What To Do When Your Shirts Wear Out?

Let’s face it, regardless how much we spend on buying or tailoring quality shirts, they won’t last forever. The shirting fabric also undergoes the same wear and tear process as your other garments. It doesn’t matter whether you picked it up from the bargain bin, or had it custom tailored. Eventually, every piece of garment wears out. But what do you do with worn-out shirts? Do you take them out of rotation immediately? Perhaps donate them for a better cause? Or do you wear them until they literally fall apart, before relegating them to floor rags?

Different types of shirts hanging neatly in a cupboard. This represents the various types of shirts that we all have on rotation in our own wardrobe.
The shirts in our wardrobe are often of different age, and with different number of wears. They’ll all wear out eventually, starting with the older ones that have seen most wear.
Image by Waldemar Brandt of Unsplash

Shirts Bind Your Outfit Together

We’ve shared how shirts are the essential binder to tie your whole outfit together. If you’ve missed it, check it out here. Today, we’re gonna explore more about how to manage your shirt wardrobe, especially worn-out ones. Without a doubt, the main influence for your decision is the price of the shirt itself. If you picked that shirt out from the bargain bin, you won’t think twice of pulling it out of rotation. You can give it away, designate it as your “dirty” manual labour clothes, or even use them as floor rags.

Overall image of a white shirt as an example of the wear and tear of a shirt on regular rotation.
A “tired” shirt that has seen better days. A solid white shirt is the most versatile, hence the one most worn, resulting in accelerated wear and tear.
Image by Author

But what about a custom tailored shirt? What if it cost you a pretty penny to purchase that particular shirt back in the day? That decision then becomes a little more difficult. Ideally, we’d want to get the most wear out of any garment. Especially so when we pay more money for it than the others.

Shirts Wear Out At Different Rates And At Different Parts

This may come as a surprise, but shirts wear out at different rates at different parts. The parts that come in direct contact with your skin suffer the most wear. Abrasion with your skin accelerates the fibre breakdown, and exposure to sweat causes discolouration. Let’s take a look at some typical wear and tear of a shirt :-

(1) Collar Discolouration Wear

It may not be obvious from the example above, but here’s a close-up of the collar. The collar is the first to discolour due to the prolonged contact with the exposed neck. And it’s more prominent on a solid white shirt.

Close-up on the collar of the white shirt, showing the yellowing on the collar fold, representing the wear and tear.
The yellowing along the neckline is very obvious against a solid white shirt.
Image by Author

The yellowing isn’t a colour deriving from another source, but a stain from prolonged exposure to sweat. Hence, you can’t launder the yellow stain out by using any detergent or bleach. There’s literally nothing that you can do to remove the yellow stain once it sets.

(2) Sleeve Cuff Discolouration Wear

Just like the collar, sleeve cuffs are in constant contact with the wrists. Hence, cuffs undergo the same yellowing process as the collar too. This is more prominent for double cuffs, as the folded cuff behaves exactly like the collar of the shirt.

Close-up of the sleeve cuff of the white shirt. The double cuff is unfolded, showing the clear yellowing line across the crease, indicating the wear and tear.
The sleeve cuff of the same white shirt. Note that the double cuff makes the yellowing more prominent along the crease line.
Image by Author

(3) Collar Fray Wear

The crease of the collar fold undergoes the highest amount of mechanical stress. That plus the constant abrasion with the skin causes the collar fold to accelerate the fibre breakdown. And this ultimately results in the fraying of the fabric along the crease line of the collar fold.

Close-up of the collar fold, exhibiting the fabric fray. This is the early stage of wear and tear, as the fray is still inconspicuous.
Early stage of the fabric fraying along the same crease of the collar fold which exhibits yellowing.
Image by Author

You can probably try to hide a small, barely visible fray, but all the small frays will eventually add up. And once it has reached the example above, it’s time to pull it out of your wardrobe rotation.

Shirts Wear For Coloured Or Patterned Shirts

You can’t hide wear and tear on a solid white shirt. Even the slightest hint of yellowing will show up like a sore thumb. But a coloured or patterned shirt is a little more forgiving. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t undergo the same wear and tear process. They just hide the wear and tear a little better than a solid white shirt. Let’s take a look at some typical examples of a non-white shirt.

(1) Solid Light Blue Shirt

Solid coloured shirts exhibit similar traits to solid white shirts. The only difference is that the darker the colour, the more forgiving it is. The yellowing doesn’t show up as obviously as on white shirts, especially in the early stages.

Overall image of a solid light blue shirt.
From a distance, the wear and tear of this solid light blue shirt isn’t readily apparent.
Image by Author
Close-up on the collar of the light blue shirt, showing the yellowing along the collar fold. This is a typical wear pattern.
Advanced stage of yellowing on the collar fold. Stain shows up on lighter coloured shirts just as prominently as on white shirts. Darker colours will be more forgiving though.
Image by Author
Close-up  of the sleeve cuff of the light blue shirt, showing the yellowing along the crease of the unfolded double cuff.
Similar yellowing on the crease of the sleeve cuff of the solid light blue shirt. Though not as prominent as on the white shirt, it’s still pretty obvious.
Image by Author
Close-up on the collar fold of the light blue shirt, showing an intermediate stage fraying.
Intermediate stage of collar fold fraying. Here, the canvas structure underneath is clearly visible. And darker coloured shirts will be more apparent when the white canvas is visible.
Image by Author

Whilst coloured shirts fair slightly better than white shirts, they still undergo the same amount of wear and tear. The only advantage is that the damage is less visible on coloured shirts. And the darker the colour, the less visible the damage is.

(2) Patterned Shirt

Generally speaking, patterned shirts are even more forgiving than solid coloured shirts. The high contrast patterns tend to hide any damage caused by the natural wear and tear process better.

Overall image of a light blue shirt with alternating blue, yellow and white vertical stripes.
The coloured stripes, and a generally darker base colour hides the damage better than a solid coloured shirt.
Image by Author
Close-up on the collar of the blue striped shirt, showing the not-so-apparent yellowing along the collar fold.
Notice how the yellowing of the collar fold isn’t as prominent as on the solid coloured shirt?
Image by Author
Close-up on the collar fold of the light blue stripe shirt. The fraying is very obvious, with the structural canvas visible underneath the frayed fibres.
The yellowing of the collar fold isn’t apparent, but the advance stage fraying betrays the amount of wear and tear. Note that the canvas below is clearly visible here.
Image by Author

I didn’t bother with the sleeve cuff of this shirt, as it’s near impossible to see the yellowing. But remove the coloured stripes, it’s just as visible as the other two shirts.

Can You Save A Worn Out Shirt?

Has any of your favourite shirts worn out pretty badly? Can’t bear getting rid of it because of the amount of money you spent purchasing it? Or perhaps it represents sentimental memories of your loved ones? Well, don’t worry too much about it. It’s pretty obvious by now that the wear and tear happens the most along the collar folds and sleeve cuffs. You can still save it as long as the rest of the shirt is in good condition.

Come back for the next episode where we’ll explore how we can save your worn-out favourite shirts. You can probably prolong the shirt’s lifespan by two fold, maybe even three. In the meantime, do share your experience with your own shirts. And feel free to leave a comment below the poll too.

Have you experienced any wear and tear on your shirts?
8 votes

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

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