Oct 7, 2022
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Britons have too much unworn clothing, but also becoming more thrifty - WRAP report

Oct 7, 2022

​UK consumers collectively have as many as 1.6 billion items of unworn clothing in their wardrobes with each person owning an average of 118 items, of which 26% have been unworn for at least a year.

Photo: Pixabay/Public domain

That's according to climate action charity group WRAP, which released a new report on Friday saying the adult UK population spends over £4 billion shopping for clothes every month.

It has undertaken its largest-ever study into the clothing habits of UK consumers and said that it has spotted changes over the last eight years around how long we retain our clothing, as well as consumer openness to new ways of shopping, with the changes having the potential to "significantly" reduce the environmental cost of clothing and also to save people millions of pounds.

Between 2013 and 2021, the predicted length of time people in the UK kept a range of clothes increased. Today, non-padded coats and jackets have the longest lifespans at more than six years apiece, while underwear and bras have the briefest at just 2.7 and 2.6 years respectively. Jeans are now kept for an average of four years (up from three years in 2013), dresses for 4.6 years compared to 3.8, and T-shirts for four years, up from 3.3 years. 

Consumers also tend to keep their pre-loved and secondhand vintage purchases longer than the items that they buy new — nearly a year-and-a-half longer at 5.4 years for vintage and pre-loved, compared to four years for off-the-peg.

Repairing an item also tends to typically add around 1.3 years to the amount of time a person will keep it.

That's all good news, although it does have a downside in that as we’re keeping our clothes for longer, many items are being underused.

WRAP cited figures for unworn items saying Britons on average own 15 pairs of socks and/or hosiery of which two are rarely worn; 15 pieces of underwear, with two that have fallen out of favour; 12 T-shirts apiece of which three are neglected; and nearly nine shirts or blouses with three unloved and unworn. It gets worse too with 44% of skirts and 43% of dresses languishing in wardrobes.

Key reasons for not wearing clothing include the item being for occasions only (especially dresses, skirts and formalwear); it no longer being a good/comfortable fit (jeans, formal trousers, skirts, shorts, T-shirts/polo shirt/jersey tops, bras and underwear); and consumers liking the item but it not being a priority (knitwear, sweatshirts/ hoodies, T-shirts/polo shirt/jersey tops, jeans, coats/jackets and underwear).


But even with all the unworn items, 45% of people still buy new clothes at least once a month, and around one in eight buy weekly. This translates into a UK average monthly spend of £76.53, increasing to £133.06 for the more frequent shoppers who purchase clothing at least once a month.

Some 81% of 18-24s buy clothing that often, but 54% are happy to purchase secondhand and vintage with women more comfortable with this than men (people aged 65+ are least comfortable).

WRAP believes these attitudes represent a prime opportunity “for on-trend businesses to provide alternative clothing models like rental subscriptions, and for savvy sellers and buyers to save money, make a bit of cash and grab a bargain”.

It said its research shows 40% of people would use a subscription service, with 58% open to using a repair service. Among those who have already used a ‘circular business model’ option, the majority said they would do so again – with young people and high frequency/spend shoppers most likely to have engaged already, and being most receptive.

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