April 29, 2010

Make It Last - Item #2: Underwear

We should make the items we use last as long as possible looking at things from a conservation perspective, as well as from a budgetary point of view. This is pretty straight forward when considering something like a tool or a vehicle. But talk about underwear and you are going to witness some degree of controversy. Just how long does the frugal person keep a pair of underwear in active circulation?

I am not sure of the answer (undoubtedly there are gender differences), but considering the quality of some of the underwear being manufactured in recent years I would have to say "not as long as they used to". Some underwear coming from overseas is darn near disposable as far as I can see. Anything more than a few weeks of use and a pair of these light-duty garments is ready to throw in the compost pile.

As with most things, buying quality to start with helps - it makes sense to spend more for quality undies that will last rather than buy a 10 pack of cheapos with a limited life. But last how long? While a cheap pair might have lifespan of a few weeks, what about a well-made pair? Is there some sort of hygienic best before date that I, and most other men, are unaware of? Or do you keep your underwear until it is as described by George Orwell in his essay, The Spike?

"All the indecent secrets of our underwear were exposed; the grime, the rents and patches, the bits of string doing duty for buttons, the layers upon layers of fragmentary garments, some of them mere collections of holes held together by dirt."

So just how long can one keep sturdy underwear in circulation? Weeks for sure. Months, perhaps. Dare I say years? Or am I stretching the limits of frugality here, like a double strength Fruit of the Loom waistband?

A quick web search revealed some answers to this pressing question. Responses ranged from 3 months to several years. One wise commenter said that you keep underwear until your partner throws them out, and that is a pretty good yardstick - if your underwear is making you or your partner uncomfortable, they have probably reached that nebulous but noticeable best before date. To the compost pile! Or upcycle them by shredding and making home made paper (this stationary made with 100% post-consumer underwear).

As long as my underwear isn't a "collection of holes held together by dirt", and the elastic is still robust enough to keep them from sagging down to my knees, I figure the efficient, frugal thing to do is keep them in use.

And if you are worried about ending up in the hospital, or worse - the morgue, wearing underwear that is older than some of your kids, you can always reserve several special pairs of undies for hazardous activities outside the home.


  1. Anonymous9/28/2013

    I counted my underwear and bras after reading this article. I have 14 pairs of underwear, and 12 bras. I keep them in circulation. The reason is because I want to wash a full load of clothes, and not waste water and power by washing smaller loads. I also don't wash clothing right after wearing them for one day, unless I got really sweaty or dirty. I wear them a few times, but underwear I change everyday. Bras, I don't. So that is why I have so many. I don't buy super-high quality clothing (mainly it's the style of clothing that I like and in my budget) but I take care of what I have, by doing one load every week to two weeks, when it's not summertime. I need enough underwear to last me that long. My thinking could be faulty but I am content with it, as my underwear has lasted me about two years now, and it's stretched with a 30 pound weight gain (they are cotton.) Great website, found it today, and going to read it thoroughly to be inspired. Bless xx

    1. Anon, I love your system! It makes perfect sense.

      I am glad that I don't have to buy or wear bras... yet.

      Thanks for sharing with us.


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