out of landfills. Many amazing vintage pieces feature synthetic fabrics. Rescue those clothing gems, wear and re-wear them, and keep them in your closet to ensure they enjoy a long life.
Read the Care Tags
Let’s be honest, we’ve all made a laundry blunder that has ruined a favorite item. Once the damage is done, it’s sometimes impossible to reverse. Preserving the clothing you purchase — especially pricey investment pieces — means reading the care tags and following the instructions. While many delicate fabrics can be hand-washed, sometimes dry cleaning is the only safe option. If the tag specifically states the item needs to be dry cleaned, don’t try to toss it in the washing machine.
For many of us, jeans are a staple in our wardrobe. These must-have pieces shouldn’t be washed frequently, though. According to “The Lifecycle of a Jean” report from Levi’s, “Washing every 10 times a product is worn instead of every 2 times reduces energy use, climate change impact, and water intake by up to 80%.” Furthermore, the less frequently you wash your jeans, the longer life they are bound to have. It’s a win-win.
Don’t Turn Up the Heat
Drying and ironing clothes subjects them to heat. Over time, this could take a toll on clothes. When ironing, use the recommended setting for the fabric. The same rule applies to the dryer.
Tumble drying can shrink or damage some fabrics (like denim). Instead, air dry jeans, sweaters, and any delicate pieces. Never tumble dry lingerie, like bras, or delicate sleepwear or lingerie. Pantyhose and tights also should never feel the heat of your dryer.
Mend Your Investments
A tear or a missing button shouldn’t end the life of your clothing. Ripped seams and tiny holes are easy to mend, especially if you have a sewing machine. For major tears or large holes, patches can be used. If the damage is extensive, consider cutting up the item and using it for a cleaning cloth.
As for missing buttons, if you can’t find the spare button (they are usually hidden in an inside seam), you can find replacements at a local craft or sewing store. If the button is incredibly unique and you’re unable to find the perfect replacement, consider replacing all the buttons. Yes, this may be tedious, but it will also freshen up the look of your garment and save one more piece of clothing from sitting in a landfill.
Treat Stains, Store Properly
Always treat stains and spills immediately. The longer you wait to treat the spot, the harder it may be to remove. Different stains require different treatments, but, for many, an enzyme cleaner can do the trick. Read the instructions on all stain removers, as some may contain bleaching agents or other damaging chemicals.
Pack seasonal items in airtight bags or containers, but always clean clothes before storing them away! Dirty clothes could attract pests. Preserving clothes also means storing them correctly when they are in rotation, too. Fold sweaters and use padded hangers for delicate items. Buying less, but buying better, means that maintenance is key in ensuring a sustainable closet.