When to Replace Your Clothes


How to decide when it's time to replace certain garments or wardrobe items.

I once worked with a style consult client who had a question about replacing her worn-out clothes. I don’t know about you, but I find the process of replacing beloved wardrobe items to be difficult and stressful. Once you’ve gotten used to wearing a certain item, and then absolutely worn it out, hunting down a replacement that has the same fit, quality, and characteristics can feel like a wild goose chase. It’s possible, but it’s not much fun.

So I actually talked to my client about other factors to consider, including …

Determining if an item is in need of replacement

My client showed me a pair of chinos that she’d worn almost constantly the previous summer, and asked about where to look for replacements. But the chinos were in excellent shape! I talked her out of replacing them by giving her a list of potential reasons to replace a garment:

  • Faded color, especially spotty fading which is more noticeable
  • Chronic seam problems (A single unraveling seam can be repaired easily, but if a garment is continually coming apart at the seams, that can indicate larger problems including poor construction or cheap materials.)
  • Rips, tears, or holes that cannot be easily mended
  • Stains
  • Fabric worn thin
  • Deep or noticeable scuffs or snags

This list encompasses a handful of reasons you might want to consider replacing an item, and it’s certainly up to you to make the call. But I think some of us fall into the trap of believing that pieces we wear over and over again are worn out when, in fact, we might just be tired of them! If you’re sick of a certain pair of shoes or a particular skirt, replacing it with something similar may or may not help. Examine the item to see if it’s in poor repair, and if it isn’t, think about why your instinct was to replace it.

Considering repairs

Many minor issues can be dealt with through DIY or professional repairs. For clothing, seam issues, replacement buttons and hardware, some rips and tears, and many other problems can be handled by a professional tailor or a skilled sewist. For bags and shoes, hardware, heels, zippers, and minor construction issues can often be solved by a shoe repairperson or leather specialist. If you love something but feel it might need replacing due to a flaw, consult an expert before beginning the hunt for a replacement.

Deciding if replacement is the best plan

As I mentioned above, sometimes we consider replacing items because they’ve been worn so often. That can mean they’re wardrobe staples and important to our personal styles. But it can also mean that we’re sick to death of them, and buying another similar item will be a waste of money. If you’ve worn a certain jacket a couple of times per week for months on end each summer, and this summer you feel like it needs replacing, consider if a different style or fiber might excite you more. Maybe you don’t want a close facsimile as much as you want a new, more interesting version that is equally versatile and fun to wear.

If you consider all of these influencing factors and conclude that you DO want and need to replace something, here are a few things to bear in mind:

Your search will be less frustrating if you spend time determining what you love about the item that’s being retired. Don’t just decide that you need a new pair of brown flats that are just like the old ones. Think about why you love those old ones. Is it the color? Texture? Comfort or fit? Charging yourself with finding a replacement that’s virtually identical to the item being replaced is a recipe for disaster. It will suddenly become the one item you absolutely cannot find. Anywhere.

Give yourself a long timeframe and explore as many options as possible. Again, if you decide that you must replace your pink v-neck sweater this weekend at the mall, you will find nothing but blue crew necked sweaters everywhere you turn. Look at thrift stores, online, in person, and over a relatively long period of time.

And if you find yourself becoming frustrated, ask for help. Consult with a personal shopper or sales associate at your favorite stores. Put the word out to friends over social media or e-mail. The more searchers you have on the lookout, the quicker you’ll find what you need.

Image courtesy Benny Lin.

Originally posted 2013-05-06 06:17:04.

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41 Responses to “When to Replace Your Clothes”

  1. Aubrey

    I don’t find this to be all that hard. If it’s an expensive cashmere sweater, price reweaving or get creative with embroidery or patches. I like my clothes, but I love my family and friends and at the end of the day, agonizing over this stuff takes up too much time and energy. I don’t know that I always need to replace a garment–maybe my favorite lime top has finally worn out, and I don’t need another one–maybe time to wear some other color or style that I already own. Most American women, if I may grossly generalize, own more garments than they really need to be well dressed. Beautifully cut and made staples are more versatile and flattering than mountains of cheap, not quite right things.

  2. LK

    Do you replace an item because it is pilling? You know, those little balls of fabric threads that start to show up all over a garment. I have a couple T-shirts and sweaters that are doing this. Is there some way to solve this issue? I do not want to replace these items but I feel a little self conscious running around in shirts with little balls of thread all over them.

    • Sally

      LK, pilling is definitely irritating, but it can be conquered!

