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15 Tips for Making Your Clothes Last Longer

Spend less on clothes by taking care of your current wardrobe.

What's the oldest piece of clothing you own that you still wear, at least occasionally?

For me, it's a T-shirt I bought in 1974 at a Grand Funk Railroad concert at the Toledo Sports Arena. That shirt definitely dates me whenever I wear it, but it's one of my most prized possessions. It brings back fond memories of a time when I had flowing, shoulder-length hair—or any hair at all, for that matter.

Caring for your clothes properly can extend their lifespan by years—or even decades, in the case of my T-shirt—and save you a closet full of cash in the process. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American family of four spends approximately $3,000 per year on clothing.

Here's how to get more wear, and less tear, out of your clothing:

•    Launder less often: Washing and drying clothes more frequently than is necessary shortens their lifespan because of the heat and abrasion involved in laundering. Try wearing clothes multiple times between laundering.

•    Cold water only: Most clothes should be washed in cold water, which makes them last longer, while it also saves energy. New cold-water only detergents get clothes just as clean as using hot water and are easier on the environment. (Check laundering instructions on garments and detergents to avoid damage.)

•    Line dry: The heat and friction from drying clothes in an electric or gas dryer can cut their lifespan in half. Save energy and appliance costs, while making your clothes last longer and smell better, by line-drying garments outside whenever possible.

•    Zip it: Metal zippers on jeans and other apparel items can tear apart clothing in the washer and dryer. Zip them up before laundering them to avoid damage. The same applies to Velcro fasteners.

•    A stitch in time saves: Check garments frequently and repair snags and small tears before they become big ones.

•    Remodel instead of retire: If your duds start to look dated, check out the book, "Sew Subversive," by Melissa Rannels, Melissa Alvarado, and Hope Meng, from the library for some simple ideas for remodeling your clothing. Even those of us who are needle-and-thread-challenged can tackle some of these suggestions.

•    Keep shoes dry: Moisture from perspiration and foul weather can dramatically reduce the lifespan of shoes and boots. Don't wear the same pair two days in row, so that they dry out completely before the next wear. Stuff a sheet of newsprint in them overnight to wick out moisture.

•    Turn it inside out: The bold prints of blouses and other garments, and the darker colors of things like jeans, will remain vibrant longer if you turn them inside out before laundering.

•    Beware of bleach: Bleach can break down cloth fibers. Try using baking soda and hot water to brighten whites.

•    Maintain your (healthy) weight: There are many good reasons to avoid putting on unwanted pounds. Making sure that you don't outgrow your wardrobe is definitely one of them.

•    Solve the case of the missing sock: Buy multipacks of the same socks whenever possible, so that you'll have extra mates on hand when one sock goes missing or wears out.

•    Get organized: Knowing what clothes you already own and wearing them help you avoid unnecessary new purchases. Take a visual inventory of your wardrobe at least seasonally, and make a "progressive shopping list" of things you'll need to buy in the coming months. That way, you can pick the items up the next time you see them on sale.

•    Proper storage: Store off-season clothes in plastic totes (preferably non-opaque totes to prevent sunlight damage). Fold them flat and add in a couple of cedar blocks for extra protection.

•    Keep it simple and classic: Build a wardrobe around just a few solid colors that look good on you and work well with one another. Look for classic styles, well-made garments, and durable fabrics. Don't get suckered into trendy fashions and colors that will be outdated before you even get out of the store.

•    Wear out the other guy's clothes: If other people aren't going to wear out their clothes, you can do it for them and save big bucks in the process. Shop for "used but not abused" clothing at thrift stores, yard sales, and consignment shops, and you’ll usually pay only 10 or 20 cents on the dollar compared to new. Who knows, you might even find a vintage Grand Funk Railroad T-shirt, just in case you missed that concert.

Jeff Yeager is the author of the book "The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches." His Web site is