What's the expected lifespan of a shirt, and how can I prolong it?

Unless it's being specially preserved, no article of clothing is going to last forever. Fabrics weaken and fade over time if they're subjected to regular everyday wear and tear. Nobody's ever happy to hear that a piece of clothing might someday pass on to the garment graveyard, but it's true. And different types of garments have a different expected shelf life. Shirts have the shortest life cycle of your outerwear, for a couple of reasons. First, they're comprised of lighter materials than the rest of your outerwear, so naturally they're more susceptible to the fabric getting weaker. Secondly, they're subjected to a greater degree of wear and tear - shirts feature concentrated regions where sweat builds up, and greater friction from how much you move around compared to other garments.

The industry standard, as backed by the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute and the Better Business Bureau, is that a shirt's expected life span can't really be guaranteed beyond two years if you're wearing the shirt regularly. But that's not a great measuring stick - you might have shirts you wear almost every week and then others you only wear once every couple of months. A more precise standard than calendar time is the number of times a shirt is washed - in which case the expected life span of a shirt should be somewhere between 35 and 50 washings. Even that standard is going to fluctuate based on certain conditions, like how much abrasion or friction you're subjecting the shirt to, how much strain is placed on the shirt (if a shirt is tight and you're stretching it out regularly in parts), and the stains that may develop on an item, even if that item is washed shortly thereafter.

And that doesn't even get into the construction of the shirt itself. Theoretically, the more well-made a shirt is, the longer it should last ... theoretically. A custom-made shirt from a bespoke tailor should presumably be more built-to-last than something off the rack, but then again it's not subject to the same consumer product testing. And a shirt from a higher-priced retailer or higher-priced label should be a better-constructed shirt than one from a discount department store - but that's not necessarily always the case. In the fashion industry, there's always the risk of paying through the nose just for a fancy label.

A complicating factor here is that people who purchase higher-priced shirts tend to prefer those shirts be starched - and while starching your shirts is for the most part fine, if you stiffen something up over and over eventually it'll become brittle. For instance, consider two common types of woven shirt fabrics. Somewhat counterintuitively, we often see cheaper lightweight cotton-poly weave shirts that last forever and ever while oxford cotton weave shirts - which feel heavy and super-strong to the touch - are the ones we see blow out most commonly, largely because people tend to starch them to death.

The starch issue is one of several ways to prolong the life of a shirt:

  • If you prefer starch on your shirts, that's great. But you should probably mix it up and take no starch from time to time so that you don't stiffen the shirt up too badly and make it likely to tear.
  • Sweat stains are bad for the life of a shirt. Keeping them untreated exacerbates that. Don't wait several weeks to see us.
  • Do you wear a watch? How bulky is it? If you wear a bulky watch on one wrist all the time, don't be surprised to see the cuff on that side start to fray. Again, mixing up your style will help.
  • If a shirt gets wet, whether due to rain or a lot of perspiration, don't just crumple it into a ball and throw it in a hamper. It's better to hang the shirt and let it air out at that point, then in the case of significant sweat stains bring it in to us within a few short days.
  • Wearing a t-shirt underneath will soak up sweat, keeping those perspiration stains away from your outer garment.
  1. Why are shirts laundered rather than dry cleaned?
  2. What shirts can be laundered, and what must be dry cleaned?
  3. Why do women’s shirts sometimes cost more than men’s?
  4. What’s the value in putting a bar code on your shirts?
  5. What is starch, and should I get it on my shirts?
  6. How do we remove those nasty collar stains from your shirts?
  7. What machinery is used in cleaning and pressing your shirts?
  8. What kind of quality control measures are in place for shirts?
  9. What is 'finishing,' and what does it mean in regard to shirts?
  10. What's the expected lifespan of a shirt, and how can I prolong it?