      With sweaters a sweater stone or sweater shaver can get rid of pills in a few seconds. The sweater stone won’t work on those tees, but you could try a very light pass with the shaver. Be careful, though, as it might damage the fabric and I’d hate to have you go from pills to holes!

      I’m told that some natural fibers – like Merino wool – pill naturally and it’s not a sign of subpar materials. (So say the Eileen Fisher folks anyway.)

    • Rachel W.

      LK, I absolutely hate pilling, and I do everything I can to avoid it. I haven’t found a way to reverse t-shirt pilling, but if your turn your tees inside-out before washing, use a cold, gentle cycle, and hang them to dry, it should make them last way longer.

      I also have a theory that fabric made of shorter fibers (like cotton) pills faster than fabric made of longer fibers (like hemp, some silks, and linen), because the stray ends of the fibers can work themselves free more easily. Maybe I should do a side-by-side wear test of a new cotton vs. linen tee!

      • alice

        Really useful advice thanks. I hate pilling on t-shirts because it makes them look so shabby, although I realized it’s only actually noticeable to me and no one else. I do think it comes from the dryer – in my previous apartment I had a washing machine but no dryer so I hung everything up to dry (a pain) and noticed that my clothes looked much nicer for much longer. If only I wasn’t so lazy!

      • Maggie

        I have never had pure cotton t shirts pill but i have a lot of jersey dresses which are generally rayon blends and they look old so quickly! I wish they were pure cotton jersey or wool jersey …. so while I succumb to their siren song due to style (lookin’ at you Anthropologie), they are pretty much my only exception to the “no blend” rule for knits. Cotton is blended with nylon, rayon etc to improve shape and I can appreciate that but will pass due to the pilling….. so it has not been my experience that cotton pills (maybe thick knits would after enough friction) but blends absolutely do. And shaving or sweater stones don’t seem like a good option for a t-shirt or anything of that weight. I do agree that all your other suggestions increase longevity of garments!

        • LK

          Wow! Thanks for all the advice! I’ll give these a shot. I do think, in regards to the t-shirts, that it might have something to do with the dryer. And age. My favorite one in question is about 5 years old and was worn constantly in the summer meaning lots of washing.

      • Shaye

        Rachel, you are spot-on. I took textiles classes as part of my education for my former career, and this is well-known among textile experts. Shorter fibers pill more easily. It’s one of the reasons acrylic sweaters pill so easily – acrylic fibers are short in order to make them soft and fluffy, so they pill super eassily. Not just that the ends of the fibers work their way free, but when they get caught, they pull the entire fiber free.

  3. Janice

    I am one of those people who gets tired of clothes quickly, so I do not spend a lot of money on them. I do have way too many clothes. I think the problem stems from childhood in the 50’s when we didn’t have the money to buy many clothes. I am trying to buy better quality and am trying to cut way back on the amount. I am at a loss as to how clothes are supposed to fit in many areas. I have big thighs and legs, but a smaller waist, so anything that fits my legs is too big around the waist. The one thing that I feel fits me well is Lee relaxed at the waist jeans. I am at least a size larger on the bottom. Do you have any advice as to how clothes should fit and where would be a good place for me to start. I have only been ready your blog for a couple months.

    • Sally

      Janice, that’s a pretty big question, I’m afraid. Without knowing your style and figure-flattery priorities I’m not sure I can tackle it! You might want to spend some time thinking about your ideal style, what about your body you want to highlight, and which of the clothes you currently own help you move towards those dressing goals.

    • DocP

      Some of us need to make friends with a tailor. If you are different sizes in different places or taller or shorter than the average for your size, the only way to get a great fit will be to invest in tailoring/alterations or learn to do them yourself.

  4. Linda L

    I agree with Aubrey. When my cream colored 3/4 sleeve lightweight layering sweater wore out, I immediately thought that I had to replace it. But that was months ago and I really haven’t missed it. I have plenty of other things to wear. And I get bored with clothing after a while too.

  5. Kathleen

    Caroline – Amazon. Pretty much anything is available on Amazon!

  6. malevolent andrea

    And then there’s the realization that some things just can’t ever be exactly replaced and that’s okay. I had a pair of tan cords several years ago that were perfect in every way–fit, weight, comfort, color–and I wore them until they literally didn’t have any “nap” left. They were rags fit only to do home renos in by the time I gave it up and threw them away. I’ve bought other pairs of cords since then and they’ve been fine, okay, serviceable, but none of them have inspired that desire to wear over and over and over. The perfect whatever only comes along once in a blue moon. Searching for that perfect whatever and being sad when you can’t find it is an exercise in futility.

