Will more expensive clothes last me longer?
November 20, 2010 3:53 AM   Subscribe

Is it really worth spending more money on clothes? Will they truly last much longer than cheaper clothes if I normally wear things until they wear out?,

I'm female and in the UK. I wear pretty much the same kind of thing all the time. I have 2 pairs of work trousers, a pair of jeans, a pair of Converse trainers, a pair of Doc Martens and a pair of Rocket Dog ballet flats on the go at any one time.

Aside from very hot weather I reckon I wear these clothes 90% to 95% of the time and each item lasts between 1.5 and 2 years.And buy 'lasts' I mean that I wear them until they fall apart - the DMs at the seams, the other shoes at the soles, the jeans/trousers develop holes wear my thighs rub. When they wear out, I buy near-identical replacements. (I also have assorted tops, these don't wear out before I get bored of them.)

I buy almost all my clothes from the High Street at a mid-price Debenhams, Next, M&S, and similar (trousers @ £20-£30 a pair). I know which clothes suit me, and I buy for fit. I'm 5'0 tall and wear UK size 14-16 (US size 12-ish?).

If I bought more expensive versions of clothes, would they last longer? Or am I getting a near-optimal amount of wear for my money. If I should buy more expensive clothes, where should I shop, given that I'm short and not skinny?
posted by plonkee to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of what makes clothes fall apart is how you take care of them when you're not wearing them. Do you handwash delicates? Do you fold them and provide enough room in your storage? Do you dry them with high heat? Do you rinse leather-eating salt residue from your shoes? Laundry habits profoundly change how clothes age.

I've found that with jeans, more expensive ones do in fact last longer, but that's almost purely a result of the thickness of the denim, and the quality of the stitching. That's the sort of thing that you can be thrifty on if you are very observant and patient. People get crazy about designer jeans and I've never understood their enthusiasm - the best pair I've got are from a thrift store and they're probably 15 years old at this point. I have no idea of their designer, all I know is that they continue to be fantastic.

Really, it's less a matter of price and more a matter of materials and construction. If you try to find things out of natural materials (they age better, launder better, don't absorb odors as much) with strong, well-constructed seams (thick threads, small stitches, well done lining, edged button holes, etc) you'll find things in all manner of shops.
posted by Mizu at 4:05 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're wearing the items 90-95% of the time and they're lasting 1.5-2 years, that sounds like near-optimum wear to me. If, like many of us, you're wearing out your jeans with thigh rub, then High Street jeans are fine—any increase in the cost of your jeans is unlikely to be offset by a commensurate increase in thigh-rub durability. Doc Martens and Converse are hardy shoes that occupy a sweet spot between cost, comfort and longevity (and still look good towards the end of their lifespan). I agree with your current strategy.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:06 AM on November 20, 2010

A lot of it depends on the selvage - cheaper clothes are cut too close to the seam. They either have little or no selvage, the seam is poorly finished or not at all, and the fabric actually unravels. At this point, the clothes are done. With good construction, properly-finished seams, you'd actually have to wear through fabric to wear clothes out. Some of my clothes are 20 or more years old and they look pretty much the way they did when I bought them. I cold-water wash and line dry.
posted by clarkstonian at 5:40 AM on November 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

They do have those new lifetime-warranty Docs; as long as you polish them every three months and don't do factory work in them, DM will repair them for you.

I'm six months in on mine. I intend to make them go quite a while.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:55 AM on November 20, 2010

I have found this not to be true for clothes. Shoes, coats, ties, yes. But pants and shirts? No way- with mens shirts especially, the correlation is usually the opposite. The higher end a shirt is, the worse it wears. At least for everyday kinds of things.
posted by gjc at 6:32 AM on November 20, 2010

I'm VERY hard on clothes, so mostly I wear clothes that were designed to be worked in. Dr. Martens, Dickies, Redwings, Carhartt, and an unending supply of pocket t's from Walmart. And I spend a lot less overall, even counting replacement.

But then again, you probably don't want to look like you work on motorcycles all day.
posted by joedanger at 8:34 AM on November 20, 2010

More durable clothes will (usually) be more expensive, but more expensive clothes are not guaranteed to be more durable. The key things to look for are heavy fabric and well-finished seams. Cotton / spandex blends are a red flag. Really good fabric will often feel a little harsh and stiff initially, but will soften up within the first couple of washes. Anything that feels cotton-ball soft right off the shelf is likely to be about as durable as, well, a cotton ball.

Unfortunately, a lot of the information that can really tell you how durable a fabric is likely to be is not typically available to the retail consumer; a shirt might say "100% linen" but not specify line or tow, and good luck finding a Bradford count on the wool in those gabardine slacks. But you can make a good guess by feeling the weight of the fabric, checking the drape, and rubbing it against itself for 30 seconds or so and checking for pilling.
posted by KathrynT at 11:46 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

As KathrynT says, durable clothes cost more, though expensive clothes are not always more durable. (Nice formulation, KathrynT!)

With shoes, two pairs of shoes that one rotates wearing every day or so last more than twice as long as one pair of shoes. That's because if shoes don't get a chance to dry out, the sweat/external moisture makes the leather less stable.

With bras, the same logic is true. If you rotate wearing your bras and wash them in a bra bag or bra cage or by hand, seven bras will last more than three-and-a-half times as long as two bras that you wear for a week each.

With jeans and knit tops, not so much. So do what works for you, I guess. A good winter coat always seems like a worthwhile investment.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:48 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've read that it's best not to spend a lot of money on knits, as they don't stand up to many washings before they show wear.
posted by moira at 7:56 PM on November 20, 2010

Sidhedevil & KathrynT, another formulation of that thought is, "You don't always get what you pay for, but you always pay for what you get" (citation long forgotten).

I wear LLBean shirts and Docs because, despite costing a little more, they wear longer -- and continue to look better while they age.

Of course, I grew up wearing a uniform to school most years, so I am more than happy to don the same trousers several days in a row -- and to hang them carefully each afternoon/evening -- and to care for my clothes a little more carefully than those rags-to-be from Old Navy.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:46 AM on November 22, 2010

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