It's easy to forget about how much wear and tear your undergarments and socks go through on a daily basis—but these wardrobe workhorses, which serve as your foundational pieces, see a lot a lot of action. Since they're working overtime, they likely need to be retired more often than you'd think. That's why we tapped six experts to discover exactly when you need to take your favorite bras, socks, and underwear out of rotation—and replace them with new wardrobe staples you turn to over and again.
Grace Baker, the Director of Fit and Technical Design for PARFAIT Lingerie, says that how often you replace your underwear has more to do with how many pairs you have. "The less you have, the more they should be replaced," she says. "For a pair worn once a week, the elastic starts to show wear and tear after six months and the fabric starts to show wear and tear after a year." Some additional signs that it may be time for new underwear before you hit the six-month mark are loose elastic and unraveling threads.
You should, however, be "wearing a garment to death," says Gale Epstein, the President and Creative Director at Hanky Panky, since this keeps it out of a landfill for as long as possible. She advocates for finding companies and brands that will recycle your threadbare undies (which she defines as excessively worn or permanently stretched out) for you; Hanky Panky's Lingeriecycle™ program was designed exactly for this reason. As for how to increase your underwear's longevity? Skip the heat. "We recommend washing by hand in cool water with a mild lingerie wash. Rinse thoroughly, gently squeeze, and hang dry. Never put delicate stretch fabrics in the dryer, as the heat destroys elastic fibers," adds Epstein.
Laura Gordon Gray, Jockey's Women's Design Director, says a great pair of socks should be comfortable—and look good, too. A solid rule of thumb is to replace your socks when the toe or heel area become threadbare, or when you find yourself having to pull your socks back up throughout the day. "Regardless of the height of your sock, it should sit comfortably on your foot and leg," she adds.
If worn once a week, socks should last between six months to a year, according to Willy Mrasek, the Creative Director at Felina Socks. "This, of course, depends on your lifestyle and how you care for your socks." Mrasek says if you want your socks to last longer, look for ones that are made from wool and synthetic fibers. He also recommends turning your socks inside out while washing them—and, like underwear, skipping the dryer entirely. "If line drying is not possible, tumble dry on the lowest temperature," he adds. To best store them, skip the traditional "balling" method and fold them, instead (balling tends to stretch the spandex and cause socks to lose shape).
Since bras are the most expensive of the three, it may be tempting to wear yours for as long as you possibly can. But most bras should be replaced once or twice a year. "How often you need to replace your bra really depends on how often you wear it, and how well you care for it," explains Jené Luciani, a style expert. In the meantime, look for signs of wear and tear like bent or poking underwires, fraying fabric, stretched out straps, and crushed cups.
To prolong the life of your bra, rotate them as often as possible and consider keeping one bra designated as an outdoor or "working" bra. "The sweat and body perspiration breaks down the fibers in bras, causing them to stretch quicker as well as breaks down the elasticity," says Dawn Mumaw from Hourglass Lingerie. When washing them, skip the machine and hand-wash with a mild detergent, or bring them into the shower and give them a rub with lingerie wash or baby shampoo whenever possible. Bras should never—by any means—go into the dryer.
Store your bras according to their shape and fabric. Mumaw says unlined bras can be folded and stacked loosely, while molded cups should be laid side-by-side so that they aren't pressed tightly together (which can damage cups).