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My 3-Step Strategy for Longer-Lasting Clothes

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Own, trade, and restyle your duds to keep them around — and looking good — longer. Wallet, wardrobe, and world will all thank you.


With two daughters that are 3 years apart, I am lucky that my clothing budget for kid number two is significantly reduced. My younger is at an age where she thinks wearing her big sister’s clothes is cool… hopefully it’ll still be years before she turns up her nose at hand-me-downs, and insists instead on a trip to the mall for brand-new threads.

Until then, I’m on a mission to keep my kids’ clothing around and in good shape for as long as possible — because when clothes are in decent condition, there’s no reason to throw them away. Keeping clothing in circulation, and out of the landfill, is good for the environment, and of course, saves money. What’s more: If more people extend the life of outgrown clothing by passing them on, less clothing would need to be manufactured, which means a reduction in the amount of raw materials (including cotton, which WWF considers the “dirtiest” crop), production energy, and the fuel consumption used to transport the goods to retail.

Here are the three simple rules I follow to try to make good on my mission:

1. Keep clothes like new. The first rule to making clothes last longer is to treat them well while they’re yours. My eldest daughter is hard on her clothes, though, always spilling food on her shirts or getting dirt and grass stains on her pants, so I’ve learned that stain removal is key. Be sure to be proactive about getting stains out of clothing right away, and consider less-harsh, still-effective earth-friendly alternatives to most detergents. If you’re looking for a greener detergent, check out Environmental Working Group, which rates products (like detergents) based on their environmental impact.

2. Get new-to-you clothes. Everyone gets bored with what they have in their closet, and swaps are a great way to update without shopping. Consider swaps with friends and acquaintances who share age, size, or style preferences with you or whomever you’re shopping for — for example, my friend Lynn’s daughters bookend my girls in terms of their ages. My eldest gets hand-me-downs from Lynn’s eldest, and I pass along outgrown clothes from my youngest to her little girl. Lynn and I are both anticipating the day that things come full circle, and I’m able to give Lynn back some of Anya’s old clothes that have survived the wear and tear of all three of our older girls! And for those with young children: I’ve learned that one of the nice things about trading clothes with friends is that a resentful younger sibling might be more likely to wear something that comes from a much-admired older friend, rather than a big sister or brother.

3. Really make new-to-you clothes your own. Give old clothes a new life for their new owner — a variety of simple changes can morph an older piece of clothing into something totally new. You can take clothes to a tailor for a perfected fit, or perhaps embrace some DIY embellishments. Fabric and craft stores have adorable patches and appliques that can customize a garment. Even changing the buttons, sewing a monogram onto a lapel, or adding lace or trim to a collar can make a shirt or dress seem totally new and different. Plus, strategic embellishments (like tye-dye, or a conveniently-placed patch) can also hide the tough stains in clothes that didn’t make it through step 1.

What are some of your strategies for keeping clothes alive and well (and stylish)? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Jessica Harlan

Follow me here!
Every Monday, I'll be here to share one, two, three… sometimes even ten! eco-friendly ideas at a time, so we can all do a little bit to save the Earth.

When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.


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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Janet C. 26 days ago
    I tried giving my hangers to the charity stores but they politely refused them. I offer them to friends and family and even if they only take a few every little bit helps.
  • Joan S. 4 months ago
    I'm taking my plastic hangers to my local thrift store
  • joanna l. 4 months ago
    Maybe I am from the twilight zone, but didn't children used to play dress up? I would think that a box full of things like scarfs and hats, old clothes and costumes, and maybe a dress that you wore in the 90's would be fun to play with on a rainy afternoon.
  • joanna l. 4 months ago
    I think that it is useful to learn to sew (at least something simple like a hem or a dart)
    Maybe someone can teach you or take a class at the library. That would definitely extend the life of your clothes.
  • joanna l. 4 months ago
    Faded scrubs make a really good cobbler vest for kids crafts. They can even personalize them with fabric paints or patches.
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