What Makes Fashion Durable?

One way to help diminish the disastrous effect of the fashion industry on the environment is to buy longer lasting, durable clothes. But what is durability in clothing? How do we recognise it? And is durability primarily about quality, or is there more to it?


Liz de Vries

3/1/2022 4 min read

Key points:

Fashion durability comes from three different areas.

  • Physical durability - which relates to the quality of the material and how well a garment is made.

  • Style durability - which is achieved through the design of the item.

  • Emotional durability - which is about the meaning we give an item of clothing - our emotional relationship with it.

Buy durable clothes. Buy less and less often. I’ve come across this advice again and again the last few years, and it’s true: one way to help diminish the disastrous effect of the fashion industry on the environment is to buy longer lasting, durable clothes.

But what actually is durability in clothing? How do we recognise it? Is durability primarily about quality, or is there more to it?

To learn more I ventured out on the internet this week, reading blogs by various experts and asking some of our own fashion brands what they think makes fashion durable.

Here’s what the experts have to say.

According to Greenbiz, the longevity of our clothing not only depends on how well it is made (its physical durability), but also on the timelessness of the design (style durability), and the meaning the garment has for us (its emotional durability).

Let’s look at physical durability first. How is this achieved?

Physical durability comes first and foremost from the sturdiness of the material and how well an item of clothing has been put together so it can stand the test of time.

Thicker fabric with a tighter weave is generally stronger than fabric with a loose weave. Although this doesn't take into account what the fabric is going to be used for. A flowy scarf requires very different material than a pair of gardening trousers.

How can you tell if clothing is well made?

One thing to check is the item’s seams, which should be strong, with ample fabric, and finished with care. According to Kinga, founder of maternity wear brand úton, it’s important to “check the inside of a garment for missing stitches and fraying edges. These should be red flags straight away.” 

Kinga also advises to “test a few of the pressure points, such as the collar and shoulder seams, with a very gentle pull. If they appear flimsy or start to come undone, then you’re probably not looking at great quality.”

Durable clothing should also have one or two spare buttons and perhaps even some spare yarn so you can do minor repairs yourself.

Clear care instructions are another great help in making clothing last. According to Kinga: “Most fabrics out there are very durable as long as the care instructions are followed. A great deal of effort goes into the testing of fabrics and the care label reflects the best way to maintain the quality of the garment and lengthen its life cycle.”

What about style durability?

Style durability is all in the versatility and timelessness of the design.

“When a garment can be worn season after season regardless of the current trend, it adds value through an extended life cycle.”

That is 1 People’s philosophy, and the Danish luxury brand achieves this through a neutral colour scheme and clean designs.

“Our designs are inherently minimalist because our garments are intended to be adaptable and versatile for any occasion, making ours the capsule pieces that go with anything. A neutral colour scheme of white, black, brown and beige allows for garments to be mixed-and-matched with any existing pieces.”

úton also sticks to basic colours. Their black, white and grey designs can be layered with colourful and printed pieces and will never go out of fashion, allowing for longevity and unlimited potential 

But even timeless and versatile designs need to fit properly if you're going to truly love them.

Kinga advises: “before you buy, always check if you can comfortably move in clothes. Especially jackets and fitted shirts can look stunning when standing still, but try lifting your arms as if you wanted to shake someone’s hand. If that feels tight or restricting then it’s probably not the right fit. Same goes for other garments: is the crotch long enough when you’re sitting down in a pant? Can you walk in a pencil skirt without a split?

Neysa from 1 People adds: “when buying clothes, it's important to know the intended fit before you buy. Get an idea on how it's supposed to sit on your body.”

If an item of clothing looks oversized on you when it’s not supposed to, or if it’s tight in areas where it should fit comfortably, chances are it will end up in the back of your wardrobe, unused.

Which brings us to emotional durability, arguably the most important of all.

Do you have any fashion items that give you so much joy you can’t bear the thought of not owning them?

I have several. First there’s the rather eccentric 1980’s mustard coloured jacket I made from left over fabric when I was 17. I’ll never part with it because seeing and feeling it makes me happy.

And then there’s the ‘perfect hoodie’ which I’ve had to repair a few times and which I’ll probably continue to wear until the tragic day the whole thing falls apart beyond help. 

Clothes have emotional durability when they have real meaning for us, when we have an emotional relationship with them. That can be because they’re a perfect fit or a family heirloom. They might be an unbelievable bargain designer piece you found in an op-shop, or a jacket or skirt you made yourself. And what about the jeans that fit so comfortably you cut them into shorts when the knees are shot, which given another few years end up being your gardening or painting shorts.

Emotional durability does not stem from physical or style durability per se, although the longer we own something, the more attached we get to it. Chances are those one or two trusty pieces in your wardrobe that make you feel happy and confident whenever you wear them, are probably also durably made, and a colour and design that have never gone out of style.

Durable fashion is about buying only what you truly need, and what you truly love, selecting for quality that will last.

all images via Unsplash