Frayed Collars, Punctured Worsteds: How I Stopped Caring and Learned to Embrace Wear and Tear in my Wardrobe

If you are a neurotic Styleforum guy like me, you probably invest in nice clothing and then put a lot of money, care, and time into maintaining each individual article in order to make each piece last a long time. We purchased that suit or that pair of shoes thinking of it as an investment, as we felt that it should last us forever–or at the very least quite a few years. We want to maintain it well, so we end up investing in nice cedar hangers and shoe trees, breathable canvas bags and cedar liners to store our clothes when out of season, horsehair brushes and creams to clean that dust and hydrate that leather, et cetera. We take pride in caring for our possessions and rejoice in keeping them in mint condition.

Then, out of the blue, despite carefully rotating through the jackets, the trousers, and the shoes, something happens that breaks that spell; perhaps a spot appears where the pants are worn through on the thighs, or a small pull shows up in a hop-sack fabric that then transforms into a small hole. Or maybe a nasty scuff disfigured a pair of dress shoes and cannot be hidden without resorting to heavy polishes and creams.

At this point we have two options: we can repair the garment, taking it to some expert and see how well the problem can be corrected; or we can dispose of it, replacing it with something else, perhaps something better. Unfortunately, I fell into the second category with a lot of my clothing until recently. I saw tears, holes and the like as ruining the jacket or the pants, removing the possibility to present a professional demeanor with a now blemished piece of clothing, and I deemed the garment pretty much worthless. I didn’t think it a viable option to repair a lot of my professional, sartorial clothes, and I ended up just using them as an excuse to replace them with something that was “better.”

Something changed in my mind when my quintessential navy blazer–the one that should be timeless and last ages–found itself showing me a hole on the back right shoulder. At first, I thought it was possibly from some pesky moth, but the location and shape of the damage were not conducive to such, so I decided it was probably a pull in the open weave hop-sack fabric that turned into a hole as the fibers wore down and unwound itself. On the back shoulder, it was hidden by the slight amount of cotton shoulder padding and the Bemberg lining, so the damage could have gone unnoticed for quite some time. Unlike my previous clothes that had gotten frayed or damaged, this jacket was one in which I appreciated the cut, the color, the fit–to me it was the ideal navy blue sport coat. And as such, there was no desire to replace it with something that was “better” since I was fond of this exact jacket.

Worried that the hole would get bigger, I put on some fray check to stop it from expanding (a mistake) and I sought out reweaving specialists to see how and if they could handle an open weave. I had never had a garment repaired in this manner before, seeing as how most of the time when I had frayed pants in my thigh area, I just replaced the pants and discarded the damaged ones. Because there are not really that many people who have the skills, I never considered it. Therefore, I had no idea what magic a reweaver could do, especially since the hole was already on the larger side of anything I had seen online, and it was a fabric that was much more open than any other examples I had seen. It turns out that a reweaver can easily handle open weaves and the end result would have been much improved had I not used the fray check on the fabric. Despite the error on my part, in the end the flaw on the rewoven jacket is hardly noticeable in person, unless you are looking at it directly in a specific light, or you know what you are looking for.

After seeing the end result, realizing that I could have salvaged other garments of mine, I found myself thinking why I never did it before: why do we need to get rid of and replace our clothes constantly at the slightest sign of wear? And going one step further, why do we have to necessarily repair something that is minor at the first sight of it? Thinking of wrinkles in linen, isn’t it possible that we don’t need to always appear pristine all the time? Obviously, it makes sense to repair something that structurally may result in further damage, but showing a little bit of wear does not harm the garment necessarily. Frayed collars and cuffs, while not professional, do add a slight charm to a shirt, providing a romantic sense that perhaps that shirt has seen some grand adventures, that the garment has been with us for a long time. Just like distressed indigo fabric, a rewoven section of fabric adds to the character of the jacket, providing a history to the garment.

Die, Workwear!’s article on “The Joy of Old Clothes” struck a chord with me, since this article came shortly after I had decided to repair my jacket. In the article, Derek acknowledges that “[old clothes] bring us a special kind of comfort that only time can reliably provide.” This is incredibly true, and perhaps you become aware of it only when you have to repair a piece that you actually love.

The comfort he is referring to is partly a metaphysical one, built around the object gaining its own ethos from being worn. Such comfort is an appreciation of the clothing in the state of wear, and as such it follows somewhat the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, seeing as how it focuses on the beauty (the “comfort”) is inherent in the transitory, imperfect appearance of the object. Such appreciation and comfort imbued into your clothes are not merely from all the misadventures that you have had with them nor the memories you have created wearing them. Beauty–appreciation–comes from the fact that objects are surrounded by natural change, becoming unique over time based on the external factors. Your clothes have inherited a part of the spirit and meaning you have imbued in them, but in addition, they have been affected by changes in shade, color, wear and the like from environmental forces impacting it. Our love for our old, worn out clothes comes from the object’s very own history in addition to the meaning we instill in it.

