How Long Should Clothing Last?

I just found a rip in the lining of this dress! I’ve been wearing it a lot this summer because it’s lightweight, fitted yet loose through the bodice. (On days when I don’t ride my bike, that is – it’s way too short for that!)

Last week I was trying on one of my projects at the office, and while this dress was inside-out on my table, I noticed a huge tear in the lining!

Which got me thinking: how long should clothing last?

I finished this dress in April of last year, and I’ve worn it at least thirty times since then. I wear it mostly on hot-weather days, and it’s a partly synthetic fabric which means it gets washed frequently. Thirty wearings over a year and a half – is that a normal lifespan for a dress?

Curious about the fabric and construction of the dress? It’s a rayon-nylon blend fabric lined with rayon lining. On the section that ripped, I hadn’t finished the seam allowances of the lining because they were enclosed, but it looks like it was the needle holes of the seam stitching where the fabric ripped, not fraying from the seam allowances upwards.

I’ll stitch up the ripped lining, but every time I have to fix it, the lining gets just a little bit smaller. (And the fact that it ripped in the first place probably means that area of the garment is under strain.) This dress has maybe one more life after the first repair before it’s un-fixable.

I think handmade clothing is stronger and better made than store-bought clothing, and for the most part, that’s still true. This dress had a long, happy and well-worn life! I’m trying to think of something I could have done to make it last longer: added underlining? using a cotton batiste as lining instead of rayon? Certainly using an indestructible polyester would have made it last longer, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed wearing it nearly as much.

How long do you expect your clothing to last? Do you have higher expectations of your handmade garments? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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26 Responses to How Long Should Clothing Last?

  1. Seraphinalina September 1, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    That’s a very good question. I have had lining go like that on a RTW skirt, but I think the fault lied with me. My weight hovers around 8lbs give or take, and the skirt fits a whole lot better at the lower part of that 8lbs than the higher. I figure that ripping the lining probably saved the skirt, but a little extra room in the lining would have helped.

    Two summers and 30+ washings feels like you got good wear out of it, but I would still feel a bit of disappointment for something so classic. I think sometimes we make things that are intended to follow the trend of the season and it’s okay if they don’t get a ton of wear, but the classics that you put time and quality fabrics into… they need to last.

  2. patsijean September 1, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    It is possible that the lining is smaller than the dress. We know that lining fabrics don’t have the stretch that fashion fabrics may have. I am not sure if about the construction of the dress so you may not be able to replace the linking skirt. So do not keep sewing the lining smaller and smaller. Open the lining seam from hem to above the tear and trim to make it neat. Then sew in a “godet” of lining to restore the lining size to a fraction bigger than its original size. Practice on scraps first. Your dress looks well cared for and should last a long time. The dress is so cute you might want to make another version to alternate with the original.

  3. Marianne September 1, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    As long as the ripping is in the lining, or if it’s fixable from the inside, this is what I do:
    Instead of ripping the seam open and re-stitching it, take a piece of fabric of a similar weight, and stitch it on. Then the dress won’t get smaller, and you might get seam moved away from the straining area.

    You can whip-stitch or baste the seam closed, to make sure the hole stays closed and doesn’t gap, especially if it’s a visible seam.

    Sort of like this; http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2009/03/how-to_mend_a_hole_in_a_shirt.html#more
    But I sew around the edge of the scrap fabric instead of on the seam. Sort of like an appliqué.

    I can’t explain this in text only AND in a foreign language, I hope you understand what I mean.

  4. paisleyapron September 1, 2011 at 7:37 am #

    Hmmm. My handmade clothes have lasted for years and years, some for almost 15. Many I wear weekly through the season they were made for. So they’ve been worn hundreds of times. I wonder if the quality of the lining contributed to the demise of the dress. My mother made me a raw silk suit and lined it with some crappy thin poly lining and the lining disintegrated over a very short period of time–like two wearings. I am in the process of re-lining it with some sturdy silk and expect the suit to last for many, many years. One thing you may also consider is not machine-washing your handmades. It wears them out like nothing else. I plop mine in my top-loader and fill it it with water and soap, let it agitate for 5-10 seconds and then let it soak. Spin it out, rinse the same way and line dry (or hang on hangars from the shower rod in the winter). It saves electricity and preserves the clothes.

    P.S. If you love the dress, it’s worth it to take it apart and reline it. You fabulous in it!

  5. Hapa September 1, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    I’m sorry that your dress gave in and you might not be able to fix it next time around.
    I have a dress that I made about 5 years ago and it’s still holding strong. I’ve only had to change the zipper once, but that might be because it wasn’t the best quality zipper in the 1st place. My dress is made of slightly stretchy cloth, so maybe this is why it has lasted longer. I wear it always over the summer and if it’s a warm summer, it gets a lot of wear.
    I have also noted, that usually the first thing to go is the lining. I think you made a very good argument when you said that the seam ripping meant that it was under quite a strain. Maybe next time you could make the lining just a tad bigger or add a small pleat to the back that gives it just a bit more flexibility.

