How to make your clothes last longer, as research shows expensive doesn’t always mean durable

A new study looks at the durability of clothes at different price points (Hubbub/PA)
A new study looks at the durability of clothes at different price points (Hubbub/PA) A new study looks at the durability of clothes at different price points (Hubbub/PA)

A study has found that paying more for clothes doesn’t always mean they will last longer.

Researchers at the School of Design at the University of Leeds performed durability tests on 65 items of clothes retailing from under £5 to around £150.

The research showed that durability of both high and low-priced garments ranged from excellent to very poor.

Durability refers to how long an item of clothing remains functional and wearable, without requiring much maintenance or repair when faced with normal wear and washing.

T-shirts, hoodies and jeans were assessed for several factors including seam strength, resistance to ripping, colour bleeding, shrinking or losing shape.

woman putting clothes in box to donate to charity
woman putting clothes in box to donate to charity (Alamy/PA) (LightField Studios Inc. / Alamy /Alamy Stock Photo)

The research – commissioned by environmental charity Hubbub and retailer Primark – found women’s T-shirts priced under £10 outperformed one retailing at around £40. While hoodies priced between £11 and £20 were ranked higher on the durability scale than those priced at just under £50 and around £100.

Only negligible differences in durability were found for a pair of women’s jeans priced at around £15 compared to a pair retailing at more than 10 times the price. Of all the garments tested, only menswear hoodies showed consistently higher performance than the lower priced ones.

Alongside the study, Hubbub commissioned a survey of 3,000 UK adults on attitudes towards clothing care, revealing that 67% of people expect expensive clothes to last longer.

The poll also found people tend to take more care when it comes to costly items, with 64% more likely to hang them up after wearing, 62% removing spills and stains, and 54% willing to carry out repairs.

“Durability must become central to the debate on sustainability,” said Aoife Allen, director and fashion lead at Hubbub.

“Durable clothes reduce the need for replacement purchases, increase the chance of a longer second life and offer better value for money – a significant concern in the context of the current cost of living crisis.”

Other issues can also be considered when thinking about the environmental and social impact of your clothes – such as the materials used in production and transparency of the supply chain.

Allen believes retailers and consumers alike must help to tackle the huge issue of clothing waste.

“The fashion industry should be designing clothing to last longer, and we can help to make people aware of the simple steps that they can take to help all their clothes last longer,” Allen continues.

“This research highlights that the same level of care should be given to all garments, regardless of price, to extend their life as much as possible.”

So how do you make clothes last longer?

Wash at lower temperatures

High temperatures can cause clothes to fade more quickly and they aren’t necessary unless garments are very dirty,

“For general washing of clothes that aren’t visibly stained, try washing at 30 degrees or lower and use the eco-setting on washing machines,” says Stephanie Campbell, senior creative partner (fashion) at Hubbub.

“Most detergents now clean very well at low temperatures. Try using a shorter washing cycle which can also help prevent clothes from degrading.”

Get to grips with care labels

clothing care label
clothing care label (Hubbub/PA)

It’s important to check the instructions on care labels, especially when washing for the first time, to avoid any disasters.

“Following the care symbols helps to avoid shrinking or damaging clothes and helps you care for them in the best possible way, so take the time to check them before washing,” says Campbell.

For example, some delicate fabrics shouldn’t go in the washing machine, while others should be put in a net bag to protect them.

Only wash an item when you really need to

clothes in washing machine
clothes in washing machine (Hubbub/PA)

Chucking clothes in the laundry basket after every wear can have a detrimental impact on durability.

“Washing clothing too much can cause colours to fade and the garment to start to break down,” says Campbell.

“Unless an item is visibly dirty or has a stubborn stain, try spot cleaning marks or airing out odours to keep your clothes looking fresh.”

Act fast if you spill something, she adds: “Remember to always treat stains as soon as you can – the longer you leave them the harder they are to get out.”

Air your clothes out

Air drying is the best way to keep clothes in good shape – as long as you pay attention to the ‘dry flat’ warning on the care label for certain items such as those made from cotton, linen or silk.

“Tumble drying can shrink or damage items, so air drying can help to keep outfits fitting well and in good condition,” says Campbell. “It reduces energy bills too.”

Repair instead of replacing

Try to stick to the ‘make do and mend’ adage no matter how much you paid for an item.

Campbell says: “Making a quick fix on a hole as soon as you’ve noticed or finding a local tailor that offers repairs is a simple way to get more wear out the clothes you’ve got and keep on enjoying your favourite items.”

Love what you’ve got

Sustainable fashion influencers know that ‘shopping your wardrobe’ is key to reducing your clothing waste – and saving money.

“Enjoy what you already own, or swap with pals,” says Campbell.

“Mix and match what’s in your wardrobe to create new outfits. Add accessories and embellishments or make alterations to update an item and breathe new life into it.”