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Clothing Care Tips

How to know when well-worn clothing becomes worn out

How to know when well-worn clothing becomes worn out

2020 saw us re-wearing many of the same pieces on repeat – we're looking at you, sweatpants, hoodies, and tees. Some of these at-home favourites may have even reached the perfectly well-worn stage – they fit just right and feel like a textile extension of yourself – while others have officially entered a state of near-decomposition. 

It’s a sad day when you finally have to admit that the latter is true of your much-loved and lived-in items. You’ll probably cling onto them, wearing yours around the house or burying it in the back of your wardrobe, before eventually resigning it to the recycling pile. But before you do, ask yoursel whether it really reached the end of its life, or if it is just in need of a little TLC. We enlisted the help of Thread stylist and vintage clothing aficionado Toby Standing to help you identify whether your clothes have reached this dreaded phase, or if they simply require repairs.

T-shirts

T-shirts will wear out quicker than anything else in your wardrobe, especially if they’re made from a jersey-blend cotton. “It’s the item that’s worn closest to your skin, so it’s naturally prone to stains and discoloration, and is more likely to lose shape as the fabric doesn’t have much weight or strength to it,” Toby says. Since they don’t usually contain elastane, cotton tees can stretch and shrink easily without springing back into shape, so if you’ve bought a cheaper t-shirt that you wear on the regular, it’s unlikely you’ll get more than three month’s wear out of it before the shape and colour distort.

When it comes to repairs, it’s often not worth it with soft cotton t-shirts. However, looking to slightly more expensive tees will mean you’re investing in heavier, better-quality cotton that will last longer – as long as you pay attention to washing instructions. “Just keep an eye out for whether it’s starting to look tired. Somethings to look out for are the stitching coming away, the dye fading, the neckline drooping, and the sleeves rolling up,” Toby says. That’s when you know the integrity is waning, and although you don’t have to throw it out – for many of us, old t-shirts become nightwear or loungewear – it’s time to take it off your daily rotation when the fit is gone.

Knitwear

Good knitwear can last a lifetime. “If you look after it right – folding rather than hanging, washing and storing it correctly – a good-quality knit could be in your wardrobe for the long haul,” Toby says. Make sure to sew up small holes that appear in well-worn areas like the cuff and elbow, and use a depiller when the wool starts to bobble. “You can fix the odd hole in a good knit without it being at all noticeable,” Toby says. “But when it becomes ragged and moth eaten or stretched out of shape, it’s time to recycle.”

Jeans

Like knitwear, good denim can last for decades. “Jeans that aren’t pure denim and contain elastane can rip open and fray, which is impossible to repair,” Toby says. “Especially if the tear isn’t along a seam.” Stretch denim and elastane have to maintain their integrity to keep the shape of your jeans intact. If that’s broken, they won’t be the same again. 

Selvedge or raw denim, on the other hand, can be patched to cover small holes. The fabric is stiff and strong, so it doesn’t have to spring back together the way stretch denim would. You should try to keep this kind of denim in your wardrobe as long as possible. “Really embrace it and you’ll get what you give,” Toby says. “If you wear and care for your jeans in the right way, repairing them when they need it, they’ll give more time back to you. If you let them fall apart and don’t repair them, they’ll give up on you quickly too.” You could even make a statement of it and take on the Japanese Sashiko embroidery method, which exposes the stitching around each repaired area.

Chinos

Twill and cotton trousers will naturally be more prone to tears and more likely to wear through. While a heavy twill can be repaired with patches, thinner stretch versions are even less repairable than jeans which will at least have some denim weave in them. “The best thing you can do to delay the inevitable is to buy chinos that truly suit your shape,” Toby says. “Don’t go for a super-slim pair, especially if you have bigger thighs. A tapered leg will last much longer as it won’t get worn down – plus it will look more flattering.”

Boots

A good pair of leather boots should be up there with jeans in terms of longevity. “Don’t overlook resoling,” Toby says. “It’s so easy, and can give your boots so much more life.” Also be sure to polish the leather, which does much more than just remove dirt and dust. Leather is basically skin, so it takes on the same benefits from moisturising as your body does. Leather that’s left unworked can crack and break, so polish stops it from drying out. In a pinch, you can even use unscented moisturiser. It will firm up the fabric and bring years more life into them. 

Similarly, a good cobbler can extend the life of your boots for a much smaller price than a replacement. If you’ve gone for a cheaper alternative or faux leather, they can be much harder to repair once the sole comes away.

Smart shoes 

Like boots, a good quality pair of smart shoes can be repaired for years. If you start wearing away at the leather footbed or the wood at the back of the shoe, it becomes hard to repair. However, the sole can be cheaply repaired by any cobbler. “Using a cobbler will cost you much less than replacing your shoes, and you won’t have to go through the pain of wearing in a new pair of brogues every few months,” Toby says. 

Cheaper pairs that may not be real leather won’t benefit from the same care. They can peel and crack, especially around the toe, at which point they’ll need to be recycled and replaced. “When it comes to footwear, cost-per-wear investments are beneficial beyond just having a nicer pair of shoes,” Toby says. “They’ll last you so much longer.” Even a rubber sole can be replaced by a cobbler, but once the upper is damaged, there’s little that can be done to save them.

Trainers

When it comes to beaten up shoes, a pair of old trainers always look the best. But don’t just throw them out because you think they look dirty – shoe cleaning kits can revive your favourite trainers in 10 minutes. “Once you’ve got holes in the soles and toes, trainers are hard to repair. But until then, you’re fine to keep wearing them,” Toby says. Replace frayed laces, and even use shoe gum if you’re into the beaten-up skater look. “You can probably expect to get around two years out of a pair of trainers you’re wearing every day,” Toby says.

Looking to donate or recycle your old clothes? You can send us any pre-loved clothes in your Thread returns bag whenever you make an order. 


Words: Ella White
Illustration: Guy Fields
Styling: Toby Standing