There’s a reason that underwear isn’t $300 a pair: it’s because they’re not meant to be family heirlooms. Knowing when to toss your lingerie is an important part of the life cycle of your clothing. Sure, you’re probably thinking, of course the people at the bra store are telling me to buy more bras. We get it— it seems like a scam. After all, you can wear a good sweater for about a decade’s worth of winters. Lingerie isn’t like that: it’s made from delicate fabrics, it’s the garment closest to your skin, and it usually relies on elastic. Those three factors keep them from being forever products. Higher quality lingerie usually lasts longer (raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like your cheap Target bra was more like a tank top after a few wears), but no matter the price point or manufacturing practices, they’re not meant to be line items in your last will and testament.
As a general rule, any underwear with holes, stains, tears, or baggy elastic should be tossed, but to be fair, that’s an aesthetic choice more than anything else. Save the pairs that are in bad shape for when you’re on your period, or do what our mom taught us and take them on vacation, throwing them away after each wear to make room for souvenirs. Outside of the consideration of beauty, there are health reasons to get rid of your underwear every so often. Experts disagree on the exact shelf life of underwear (and it varies based on the number of pairs in your rotation), but no pair of drawers should be in your drawer for more than six to eighteen months, even if they still look pretty good. Mold, bacteria, and a whole host of creepy crawlies can fester in underwear, which can impact your health, especially if you’re prone to bacterial vaginosis, UTIs, or yeast infections. Bottom line: if you’re not sure who was president when you bought the pair in question, throw them into the discard pile.
For bras, there are a few obvious signs that they’re on their last legs. If the underwire is poking out, the cups have lost their shape, or the straps are slipping off your shoulders, it’s time for it to go. Depending on your body type and the number of bras you wear regularly, your bra will last between three months and several years. For the sake of brevity, let’s say you have two bras and you wear them on alternating days. If your breasts are on the small to medium size, you’ll need to replace both of those bras every three to four months. If you have thirty bras and you wear each of them one time a month, you’ll have a lot more time with them. Most people exist in the middle of that spectrum, but the facts don’t vary: all the support comes from the band, and the band is made from elastic. Over time, the elastic will wear out, making the bra less and less supportive. Usually, our smaller-chested clients get a little bit longer with their garments than the more generously endowed— bigger boobs weigh more, so the elastic is supporting more weight, which wears it out more quickly. Do a quick fit check: reach underneath your band right along your spine and see how many fingers you can fit comfortably between the bra and your skin. If you can slide three or more fingers in there, the band is shot, no matter how small your hands are.
With lingerie like chemises, robes, and pajamas, you have more leeway, and some things are even worth mending! Especially if there is minimal elastic and you’re diligently laundering them with gentle soap like Soak, you’re welcome to keep them as long as you like. Keep in mind that any stains should be removed with the utmost care— always conduct a patch test with your dearest pieces before you try and restore them. Hosiery should be repurposed if it’s baggy or when you get a run; they can’t be saved.
After you’ve gathered up the pieces you’ll never wear again, think carefully about how you can dispose of them since the elastic prevents them from breaking down; you don’t want to be contributing non-biodegradables to the landfill! If you’re in Louisville, bring your worn-out bras to our shop and we’ll donate them women in need in our community, plus we’ll give you a discount on your brand-new bra. If you’re somewhere else, consider taking them to a women’s shelter or Dress for Success. Your other (clean!) has-beens can be taken to any H&M or &Other Stories. They recycle fabric waste if they can, and they use the stuff that can’t be recycled to make housing insulation in the developing world.
Check out this video for some examples of things that can be kept versus things that should be tossed, and if you’re in need of some new pieces, check out our online store or make an appointment.