  7. Jessica

    I also get bored with clothing easily, which is why I end up doing most of my shopping at thrift stores and donating things back as I get bored with them (to keep my closet from overflowing) – my husband calls it my “renting clothes” habit. But for good-quality standbys that I’m getting tired of but would be tempted to replace for fear of leaving a wardrobe gap, I try just putting them at the back of my drawer or closet for a while and either getting creative with other things I own or else thrifting for something different. I often find that I enjoy the old favorites again a few months later. This comes up more for me with items that transition between seasons (sweaters and summer dresses that get stored away for months at a time become interesting again by the time I bring them out).

  8. Rachel

    Good timing! I recently had three beloved items reach the point of (almost) no return, and had to confront the idea of not having them in my wardrobe anymore. In one case (orange mary jane flats) I’m attempting to get them repaired; in another (bright magenta blousy dressy tee) I kept wearing it despite all the tiny holes that kept appearing in it, until magically I ran across another dressy tee in the same colour; and in the last case (perfect purple pants), I’m just going to keep wearing them until they actually fall apart, at which point I’m going to take them apart at the seams and attempt to use them as a pattern.

    The common thread in all three cases is that I love the pieces, and I didn’t think they’d be something I could easily replace, particularly since the colour is part of the reason I love them.

  9. Stace

    I’m going to have this problem soon (well, hopefully later, but soonish)…

    My favourite skirt is starting to tell it’s age (it’s also one of my oldest). I love the colour, fit, material and silhouette; and when it finally gets too old I know I am not going to be able to find a replacement (after all in three years I’ve found nothing else that I like so much!).

    So far it has had a new zip (amazingly cheap!) and that’s all. But the material itself is starting to look old and short of asking a tailor to make me a replacement (I have considered it) I think it’s going to just be a sad goodbye!

  10. Jess


    Did you ever throw out that sweater with the unbearable smell?

    • Sally

      I made it into fake socks! Gosh, you have a very long and extremely specific memory, my dear!

  11. Rosanne

    What about structured clothing? I noticed the other day that one of my favorite blazers, a fitted stretch linen jacket in navy, is getting shiny (and maybe a little pilly) at the elbows. The pants are in great shape and the elbows are the only sign of wear on the fabric. Can this be rescued or is it time to find a new favorite? I will miss that jacket – it’s one of my go-to’s and I can wear it 3 seasons here in Phoenix.

    • Sally

      That’s a tough one, Rosanne. You might be able to deal with the pills with a sweater stone or shaver, but the shine is just age. I’m not sure that can be reversed – you could consult a tailor for input. If the elbows are the only spot, it’s probably fine to continue wearing. But monitor it, and if it starts to show fading or shine in other spots, consider retiring it. (Unless the tailor has a fix that I’m not thinking of!)

  12. Sara

    Fading color is an issue that might be remedied. I have successfully dyed my 100% natural fiber clothes at home in my washng machine, and got excellent results. I have both dyed faded items back to original color and changed a color of a problematic dress into one that worked better for me.

    There are just a couple of things to remember.
    -Dyeing only works for natural fibers.
    -You can only dye back to original color, or a darker color. Dyes are transparent, so patterns will change color- in a good or bad way.
    -You can try hiding stains by using some really dark color, but it might not work (though, if the other option is to throw a beloved item away, you won’t lose much trying).
    -Since sewing thread is usually made of man-made fiber, it won’t take dye, and you will get lighter seams if you try a color darker than the original one. This effect might actually look good, though!

  13. Christina

    The thing that used to drive me to replace clothing items were stains that failed to come out in the laundry.UNTIL, I discovered what a genius my drycleaner is. I cannot tell you how many items have now been saved, that I had made one, two or even three attempts in the laundry ( no dryer), with increasingly more powerful products , and THEN, bring them to my drycleaner and he gets it out! He has had a 100% success rate with things like ink, salad oil on silk, tire grease, and more.

  14. Cynthia

    I wish I could say that I was all systematic and scientific about replacing my clothes, but I am a whimsical shopper at heart. Clothes come, clothes go. Many of my losses are to stains, but then there’s losses to weight fluctuations and even just to ennui. So I don’t usually strive for exact replacements.

  15. Nadine Vergara

    You’re right when you said that some people tend to replace their clothes because they got sick of wearing them several times a month or year. I know that because I am one of those people! Even if I know that my clothes can still be used, I tend to change my wardrobe each month just to make sure I don’t wear re-runs often. However, buying new clothes all the time is very expensive. Because of this, I’d like to follow your advice when you provided the considerations before replacing my garments. I’ll make sure next time to check if there are any serious repairs needed for my clothes or not and keep the ones that are still in good condition.

