If you’re trying to save money – and who isn’t? – then cutting back on your clothing budget might be a great place to start. But being more budget-conscious about your wardrobe isn’t as simple as buying clothes on clearance. Let’s take a look at the hidden costs of fast fashion, how to determine whether an investment piece is worth it, and ways to extend the life of your favorite clothes – or even give old clothes a makeover.
What Is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is a worldwide problem, but you might not have realized the extensive damage that the garment industry causes. After all, how much harm can a cheap t-shirt really do?
- Produces harmful waste and microplastics at every stage of production and consumption.
- Uses a tremendous amount of natural resources.
- Creates unsafe and exploitative conditions for workers.
- Destroys once-thriving traditional textile industries.
- Creates a false sense of urgency for shoppers who want to dress on-trend.
- Exploits the creative work of artists and designers to mass-produce knockoffs.
Sounds pretty bad, right? Essentially, companies – including familiar retailers like Target and Old Navy, along with ultra-cheap online shops like SHEIN – rush to create the cheapest possible version of trendy clothing. To do this, the garments are usually made in China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and other countries where labor is cheaper and regulations are less strict. The materials are often manmade plastics, such as polyester, and the quality is subpar. The lightning-fast trend cycle means that the garment will no longer be fashionable in a few months – and that’s if it lasts more than one or two washes.
As Megan Hatch observes for WSYR-TV, “That cute top you purchased for less than your morning coffee, wore twice, washed once, and threw away because it fell apart as soon as it hit the washing machine agitator will sit in a landfill, leeching pollutants for up to 200 years.”
You might think that donating clothes is an environmentally friendly way to keep textiles out of the landfill, but that’s unfortunately not true. The EPA found that 84% of donated clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators. Textile recycling turns unwanted clothing into industrial rags, carpet padding, paper, or building insulation, but not all clothing qualifies for recycling.
Furthermore, donated clothing often ends up repackaged and sold in Africa, where the cheap, mass-produced garments have destabilized the local textile industries. Basically, fast fashion is just as bad as fast food – and just as common, too.
Are Investment Pieces Worth It?
What’s the alternative to fast fashion? So-called slow fashion puts the emphasis on buying fewer pieces of higher quality, shopping sustainable and fair-trade materials, and giving your money to companies that pay a fair wage.
An investment piece is a garment that’s built to last. It’s more likely to be made from natural materials, which wear better than many synthetics. A high-quality wool sweater can last decades as long as you take care of it. And if your sweater eventually needs to be donated, it’s significantly more likely to be upcycled or recycled than an acrylic garment. The same goes for clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and silk.
If you’re on the fence about buying an investment piece, consider the cost per wear. Let’s say you have the choice between a silk jersey dress and a similar piece made from polyester. At a glance, you might not be able to tell a difference between the two dresses, as both have a similar drape and sheen. The polyester dress is $50, but the silk dress is $200. Is it really worth paying four times as much?
You can bet that the silk dress (as long as you take care of it) will last a lot longer than the polyester one. It will likely be made with more care, and the fabric itself will wear better and be less likely to pill or fade. You might wear the polyester dress four or five times before issues begin to pop up. The silk dress, on the other hand, could be worn dozens of times. It’s also going to be more worthwhile to repair the expensive dress, further extending the life of the expensive garment and reducing the overall cost per wear.
Minimalist Wardrobe vs. Capsule Wardrobe
There’s an obvious problem with spending four times as much for a garment: you can only buy a quarter of the clothing you’d normally purchase. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Minimalist and capsule wardrobes have become increasingly popular as people turn away from fast fashion.
A minimalist wardrobe pares down the clothes in your closet to only a few pieces that you love and wear on a regular basis. The pieces are often mix-and-match so that you can build a surprising number of outfits from a limited selection of clothing. This type of wardrobe usually consists of anywhere from 15 to 50 pieces, according to Inês Morais of Minimalist Road, but the exact number is dependent on the individual person’s needs.
A capsule wardrobe is an expanded version of a minimalist wardrobe, with seasonal items that can be swapped out and stored every few months. This extends the life of your favorite clothing, as it gets a break during the off-season and allows you a little more freedom to play with different colors and textures when compared to the minimalist wardrobe.
Both types of wardrobe can save you a lot of money in the long run. Not only will you spend less on clothing overall, but you also won’t have to devote as much storage space to clothing. You’ll save time, too – and we all know that time is money!
Laundry Care for Longer-Lasting Clothes
There are a few ways to make your clothes last longer, the biggest is to skip the dryer. All that lint in the dryer has to come from somewhere, and each time you tumble-dry your clothes, your clothes get just a little bit thinner and more faded.
How else can you ensure that your wardrobe lasts as long as possible? For one thing, make sure to treat stains quickly; the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be to fix things. Check out The Spruce’s guide to stain removal to find out how to treat every type of stain and spot. When it comes time to launder your clothes, check out the care tags. Washing in cold water vs. hot water can make a big difference, as the fibers may become more easily stretched out in hot water. Dry clean items that require it, and hand-wash delicates or at least wash them in mesh bags.
It might seem like a simple tip, but it makes a big difference: always zip and button all closures before throwing a garment in the wash. Loose zippers and hooks can catch on other clothing, causing chaos in the washing machine. For the same reason, it’s a good idea to wash clothing inside out, which can help prevent fading and pilling.
Finally, less is more when it comes to laundry detergent. I know you might think that you need to put a whole cap of detergent in there, but the actual amount recommended by the manufacturer is a lot less than you realize. Not only is using too much detergent wasteful, but it’s also bad for your clothing as it can leave a residue.
Mending Basics for Busy People
Mending is one of those old-fashioned skills that’s gradually seeing a comeback in the modern era. A hundred years ago, most people could probably sew on a button, mend a ripped seam, and maybe even darn a sock. At a certain point in our history, it became easier to just run down to the store and buy a new piece of clothing instead of fixing the old. Now, though, as more people become aware of the toll that fast fashion is taking on the world, mending is growing more popular.
With just a handful of basic tools and skills, you can repair almost any garment, no matter how damaged. In addition, visible mending – the art of making repairs into an intentional design element instead of hiding them – can make your old clothes feel new and exciting again. If you develop a love of mending your clothing, you might even branch out into tailoring or upcycling clothes.