On the other hand, when we reweave clothes, or we try to hide the damage with invisible repairs, on some level we are adhering not to wabi-sabi, but to shibui. Rather than embracing the wear inherent in the clothing, we are trying to mask it and return it to some level to the pristine, restoring it to its original state. Shibui (adj. of shibumi [n.]), can be described as an aesthetic concept of subtle, austere beauty. While a lot of things that have wabi-sabi might likewise exhibit shibui, not all objects that can be classified as shibui need to have experienced the wear of time and are not necessarily beautiful under wabi-sabi. The clothes that we wear, when dressing well, without some sort of ostentation in cut or color, can be classified as following the framework of shibumi. As lovers of classic menswear, our blue blazers, grey trousers, white shirts and grenadine ties are simple and subtle, creating in our hearts that appreciation of that outfit.

Once these clothes become worn and are no longer pristine, they adhere to the same principle of shibui. Take a jacket for example–as it goes from being new to being worn, it begins to border the edge between elegant and rough, or professional and casual. The garment becomes less appropriate for professional use, but it retains a dignity that many would find charming. Similarly, the rough nature of handwork in many traditions–like the rough handmade buttonholes characteristic of southern Italy–exhibit this similar austere beauty in their imperfections. Hand-rolled hems, handmade patinas on shoes–such rough aesthetics from human artisanship are in direct contrast to the stark, clean aspects of functional clothing that we come to expect in office settings, yet we find a sort of charm in these. Appreciating this dichotomy and embracing the used nature of garments provides a sort of comfort, of beauty that renders you feeling less neurotic about your wardrobe and more appreciative of your own personal style.

Repairing, mending, reweaving, resoling–all of these acts recondition the object to appear closer to its original state, but because of the life of the object and environmental forces, it will never be the same. We should appreciate the benefits of wearing used, well-worn clothes, whether our justification for such comes from ideological frameworks rooted in economics or ecological choices, or whether they come from aesthetic understandings like wabi-sabi and shibui.

The next time you think about discarding your shirt because it presents frayed cuffs, just give it a shrug, and repurpose and embrace it by wearing it another time.

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e. v. Empey

e. v. Empey

Mr. Empey is the type of guy who prefers English style in the winter and Italian style in the summer. Or at least he used to. Now he's uncertain where he stands, since he travels a lot and has to visit a fair number of places where Americana workwear would be the best option. His appreciation of menswear stems more from a love of artisanship, so naturally, he also appreciates other crafts including cocktails and quality cuisine.
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e. v. Empey

About e. v. Empey

Mr. Empey is the type of guy who prefers English style in the winter and Italian style in the summer. Or at least he used to. Now he's uncertain where he stands, since he travels a lot and has to visit a fair number of places where Americana workwear would be the best option. His appreciation of menswear stems more from a love of artisanship, so naturally, he also appreciates other crafts including cocktails and quality cuisine.

7 thoughts on “Frayed Collars, Punctured Worsteds: How I Stopped Caring and Learned to Embrace Wear and Tear in my Wardrobe

  1. Perfectionism is only made worse by the #menswear images we see on much of social media–new items shot professionally, in exacting lighting with the right amount of filtering applied. We may strive to live up to these images and see any wear as serious flaws when, in the real world, they are not.

    • You are correct. Even if the items are not shot professionally for menswear “influencers,” the styling and the post processing is intended to make the item / outfit look perfect. Additionally, there is a drastic difference between clothing that comes with a high pricetag and a lower pricetag–the quality of finishing for example–but clothes still eventually show wear, regardless of the cost, and everything is misrepresented with better styling in order to sell the image or the product… The fact that we come to expect our clothes to continue to be perfect because of what we see is a form of delusion.

    • Hey there. Since you wanted to know: the jacket I am referring to that I had repaired is from Caruso with a hopsack from VBC (https://vitalebarberiscanonico.com/fabrics/10-712-418/); it was ready to wear, and yet I still appreciate it to the degree that I felt it necessary to repair it. There are plenty of jackets that I could replace it with–perhaps improving on a couple little things in fit–but I think that jacket is meaningful to me.

      Secondly, the shirt is actually not RTW in the photo, but it is a made to measure one from an Italian tailor based in Pescara. I don’t mind that there is wear on the collar, since to me it adds a bit of character; plus this wear is not rather noticeable if I wear the collar without a tie. In theory I could have the collar replaced with a white one, but that would change the aesthetics of the shirt drastically.

  2. I largely agree with this. There’s definitely a range and an acceptable maximum wear/tear. At some point, you gotta get rid of that favorite shirt. But in the meantime, the imperfection of some faded colors and worn corners lends a warmth and softness to a personal style.

    • This is true. But also there is merit to keeping the piece by repurposing it or mending it. Obviously a giant hole that is not able to be rewoven or patched, or a giant tear, is probably not going to fly.

  3. I returned a suit I bought after one season of wear it developed several small holes in the linen blend fabric. The locally-owned store gave me a full refund with my original receipt. I keep receipts for most major clothing items I purchase.

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