People are creatures of habit. This explains our need to cling to things that give us a sense of security and comfort. As children, many of us kept our cherished Teddy Bears long past the point of recognition. We hung on to our favorite stuffed animals until tails and eyes fell off and stuffing popped out. We clung to our favorite blankets until they nearly disintegrated in our cherubic little hands. And it didn’t stop then. Because as adults we still grow attached to certain garments and keep them long past their peak of fashion and performance.
How many of us have stored our favorite bell bottom pants in the attic through a couple of generations, literally until they came into fashion again? And who among us women doesn’t have the “little black dress” we simply can’t bear to part with just because it got us through an entire decade of New Year’s parties? And the shirts! What is up with men and their favorite shirts! If a shirt could be made to keep going for a man’s entire adult life, most men would accept it gladly. But, in spite of our desire to hang on to our favorite garments, the normal, pervasive, insidious, and predictable forces of every day wear-and- tear will eventually bring every garment to the point of crying “Uncle!”
The cumulative effects of everyday wear-and-tear on clothing and fabric are pervasive and far-reaching, but as with so many things in life, we tend to get so emotionally wrapped up in our wraps that we lose sight of the hard cold facts. It may come as a surprise, but clothes have predictable life spans for longevity and performance. In fact, the Fair Claims Guide, guidelines for calculating the depreciation of clothing, is used to determine the fair market value of a garment for insurance or donation purposes and is based on the age and garment type. A collared dress shirt, for example, is given a useful life span of about two years, under normal conditions of consumer use and routine care. Beyond two years, the value of the shirt plummets and is considered mostly past its useful life expectancy. This comes as a shock to many people who expect a shirt to go on and on like the legendary battery bunny. Likewise, a work uniform is depreciated to 15% of its original cost after just thirteen months while it takes a sweater over three years or a real fur coat 10 years to drop to that level of depreciation.
In most instances, what we perceive as damage to garments can actually be chalked up to the predictable and normal effects of common, everyday wear-and-tear. In fact, damage from normal wear-and-tear is more likely to be the garment’s death knell as any spill, tear, or other deadly encounter. The effects of wear-and-tear often cannot be reversed, but there are instances when even that frayed old shirt you’ve grown to love can be sufficiently restored to eke out yet a few more wearings.
One example of wear-and-tear is a condition known as elbow wear. This happens when a long sleeve exhibits severe thinning and even ripping of the fabric directly above the gusset, or sleeve opening. It can be quite a surprise to see a favorite shirt that has always behaved suddenly emerge from the washing machine or come back from the cleaners with a big gaping hole in the sleeve that was not there before washing. To add insult to injury, elbow wear does not even appear to happen at the elbow until you put the garment on and bend your elbow and watch your elbow poke right through the hole!
Consider all the bending and moving you do over the course of the day; your routine activities at work, in the kitchen, shopping and interacting with the kids. You bend your elbows constantly, lean on the desk or table or counter when you are talking on the phone, and rub your elbows against your chair arms. Compound this action day after day, week after month after year, and elbow wear is the inevitable outcome. You did not see the gradual weakening of the fibers but it was a constant and irreversible force happening all along until one day the normal agitation from your washing machine was too much for the already weakened fibers to withstand and the thinned fabric gave way to a hole. It was simply a time-bomb waiting to happen!
Damage from elbow wear is irreversible, but it can be masked on an otherwise healthy garment by attaching a pair of elbow patches over the elbow areas. A good tailor can provide this service and may even help you select a suitable design or suggest the best fabric to use for the patches. Be sure the rest of the garment is in good condition, however, to justify the money you will spend to purchase and attach the elbow patches.
Akin to elbow wear and also affecting shirts is something called beard wear or neck wear. This is where the neckband undergoes severe fabric thinning or even shredding in extreme cases. When a man’s shirt shows signs of abrasion in the neck and collar area it is specifically because the wearer has, over the course of time, rubbed and chafed against that area causing a gradual but inevitable breakdown of the fibers. You don’t have a beard, you say? It doesn’t matter! It is called beard wear simply because it is happening where that part of the anatomy comes into contact with the garment. It is not restricted to men, either. Blouses and dresses with neckband collars are subject to the same effect when the neck rubs against the collar fabric. Over time, just the simple act of rubbing against the neckband day after week after month after year will take its toll. One way to prevent this is to buy shirts a half size larger around the neck. Most shirts will shrink a tiny percentage in washing and this will allow for a better fit in the long run and alleviate any potential beard or neck wear. Reversing beard or neck wear is not possible once the damage is there, but a good tailor may be able to replace the neckband and collar altogether, assuming he or she can obtain a replacement from a shirt of similar size, shape, and fabric as the original one. Again, this can be costly to do right, so be certain the rest of the shirt is in good enough condition to warrant the repair fee. It will likely cost less to buy a new shirt, so consider that option as well.
Belt wear is another symptom your clothes are begging you to let them go in peace. Waist bands and belt loops take a beating from the daily friction of looping the belt on and off, not to mention the stress of the belt on the loop and waistband every time you bend, stretch, reach, twist, or… finish off that coconut cream pie. Constant rubbing from cell phone and iPod clips may seem innocuous but they can rub away the fabric on your waistband as well, leaving the fabric chafed and even bald. These normal stresses and strains on pants and skirts cause friction that can even leave little holes in the belt loops and along the waistline. Fortunately, belt loops can be replaced which is the reason most new pants and skirts come with a replacement belt loop along with a spare button or two so if you happen to have kept the bag of spares, take it to a tailor and they will replace the belt loop. Even if you did not keep the bag of spares, most tailors can make a new one by matching fresh fabric to your garment or even graft a new belt loop by taking a little slice of fabric from under the hem where it won’t show. But before you go to that effort and expense, check out the rest of the garment to be sure it is worthy of the belt loop restoration.
Cuff wear is another tell tale sign your clothes may be asking for a mercy kill. Cuff wear is simply the common signs of wear-and-tear caused from pants that are too long and dragging against the ground or even from beating against your shoes over the course of time. If the cuffs are worn completely through or scruffy with wayward straggly threads hanging down or thinned to the point of no return, it is probably time to let go.
Along this same line of normal wear-and-tear is something called wallet wear. This is the thinning of fabric right at the bottom of the rear pocket that cradles the wallet. Yes, the wallet itself bumps out from the flat pocket and causes friction that weakens the fibers in that area that one day appears as a thinned spot or even a hole. Pockets can suffer the same demise from constant friction against keys and loose change too. Inside pockets can often be reconstructed or repaired by a skilled tailor and may be a viable option if the rest of the garment is still in good condition.
We all have favorite garments we’d like to hang on to forever. Some hold sentimental value, others have earned our loyalty by always come through in a pinch, and still others have been with us for so long they practically fit like our own skin. But clothing is made from fibers that are subject to the deteriorating effects of chafing, rubbing, and general wear-and-tear that erode them as well as almost everything else over time. So, when a garment cries “Uncle” for the last time with no hope of resurrection, restoration or resuscitation, it is probably time to let it go in peace and move on.
But there is a silver lining in the garment that gives up the ghost. It is granting you an automatic excuse which translates into express permission to go right to the store and treat yourself to a fresh new shirt or dress or pair of pants that just may, in time, become your brand new “favorite” shirt, dress, or pair of pants. Smile. Your old favorite would wish that for you.