5 Fail-Safe Ways to Extend the Life of Your Clothes
Thanks to fast fashion, we're buying more clothes than ever and keeping them for less time. A better, money-saving approach: Extend the life of your clothes and build a wardrobe that lasts.
If your wardrobe looks less like a Pinterest-perfect walk-in and more of a cluttered assortment of long-forgotten shoes and ill-fitting dresses, then you’re not alone. Rather than rid your closet of the items that no longer bring you joy, try a better, money-saving approach that’s more resourceful than wasteful. Extend the life of your clothes and build a wardrobe that lasts by following our five steps for cleaning out your closet. No trash bags are required, only a few hours of mindful organization (yes, it’s a thing) that will leave you with a closet even Marie Kondo would approve of.
1. Do a mindful clean-out
“Textiles are one of the fastest-growing categories of waste in U.S. landfills,” says Elizabeth Cline, author of The Conscious Closet ($16; amazon.com). Tired of having a closet stuffed with disposable clothes you don’t love? Go through your items one by one and decide what to keep and what to part with. But then take a careful look at the “toss” pile. “Ask yourself, ‘What did I buy that never got worn or that wore out really quickly? What materials were uncomfortable? What brands did I buy and not wear?’” suggests Cline. Notice, too, what you kept—what brands, colors, and materials do you truly love? “Reflect on how you’ve been buying clothes and figure out ways to shop smarter moving forward.”
2. Rent or borrow
“I always ask whether my need has to be solved by buying something,” says sustainable-fashion expert Jessica Marati Radparvar, founder of the social-impact consulting firm Reconsidered. “You can shop a friend’s closet for a wedding, or have a stylish friend help you style pieces in your wardrobe in different and creative ways.” Services like Rent the Runway keep clothes in use as long as possible, “allowing clothes to be given a second, third, fourth life,” she says.
3. Pass it along
The resale market can extend the life of your clothes once you’re done with them, and you could make a little money out of it. Sites like ThredUp and, for luxury items, The RealReal will send you a bag or label to mail in your clothes and then give you cash or credit for accepted items (they recycle the rest). If you’re getting rid of something out of style or in poor condition, consider textile recycling—some farmers’ markets have drop-off sites, and retailers like H&M accept old items. These clothes typically get sold into the secondhand industry: Companies generally export wearable items overseas, and worn-out goods are shredded for insulation or rags, says Cline. It’s considered downcycling because the value is diminished, but it’s preferable to sending textiles to landfills.
4. Clean and repair
“Remove stains, sew that loose button back on—do your part to keep clothes in good condition and pass them on in good condition,” says Cline. When you ensure an item will be worn longer, you minimize its impact on the environment.
5. Shop with quality in mind
Look beyond the surface level of color, print, and design, says Cline. “Hold the garment in your hands. Does the fabric feel sturdy, dense, soft, and pleasing to the touch? Then check the sewing. Turn it inside out and make sure the stitching is neat and straight, there’s no unclipped threads, no broken stitches. Then check for construction details: pockets, functional buttonholes on the cuff of a blazer, a quality zipper on a coat.” And consider secondhand: Buying from consignment stores, thrift shops, and resale sites is an excellent way to reduce demand for brand-new clothes. (If you’re a little weirded out by used stuff, remember the amazing vintage coat you inherited from your aunt: not gross at all!)