Dress Shirts - How Long Should They Last?

Dress Shirts Don't Live Forever.  But how long should a good quality dress shirt last?

A clean dress shirt hanging in a closet with a little ventilation and not exposed to heat, humidity or sunlight may last for years or even decades. It's when you wear them and how you care for them that affects their useful life.

Here are 3 factors that determine how long a dress shirt will last:

The Construction of the Shirt

All shirts are not made the same.  A well-made shirt depends on fabric, stitches per inch, quality of buttons, etc. When you buy a shirt, look for these features:  Check the strength of the stitching at the seams.  Check for the density and type of the fabric and make sure you know what you are getting.  Look at how the buttons are sewn on and make sure the stitching is strong enough.  All of these factors affect the life of your dress shirt.

Wear on the Shirt

How you wear your shirt will affect how long it will last. Here are a few suggestions to keep from wearing it out:

  • Wearing a tee shirt will extend the life of your dress shirt.  A tee shirt will absorb perspiration and protect your shirt from weakened fabric caused by perspiration.
  • Wearing a tee shirt will also protect the dress shirt from aluminum chlorides found in antiperspirants that will weaken the fabric and cause discoloration under the arms.
  • Wearing a watch or other jewelery will cause extra wear.  The bigger the watch, the greater the chance of your cuffs showing signs of abrasion.
  • Resting your elbows on your desk will cause the sleeves to wear out quicker.
  • Buying a shirt that fits correctly, especially in the collar, will extend the life of the shirt.  A tight collar will show signs of abrasion.  Shirts that are too tight through the torso will show signs of weakened seams.

Taking Care of the Shirt

Proper dress shirt care will have a huge impact on its life.  Follow this link to a few tips for shirt care from a previous article I wrote.  Here are my suggestions to help your dress shirts look their best for as long as possible:

  • Don't put your shirts away wet...from perspiration or rain.  Allow them to dry out before putting them in the hamper of laundry bag.

Dress Shirt Wear Life Expectancy

So how long should a good dress shirt last?  It is hard to say how long a shirt will last due to variations in how often a shirt is worn.  A better measure is how many washings a shirt will withstand and still look good. 

The Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute says says that industry experience indicates that a shirt should have a wear life of 35 to 50 washings.  They also say that the amount of abrasion and strain placed on the shirt as well as fiber content, type of fabric and laundering procedure will cause these numbers to fluctuate.

We've had shirts last more than 100 washings and we've had some last less than 35.  It's difficult to say say exactly what happened to extend the life or shorten the life of a dress shirt.  But the points made in the article are probably the reason.

The bottom line is a shirt won't last forever.  A shirt does not have the strength of a wool suit coat that can last for years.  So don't be surprised when your shirt starts showing signs of wear around the collar or cuffs, or the seams or fabric begins to weaken from fabric dry rot. 

But the fact is you can extend the life of your dress shirts by following these recommendations.