How many of you can say that you’ve worn a garment until the fabric it’s self fails?

I’m not talking about high wear areas like the inseam that I fixed a few weeks ago.

I’ve lived on a very tight budget the last several years, and as a result I haven’t done any major replacement of my wardrobe in about 3 years.  So some of the things in my closet have been there for 6 years or more.  My blue camp shirt is one of them.  A camp shirt (to me) is a light cotton button down blouse for everyday, utilitarian wear.  It’s not a dressy piece.  It’s something that you’d be comfortable wearing on a hike or a picnic or, maybe, camping.

This particular shirt became a staple in my wardrobe because it fit extremely well, even through weight fluctuations of up to 40 lbs.  One of the cool features was a smocked/elasticized strip that fell at the small of my back.  It was just enough to give some definition to my waistline without making the shirt uncomfortably tight.  And probably my favorite thing about this shirt: It never once gaped at the bust line.  I’m a busty gal, so to have a button down lie flat without showing the girls off is priceless.

After many years of washing this shirt weekly, the threadbare fabric finally gave up, right at the point of one of the bust darts.  It left a 2 inch hole.  I could mend it, I suppose.  But the reality is that the fabric is so fragile at this point that as soon as I patch it, I’ll have another hole somewhere else.

Despite admitting to myself that this shirt will likely never be wearable again, I haven’t managed to put it in the rag bag yet.  It’s been a week since the hole appeared.  I can’t decide if it’s in the hope that I’ll pick it up and miraculously the fabric will have regenerated, or if it’s just out of sheer emotional attachment to a garment that’s been with me for quite a long time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our attitudes towards clothing lately.  It’s become common for clothing to be expected to last no more than 6 months or a year.  Yet just a few generations ago, clothing was made and worn for years at a time.  Making clothing that lasts takes a significant investment in time and effort, an investment not required when purchasing ready to wear clothing.  I think that disconnect from the effort of making clothing has contributed to the disposable attitude towards clothing.  Why spent 20 hours sewing a wool coat when you can purchase one for $150 at your nearest bargain department store?  Why wear wool when there’s synthetic fabrics?

Why get rid of clothing that hasn’t stopped being useful?

In the almost 10 years since I graduated from high school, I can’t recall a time where a classic trench or pea coat was out of style.  It’s fairly safe to assume that this style will remain viable for some time to come.  Let’s say that I purchased a new coat every other year, because I’m poor and can’t afford a new coat each year.  And let’s assume I’m a great shopper and find my winter coat on sale for $75 each time.  Over the course of 10 years, I would spend $375.  I wear a winter coat about 3 months out of the year, so I’d get about 900 wearings out of my investment of $375.  To simplify, it would cost me about $0.41 per day I wore a winter coat.

Now let’s assume I’m a smart and savvy seamstress.  I create a winter coat in a classic trench style for about $75.  I take the time to ensure that the construction is sound, the fabric is of good quality,  and that it’s overall made to last.  I could easily wear that coat for all 10 winters.  But let’s say I make a second one, just to have some color or style options.  Now I’ve got an investment of $150 for the same 900 wearings, only $0.16 each time I wear the coats.  And really, with two coats, I could just as easily stretch their use out for 15 ($0.11) or 20 ($0.08) years instead.

The difference isn’t so much in the cost of the clothing it’s self, it’s in the attitude behind acquiring clothing.  When you’re buying clothing exclusively, it’s easy to buy into the hype that you “need” a new coat each winter, or at very most every other year.  But when you’re making the coat, you approach the subject of a winter coat with a lot more thoughtful planning.  So while there’s no upfront savings, because I respect the coat I made myself more than the coat I bought, I save money by using it longer.

What have you worn out, and I mean really worn out?  Is there something in your closet that you could breathe new life into and extend it’s usefulness?

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