David asks: I do a lot of thrifting button-down shirts. Sometimes I’ll get attached to a shirt even if it’s slightly past its use-by date – when there’s fraying around the cuffs or collar. I’ve thought about fabric glue, but I’ve never tried it and I’m not sure if it’s really worth the effort. Should I just suck it up and get a new shirt or are there any decent options to repair mild fraying?
It’s absolutely normal for the collars and cuffs of a shirt to fray before the rest of the shirt is worn out. These parts of the shirt take the most abuse, after all. But can they be repaired?
The answer is yes, but whether it’s worth it to execute the repairs is another matter.
When a man’s clothes were made for him, it was normal practice to repair them before replacing them. The cost of making clothes one at a time is much higher than it is to make them on an assembly line, and tradespeople capable of making repairs were plentiful. It made economic sense to maintain the clothes you had. Today, that math is less clear – if you maintain your shirts this way, it’s more likely to be a personal choice than an economic one.
The fraying at the collars and cuff cannot be repaired, per se. The cost of reweaving it would be extraordinarily prohibitive. That leaves you with a few choices.
First, you can leave it frayed. Particularly heavier weight shirts like oxford button-downs almost seem more at home slightly frayed than brand new. The old-money aesthetic values that guide their wear suggest that you wear them into the ground rather than replace them. These values have been aped by manufacturers who often sandpaper the edges of oxford shirts to fray them intentionally. Your goal here is to achieve a Prince Charles’ shoes level of wabi-sabi.
Second, you can turn the collar and cuffs. This is just what it sounds like. The collar and cuffs are removed and reversed, so that the inside is out and the outside is in. This works best with double cuffs, and can be problematic with shirts that have pockets for collar stays. Even so, a tailor can generally replace one side of the collar with fabric from the shirt’s tail. This may cost twenty or thirty dollars.
The most drastic step is to replace the collar and cuffs. If you’ve seen dress shirts with white collar and cuffs, this practice was the origin. Since matching fabric won’t be readily available (and won’t match anyway, given the number of washes the shirt will have been through), a plain white collar and cuff can be used. Again, this option comes with a significant cost, but if you’re dealing with a very fine dress shirt, it may well be worth it.
If your shirtmaker or tailor doesn’t offer these services, there are mail-order options, like Maldonado’s, who charge $20 to replace a collar and $12-15 to replace cuffs..