  16. Shaye

    Have just managed to replace a pair of skinny black ankle pants that shouldn’t have looked good on me but did. The originals were from Gap; these are from Old Navy in a slightly more durable fabric. And by replace I mean, bought four pairs. It’s the same reason I always stock up on my one good style of jeans (Levi’s 512’s) whenever they are on sale – pants fit and flatter me rarely, and the ones that do don’t last long, thanks to inner thigh friction!

  17. Molly L-R

    The thing that my high turnover rate of tops is underarm smell. It sounds gross, but I just can’t get round it. I have an 8-10 day rotation of work tops, which means I’m wearing them roughly three times a month for six months. Last year I bought 8 short sleeved t-shirts for summer and 8 long sleeved t-shirts or sweaters for winter. They are all either 95% cotton/5% elastane or a cotton/modal blend. They fit very close to the body and I sweat A LOT. After 6 months of wear they are nearly all fit for the rubbish bin. I use the best washing liquids and fabric conditioners I can and use the strongest deodorant, but I still have this problem. I’ve become so frustrated that I’ve cursed the gods and wished I could afford underarm botox, but that’s not going to happen.

    Anyway, next season I’m going to try a different tactic. I don’t seem to remember having so much of a problem when I used to wear button up shirts and blouses. Maybe because they weren’t fitted quite so close to the body. (Or maybe it’s because the cotton T’s I was buying were really cheap?? Not that I want to splash out loads on T-shirts when maybe the price was nothing to do with it). So I’ve bought a bunch of cotton blouses and shirts on eBay and I’m going to start wearing those instead. Here’s hoping I won’t have to throw them out too in 6 months’ time šŸ™

    • LK

      I have a similar issue. You could try Secret Clinical Strength antiperspirant. I use this at night before I go to bed and in the morning about half an hour before I use my regular deodorant. Has worked really well without irritating my skin as some of the other strong antiperspirants have done. Also, try washing your shirts inside out and spraying the arm pits with Shout. I’ve saved a few tight t-shirts with that trick. Eventually, the deodorant and sweat also starts to fade or discolor the arm pits. This seems to delay that issue too.

  18. Claire

    This may be an implicit tactic that doesn’t need to be specifically pointed out, but I thought I’d throw it in – if you’ve simply grown bored with a beloved, all-star workhorse piece that is still in good shape, just put it away for a while. You will probably fall in love with it again when you rediscover it, and if not, it’s probably time to pass it on. In the meantime, try living without it in order to determine if you really need to buy a replacement, or if another piece in your closet might rise to the occasion. If you find you actually do need to make a purchase, then as Sally mentioned, perhaps you’d be happier with something equally versatile that feels different and fresh rather than an exact replacement.

    I have definitely had trouble replacing specific items, to the point of giving up the search and settling for a worthy non-identical replacement. Now that I think about it, I guess it’s basically the same approach to two different wardrobe challenges. In either case, flexibility helps to solve the problem.

  19. Ruth

    I recently bought two new pairs of jeans. One OK and the other I love. I thought I wasn’t allowed new jeans because the two pairs I had were OK-ish – one just wearing on the inside leg seam a bit. And I remembered buying them, and how pleased I was with them. But I really didn’t like them anymore, and I realised one pair was 7 years old, the other 8 years old, so I was allowed new jeans if I wanted them. best thing I ever did. I love one of my pairs of new jeans so much, for the first time in ages I feel like me in jeans. Sometimes it’s time for a replacement.

  20. Mary

    Wrinkles that won’t come out in the wash; fraying pant hems; shiny knees, sleeves, and collars; worn-thin fabric that’s not denim; discolored anything … by all means, get rid of this stuff!
    I would also toss it out there that if your clothes seem to be wearing out too easily or often, consider how hard you wear them. If your jeans buttons keep popping off before their time, or if the linings in your jackets keep tearing at the shoulder, perhaps try to be mindful of how easy you are on your clothes. Whether your jerk your waistband together and pull on the button rather than on the waistband can make a huge difference – as can whether you jam your arm into your jacket in a hurry, rather than taking the time to slide it in a touch slower.
    These are things that absolutely will never come naturally to many people, especially those who don’t have time to waste over getting dressed in the morning. But, being a careful, slightly OCD person, it works for me – I do like taking care of my clothes and not having to repair or replace every season.