Here’s When You Should Toss Your Favorite Closet Basics
With spring cleaning season upon us, it’s time to start thinking about hitting the refresh button on, well, just about everything you own. For fashion girls, the best way to kick it off is with a good old closet detox. The undeniably invigorating feeling of putting thick sweaters and snow boots into storage is an easy motivator, but sometimes you have to get down to the nitty gritty and — dun, dun dun — purge. That word — the “p” word — might be so dreaded because ultimately, it forces you to make hard should-it-stay-or-should-it-go decisions. Not just with last season’s trends, but with those beloved closet basics that maybe, just might be on their last legs. How do you determine what can be saved and repaired, what needs to get trashed and what should be repeatedly replaced?
We talked to SunnyLou Notario, a Chicago-based, ready-wear stylist for Prada, about how to determine the shelf life of your closet faves, garment by garment. With SunnyLou’s nifty insight, you’ll be able to approach your nasty beast of a wardrobe like a boss whenever you decide to get down and dirty with your spring cleaning. Closet cleaning ain’t easy, but this guide will give you some insight into why and when to make those “keep” and “toss” decisions, and even give you tips on how to repair and prolong the life of your best basics. Ready, set, clean!
Average Shelf Life: When it comes to the most basic of all the basics, it depends on how much you wear it and wash it. Speaking from her own experience, SunnyLou says, “I wear my black shirt almost every day, I bought it maybe a month ago, it already looks ragged down because I wear it so often and I wash it so often.” Simply put, the more you wear it, the more often you will have to replace it. To balance out the wear and tear, pick up 2-3 tees in your go-to colors so you can keep it in rotation without having to worry about over-washing. If you’ve only worn it once, there’s no shame in Febrezing and stowing away until the next wear.
How to Know When It’s on Its Last Legs: Some stains can be past the point of removal — think: pits — and too major for a trendy pin or patch to stylishly hide it. Holes are usually be pretty tough to repair, so unless you want to embrace your tee’s more distressed, punk-y vibe, then it might be time to toss it.
Can you bring it back to life? Grab some scissors and cut that tee up! There are so many ways to repurpose a t-shirt: halter it, twist it, crop it, throw some buttons on there if you want — the options are endless. Worst case scenario: If you just can’t part with it, you can always work it into your bedtime t-shirt rotation.
When’s the right time to replace it? When your fave white tee isn’t so white, and when your black tee is more a shade of gray. Since t-shirts aren’t necessarily a big ticket wardrobe item (or they at least don’t have to be), you could probably replace them more than most of your wardrobe staples — once every six months or so depending on their condition. That’s not the worst thing, necessarily. No one can deny the comfiness of a new tee.
Whole Oil Spill Tee ($80)
Average Shelf Life: As it goes with most garments, it depends on how much and how hard you wear your denim. One go-to hack SunnyLou always practices? Go for dark denim. “The shelf life for a darker denim is longer than something lighter because the lighter the dye, the more you’re going to see the wear and tear and the discoloration for all the wash,” she says. Darker denim also has a longer shelf life because it takes longer to fade, which is a huge perk, says SunnyLou. “This is going to sound crazy, but I like buying things dark because over time I know it’s going to get lighter and lighter. I’m okay with that because it’s like it was black but it’s gray now so now I have gray jeans and I’ll just tell everyone that it’s gray.” Don’t consider it a fade, consider it a whole new piece! If you’re looking for jeans that will last, the higher the brand quality, the longer it will last. It might be more of an investment, but if you have a steady rotation of quality jeans — maybe two or three pairs — they can last a year or two (or more) depending on how often you wear them. If the denim is stronger, it can live in your dresser longer.
How to Know When It’s on Its Last Legs: Ripped jeans will come in and out of style, but one spot has never become trendy. Holes in the upper thigh area usually mean they are past the point of repair, unless you get some patchwork involved.
