Stella McCartney on Why Washing Clothes Is Overrated

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The fashion designer says she doesn't "just chuck stuff into a washing machine because it's been worn."

While perusing the Internet for inspiration, I found myself reading a lengthy interview with fashion designer Stella McCartney. She has made a name for herself in the eco-fashion world as someone who refuses to use leather, fur, sequins, and even common vegan alternatives like PVC that are notoriously bad for the environment.

What intrigued me the most, however, were her comments on cleaning clothes and why she tries to avoid it. She told interviewer Sophie Heawood that her stance on cleaning developed while studying tailoring on Savile Row in London years ago.

"The rule on a bespoke suit is you do not clean it. You do not touch it. You let the dirt dry and you brush it off. Basically, in life, rule of thumb: if you don’t absolutely have to clean anything, don’t clean it. I wouldn’t change my bra every day and I don’t just chuck stuff into a washing machine because it’s been worn. I am incredibly hygienic myself, but I’m not a fan of dry cleaning or any cleaning, really."

In a world that is obsessed with laundering an item after a single use, and that is not sufficiently preoccupied with the environmental impact of all that laundering, nor the wear-and-tear on the fabric, McCartney's perspective is refreshing. I particularly appreciated her comment about being "incredibly hygienic" herself because, more often than not, the source of the smell is ourselves.

In a fashion op-ed for the Guardian, Zoe Williams analyzes McCartney's comment and agrees that one good way to reduce laundry is to "be extremely clean yourself." This goes beyond showering regularly. It means designating clothing for specific uses that allow one to extend the time between washes. For example: "Never cycle in regular clothes. Have a set of clothes to cycle in, and call these 'the clothes that smell already'."

We call these 'play clothes' for kids, and the concept, although increasingly rare these days, is beautifully logical. Williams suggests:

"Pay children 10p for every item of school uniform unsullied enough to wear again. I often then steal the 10p back as I need them, and they never notice because it’s all about the transaction."

It also means buying natural fabrics that don't retain smelly underarm odor, and avoiding impractical colors like white. It means learning to navigate the confusing world of laundry symbols; in Williams' words, "Almost everything that says 'dry-clean only' can cope with a very cool wash. But things that say 'cool wash' do tend to mean it."

The point is to move away from the automatic laundry hamper drop that so many of us do, and to remember that, if fashion royalty like McCartney are OK with letting it go another day, we can be too.