Why You Should Repair Your Clothing

It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle. You see something on Styleforum (or anywhere else), you think “I must have that, this purchase will make my life complete,” and not long after you’ve bought it there’s another must-have on the horizon. Eventually, you have more clothing in your closet than you can possibly wear. At that point, you either embrace it, or you start downsizing.

What happens to the favorites, though? If you’re lucky, you eventually land on garments that you keep returning to, and they turn into something special. At this point, we’ve all heard the raw denim marketing pitch: that it molds to your body, that you write the story of your life into the fades of the denim. That’s all fine and good – clothing holds memories the same way that scars do, albeit less painfully, and far be it from me to take the romance out of your favorite pair of jeans.

One problem we run into when we’re surrounded by so much newness is that it’s hard to be content with what we have. Not taking the time to enjoy your clothing has several effects, one of which is that your clothes don’t get worn before you give them away or try to flip them. Used clothing, regardless of brand or trend, has a magic that new clothing doesn’t. It’s not just denim – the worn spots on the elbows of a jacket, a frayed cuff or collar; all of this is enticing in a way that proves the wearer is real, is human.

Personal style changes over time. There’s no point denying that, and I don’t know why you’d want to. However, part of personal style comes from combining garments in interesting ways, and in developing a look that suits you. Just because your favorite shirt – the one you wore to death – doesn’t really go with your newer interests, doesn’t mean you can’t say the hell with it and wear it anyway. So, when I say that you should patch your torn shirt instead of throwing it away, it has the twin benefits of bringing you more use out of a piece you love and adding a personal touch to a garment that makes it 100% your own.

Styleforum is no stranger to threadbare elbows and patched denim, and for good reason. Well-worn clothing encourages you to take a little bit of your past along with you as you enter each new chapter in your life. Patches, stitches, and repairs – it all adds to the personality of the garment, and it’s a fine reminder of where you came from.

Of course, everything dies, and that includes clothing. Eventually, you’ll come to the end of a garment’s life, and no amount of darning will be able to save it. That’s when you lay it out, thank it for its service, and let it retire honorably. Unless you don’t want to do that, in which case you end up with something like this:

My mother purchased this shirt from Banana Republic at some point in the early 80’s, and she wore it and washed it until the fabric turned see through. Then she wore it more. Eventually, it started ripping – everywhere. The hems unraveled. The collar isn’t much of a collar anymore. Every seam has, at some point, come undone. At last, the entire back of the shirt started to give way in a spiderweb of tattered fabric. She retired it, until I insisted a couple of years back that it could be saved. Which it more or less has been, thanks to endless patching, darning, and stitching. Now it’s an heirloom, a work of art that’s spanned two generations and almost four decades.

The next time you think about throwing out an old garment, think instead about what you stand to gain from repairing it: not just a functional piece of clothing, but a testament to life, and proof that you lived one.

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Jasper Lipton

EIC at Styleforum
Jasper likes indigo, flight jackets, and boots - but he likes his dogs even more. He dreams of buried cities and the spaces between the stars.

4 thoughts on “Why You Should Repair Your Clothing

  1. Thanks for sharing this – and your mom’s shirt! There are so many reasons to repair our clothes. I typically think about reducing waste, or prolonging certain items because I love them, but I hadn’t thought about repaired garments as art or artifacts. It’s an interesting angle, and more reason to repair!

  2. I keep repairing my second pair of Jack/Knife jeans. A/B Fits in North Beach does a really amazing job.I let my first pair get far too destroyed to repair, and I thought, “never again.” I love them. A coworker just asked me yesterday if they were stonewashed, which gave me great pleasure.

  3. I can’t help but thinking of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” when reading this.

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