Can you bring it back to life? Jeans arguably have the strongest chance of a second life of any item in your closet, especially when you roll up your DIY sleeves. “If there are certain jeans where you know you love the fit and you love the cut but it looks distressed or destroyed or it’s snagging, distress it yourself,” says SunnyLou. “The beauty of denim is that even if it’s torn up, it can still be crazy chic.” (Ripped jeans + heels = total rock star vibes.) According to SunnyLou, as you’re cutting that denim up, “You’re bringing it back to life even though it looks kind of dead. It’s fashion road kill, in a good way.” Come summertime, you can turn those bad boys into shorts.
When’s the right time to replace it? If you aren’t happy with the state of your fade, or if your distressed jeans are too torn for your comfort, grab a new pair. Tossing a favorite pair of jeans is like saying good-bye to a best friend, but there’s no better feeling than finding a new perfect pair to be besties with.
Average Shelf Life: Your everyday flats, boots or sneakers might have a year and some change in them depending on how much action they get, which is something to keep into consideration when you’re debating what to splurge and save on (for instance, leather goods can become long-time closet staples if you know how to give them proper care). If it’s seasonal stuff, like sandals or winter boots, they might have a longer life — approximately two to three years, depending on how much you wear them and how sturdy they are — since they’re only in use a few months out of the year. With gym or running shoes, they last as long as your body allows, really. As soon as the cushioning and comfort starts to give out, it’s best to replace.
How to Know When It’s on Its Last Legs: Holes and broken straps are unfortunate deal breakers. When it comes to dirt or mud, the longer you take to clean them, the hard the damage is to repair, especially when it comes to canvas (so the more weather proof you kicks are, the better). Not to get gross, but if odor is your enemy, there are all kinds of household items you can stick in your shoes to kill the stink (baking soda, dryer sheets or tea bags can do the trick). If they can’t be saved, you might want to double bag those kicks and trash ’em.
Can you bring it back to life? With the right cobbler, broken shoes can have new life. With heels, nails that poke out can be replaced. SunnyLou’s biggest secret weapon for leather shoes? Leather cleaner and moisturizer can give your leather a renewed glow. “It might be dead and beaten down but once you polish it, it’s going to look brand new,” she says.
When’s the right time to replace it? Depends on the gal; depends on the shoe. If your favorite black heels have been your go-to fancy shoes for years AND still fit and look like a dream? They can stay. If they’re causing you more harm then good (you’ve replaced the buckle several times, there is some fraying, they hurt your toes more than they help them), than it might be time to update. More than anything, remember to be good to your feet. If your support is worn out, don’t punish your heels. Show them some new, cushioned love.
Rebecca Minkoff Bethany Heel ($325)
Average Shelf Life: There really is a sweater for every season, so the shelf life can last depending on the seasonal wear of the piece. Go-to cardigans might have a briefer life depending on the material and how often you wear them. For example, acrylic might be cheaper than cashmere, but the shelf life is a fraction of the years you’ll get out of investing in the latter. (Pro tip: Opt for a cashmere blend if you want to save some dollars.) No matter what the material, you have to treat your knitwear well. “When it comes to cashmere or wool, I would either hand wash it and air dry it, or take it to a dry cleaners,” says SunnyLou. “Cashmere sweaters are obviously really beautiful and they’ll last a long time, but maintenance is also a huge factor.” You can control the destiny of your knits, you just have to be good to them!
How to Know When It’s on Its Last Legs: If you ignore the care directions of your sweaters, you risk ruining them. Shrunken sweaters can make for a sad laundry night. If you aren’t able to stretch them back to their original state or a similar shape, they’re not worth holding on to. Sometimes damage can be done that we have no control over, like snags that can start small and grow. Sweaters aren’t the easiest to repair, so once you hit the breaking point with any holes or snags, time to give it the heave ho. Fall is always a great time to revamp your sweater collection, with plentiful options to choose from. When the leaves start falling, keep your eyes peeled for some new knitwear.
Can you bring it back to life? When it comes to pilly or fuzzy sweaters, you can get rid of unnecessary puffs by shaving them! Take a simple razor and de-scruff. SunnyLou also recommends steaming to bring a sweater back to life. “There’s just something about steaming that, for me, it brings clothes back to life. It just looks brand new, it looks polished, it looks fresh. It looks like you just got it from the store.”
