In the early 19th century, women were still making clothes by hand. As you can imagine, people commonly wore the same outfit everyday, and the thought of disposing of a painstakingly sewn dress because of a small tear or stain was absurd.
Fast forward a couple centuries.
The production cycle has been compressed to the point where fast fashion brands such as Zara commonly bring an outfit drawn on a pad of paper to store racks in less than a month. In a recent survey by VICE UK, 23% of 18 to 24-year-olds admitted to wearing an item of clothing just once before throwing it out.
Part of the problem may be our relationship with imperfections in clothing.
Stains in particular remain a struggle for many, and food, sports, and baby spit-up, among other things, are cited as some of the most common culprits. As a result, stained clothing often gets thrown in the trash: a 2017 survey of 2,000 people discovered that nearly half of respondents mistakenly assumed that well-worn or stained clothes could not be donated to charity.
Luckily, there are things you can do to extend the longevity of your clothing. Not only will doing so keep often un-compostable textiles out of landfills, it’ll also be better for your budget.
Fancy a DIY approach? Articles on tips for getting period stains, for example, out of clothes, underwear, and sheets abound. And when you’re deciding whether to hand-repair or toss an item, ethical fashion nonprofit Remake has a handy guide to help you understand the environmental consequences of your decision.
Experts in fabric and textile cleaning — such as dry cleaners or tailors — can also help you make the alterations or repairs you need. Doing so is often perceived as too expensive, but it’s important not to view the cost of repairing clothing in isolation. Rather, it should be compared to the price of the new clothes you would have bought to replace the old garment you otherwise may have thrown away.
Hardships for dry cleaners — already hard hit by the trend towards casual and easy-to-wash clothing — were exacerbated by the pandemic, which forced one in six dry cleaners to file bankruptcy or close completely. So another perk of visiting your dry cleaner’s is pumping money back into small businesses — and your local community.
Next time you spill coffee on your favorite dress or snag a knit sweater, consider taking a trip to a tailor or getting handy with a DIY solution. There’s not much we’d suggest bringing back from the early 19th century, but the rejection of perceived obsolescence is something we certainly would.