  6. Hapa September 1, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    I had another idea. When the dress itself is fine, why not replace the lining? That could give the dress another 3 years at least.

  7. christine September 1, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    was the fabric vintage? because that will be a factor too, esp if it’s man-made and vintage. those together could equal a weaker thread in the weave. but if it’s new, i would think for sure it would last longer!

  8. Sofia September 1, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    You know, I always wonder this too. I have pieces that I made that, after the fact, I wish I made them more secure and a little sturdier, because I love them so much. I agree with Hapa, the lining is always the first to go, especially in jackets for me. I must bend and stretch a lot. For me, it depends on the fabric I used, and what I wear it for. If I wear it for work, it usually stays pretty nice. But if I wear it for weekends and things that require a bit more activity, then they die pretty quick. :( Sad.

  9. Jessie September 1, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    I do expect my handmade clothes to last longer than my store-bought–and a huge part of this is that I treat them better. I know how to care for them, I mend everything as soon as I notice it, and I know how the garment is put together so often I can mend things I’d be stumped by in a RTW item.

    That said, I’m also A) naturally inclined towards sturdy fabrics like wools and heavy cottons, B) disinclined towards slippery silky things that might bust a seam easily, and C) not at all bothered by visible patchwork on my clothes. As far as I’m concerned, a brand-new low-quality RTW dress looks cheaper than a well-made, fitted, high-quality homemade dress with a patch on it.

  10. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) September 1, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    I think clothes should last as long as you want them to. that is a great dress, I love the colors. I have noticed that some lining fabrics tend to tear at the seams, almost like a perforated page, so I sometimes add an extra inch or so in the lining which will make it more roomy inside the garment.

  11. Becky September 1, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    It’s hard for me to say– I have a tendency to reconstruct things once I get bored with them. And for things like dresses, I don’t wear them quite as often as I wear my separates. That being said, my sewn stuff usually seems to hold up pretty well, especially since I’ve started learning more about seam finishing techniques. I do have a couple of things that have gotten tears in it, but it’s usually things like thin fabrics where I didn’t finish the seams as well. Or in the case of some pj shorts I made last summer, they were slightly too small so they fell apart after about 3 washings and wearings. (Silly polyester silky fabric….but I was trying to bust some stash.)

    That being said, I do have one dress left that I made somewhere in my teenage years. It’s a linen-looking fabric (though not actual linen, I’m not sure what the fiber content is but I’m sure it’s at least partially synthetic) and a pretty simple cut. I’ve been washing and wearing that thing at least a couple of times in the spring-summer range for something like 12-14 years (I’m estimating I made it somewhere around 1997), and haven’t seen any signs of it falling apart yet. And this is even with unfinished seams inside! So I think that’s a pretty good indication that self-stitched clothes can hold up well.

  12. Trisha September 1, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    I’ve read that you should make the lining ever-so-slightly BIGGER than the outside, just to avoid this issue.
    I agree with Patsijean about adding a “godet” of lining. I’ve done this before, and it works great.

  13. Mary September 1, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    How disappointing! You can fix this using any of the great suggestions above. My me-made clothing lasts depending upon my fabric choice and how I wash it. Any rayon blend clothing is usually hand washed and not put in the dryer. In fact, I really only use the dryer for my sturdy clothing.

    My seam finishing has improved over the years and that also affected longevity of my clothing. I now try to spend lots of time checking seam intersections, and finishing raw edges with a variety of methods. The things I made 3-4 years ago are showing wear in the seams, and really aren’t worth saving.

  14. arlene f September 1, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    “How long do I expect my clothes to last”
    I thought this would be easy to answer…….but when I started writing I discovered there were just too many possibilities..too many variables.
    I expect good quality to last a whole lot longer than cheap…what the garments use is…how often it’s worn….what it’s made out of….all these things influence my expectations.
    I was wondering how wide the seams were? Also, it might be interesting to test different widths of seams, with some scrap lining, pulling as hard as you can to see what width holds together and when they start to tear/pull apart??
    If you are really into playing you might test different linings…….
    hugs

  15. dixie September 1, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    I’ve learned over time that rayon, more than any other fabric, just doesn’t do well in the wash. It tends to break down or tear more often in repeated washings. Maybe in the future you could dry clean dresses that are mostly rayon (although going to the dry cleaners is really annoying)? If possible I’d say replace the lining with some thin cotton. So long as the outside fabric is in good condition maybe you could still save it?? It’s such a pretty dress and I always hate to get rid of something I’ve made myself.

  16. Maria September 1, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Wow, most of my clothes last years and years, and anything I’ve handmade I’m particularly careful when washing it. My laundry is done in a front loading machine and I hang everything on a washing line to dry (dryers are expensive to run and destroy fabric). I’ve not made a dress with lining yet, but have just started my first project! It’s made me think about the lining I’m about to use – it’s pretty inexpensive. I’m going to pay close attention to the fit and to how I wash it.
    Perhaps you can replace the lining on yours. It would be a shame to throw out such a beautiful dress.