When is the right time to replace? If the fluff won’t go away and the holes are big enough to pass your arm through, pick up some new knitwear. Sweaters can have very long shelf lives with the right amount of care, but that doesn’t mean they’ll last forever. Plus, the warm, soft feeling of a new sweater is pretty unbeatable.
Zara Striped Sweater ($40)
Average Shelf Life: The phrase “timeless” might have been invented for LBDs. Your comfier, wear-at-least-a-couple-times-a-week LBD might not last a crazy-long time, but those special occasion black dresses can go for years. Investing in a new LBD once a season is a great way to stay on trend. Even if the style of it isn’t trendy at the moment, there’s nothing like a good little black dress.
How to Know When It’s on Its Last Legs: Like with any black garment, the fade is always an indicator of the state of your piece. If it’s no longer the shade you love or it’s out of shape (in terms of fabric or any damage done), it might be time to toss.
Can you bring it back to life? If the damage isn’t too rough — like a torn strap or a slightly ripped seam — a good dry cleaner or seamstress should be able to save your dress. SunnyLou swears by that mentality: “Go to a good dry cleaner who knows what they’re doing to help pieces last longer and stay in a good condition,” she advises.
When’s the right time to replace it? Keeping LBDs in rotation is a must for any closet. If you want to minimize wear, rotate “the one” with a classic cut and a trendy design. If you encounter a repair that can’t be fixed — like a beyond-busted zipper — then grab a new LBD. When it comes to little black dresses, there’s no such thing as too many. Don’t be afraid to add to your collection.
Average Shelf Life: It’s normal to have an array of purse options, but we all have at least one or two that are in a steady or daily rotation. Like a good staple of any wardrobe, the better care you take of it, the longer it will last. Some gals rotate their day-to-day bag one or two times a year. Fancy clutches for special occasions are easy to hold on to because they aren’t used as often, and consequently, aren’t damaged as much. Tote bags can last depending out their usage (if you bring it to the farmer’s market every weekend, just make sure to clean it when you empty it). It also depends on the material. Well-conditioned leather can last eons, while canvas bags can be easily damaged. If you love your bag, show it some love.
How to Know When It’s on Its Last Legs: If it’s tough damage that can’t be undone (think: torn up straps or holes), you might have to say “bye” to your bag. Spills can also kill your bag, depending on the substance or how quickly the spill can be addressed and cleaned. Also, if it’s the style factor you’re not feeling anymore, consider donating instead of tossing. In this case, consignment shops can be a girl’s best friend.
Can you bring it back to life? Big ticket item or not, there can be hope. If it’s a designer brand, SunnyLou recommends attempting to heal it at the source. “I know for my company, if there’s something that goes wrong with the hardware, we’re able to ship it out to our repair lab. Depending on the time frame that you purchased it, they might send it out for free or it’s going to be at a minimal cost.” With something like torn lining, if you’re comfortable with your needle and thread skills, don’t be afraid to try and patch it up yourself. If you aren’t comfortable DIYing your repair, or if it’s something a little tougher like a busted zipper, shoe cobblers can help you out big time.
When’s the right time to replace it? This one’s pretty plain and simple. According to SunnyLou, “Sometimes you just have to get rid of it. As much as you want to save it, the trouble will be too much. Treat yourself to a new bag.” There’s no denying that a great bag can make even the most mundane of outfits great. Don’t deny yourself the joy of a new purse! In the very wise words of Sunny Lou, “We all work so hard, we all deserve one great piece of arm ware and that’s a good handbag… No one’s going to care if your jeans are faded or if your shoes are destroyed, because people are going to look at your bag.”
Baggu Basic Tote Pastel ($160)
What are your closet cleaning rules? Follow us on Pinterest for more colorful + fun style inspo.
Brit + Co may at times use affiliate links to promote products sold by others, but always offers genuine editorial recommendations.
You can wear many hats running a business and sometimes some look better than others. Thanks to Office Depot, we're talking with Koyun Fan, co-founder of Sticky Rice Sisters, about finding inspiration along the way and staying organized on the road to success.