  17. Irene September 1, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    You seem to have gotten a fair bit of wear from that dress, yet I know the feeling of being sad when something well-loved goes beyond the realm of fixable. A fact of life is that not every item of clothing will last for years and years – you just have to accept that fact and move on. I try to make myself feel better with the reasoning that if everything lasted forever, there would be no room in the closet for new items, and we always need room for the new.

  18. Elisabeth September 1, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    How long I expect clothes to last depends on the type of clothes and where I got them. I don’t expect a t-shirt from Target to last very long but I expect a nice dress from a fancy store to last a good long while. Of course, I don’t often wear my nice dresses from fancy stores, while I wear t-shirts from Target every other day so that’s a factor, too. If it was a dress I made myself and had put a lot of time and effort into it, I’d want it to last a few years, no matter how much I wore it. Maybe that’s unrealistic to expect, though. Also, it sounds like how you wash your garment is a huge factor. I’m hoping to eventually get a mostly handmade wardrobe and I know I will not be up for hand-washing it all (no washing machine in the apt. so would have to hand-wash it all in the sink–no spin cycle for me!). I’d rather have my clothes wear out faster than switch to hand-washing it all!

  19. Sherry September 1, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Oh that is annoying on your pretty dress – it needs to last longer! I know how you feel though as I sometimes used to get this on the CB seam of skirts, but when I started to apply fusetape to the lining seam it seemed to solve the problem – hope that helps for future skirts!

  20. Paula September 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    I always find linings to be the first to go in dresses and skirts. Either because of the strain or poor quality fabric is used. Can you take out the lining and put new lining in if it got to the point of no repair?

  21. Tasia September 1, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Yes! You can put new lining into a garment. It’s easier if you made the garment from a pattern. Cut out new lining pieces using the pattern, rip out the new lining, construct the lining, and sew it into the garment.
    For clothing you didn’t make, you can do the same thing! I wrote a tutorial on replacing lining in a jacket here:
    http://sewaholic.net/fixing-up-an-old-leather-jacket-part-2/
    The same idea applies for any type of garment! But as you can see, it’s not easy or a lot of fun to do. Alterations are something that I really dislike, so much that I’d rather re-make a brand new garment!
    This dress has many seams in the lining and if I remember correctly, lots of hand-stitching. I really don’t want to rip it out and replace it – there are so many better things I’d like to be working on! But if you loved your garment, you certainly could!

  22. Gail September 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    We expect the clothes we make to perform better than store bought don’t we. I’m wearing a skirt than I made three year ago and it is in good nick. Or so I thought until I noticed the the stitching on the hem was starting to break. Conversely I made a dress last winter washed it twice (after the pre-cut wash) and it has faded to a misable shade of grey. I complained to the fabric store but the owner wasn’t too concerned.

  23. Tanit-Isis September 2, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    A lot of my self-stitched stuff has not held up terribly well, but the fault is usually with me, either for sloppy methods or poor choice of materials—poor quality thread, worn-out old fabric for pocket linings, etc. On the up-side, I feel much more positive about making repairs on a piece that I’ve made vs. something bought, partly because I I did it so I know I can do it again, and partly because I’ve put more time into it so it has more value to me. I think as I get more experienced, I will know how to avoid this and my pieces will last longer… I hope… ;)

  24. LunaLoo September 2, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    I think the end product, no matter what the project, is only as good as the ingredients used. If we can use the very best fabrics and notions on both the inside of the creation and the outside, the durability increases. I also think needle size and type is very important as well. I try to air dry my clothes whenever possible too.

  25. AliceB September 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    I have found me sewn garments to hold up extremely well with the exception of color fading on washable garments such as unlined cotton slacks. I have learned to flat line to the knee some of my linen trousers to minimize wrinkling, if I pre-wash the lining I feel free to launder on regular and partially dry on low then hang to finish. I do try to launder the majority of my clothing because I don’t like dry cleaning.

    I have several pair of tropical weight wool trousers, these I dry clean. I find that drycleaning is only really necessary for spots, I hang everything after wear to allow it to hang and air out. My previous black tropical wool slacks lasted through at least 4 years of very heavy use, worn 3-4 times a week with cleaning over holiday breaks. Ultimately these slacks died when the 2-3% lycra gave up the ghost by then the lining was completely shredded as well.

  26. Dana September 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    My opinion is that the type of washing machine has more to do with the lifespan of garments than whether it is handmade or off the rack. A good front-load washing machine is easy on the items washed. I’ve owned mine for 10 years and clothes just last so much longer. I even wash ‘dry clean only’ items like wool and down with no issues.

    Concerning linings… I despise the fabrics marketed for lining because they are so flimsy, subject to excessive fraying and generally short lived. When sewing a garment I always opt for a much nice fabric (usually a poly-satin under drappy/silky fabrics or a good muslin or broadcloth under firmer fabrics) to line with so that the lining fabric doesn’t dictate a short garment life span.

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