Twelve-year-old trunks: how to make your clothes last as long as Prince Charles’s swimwear

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Prince Charles – not in his trunks – with the Duchess of Cornwall on a beach in Australia.

The prince has been photographed in bathers that are more than a decade old. Keeping our clothes is the best way to reduce their environmental impact – here’s how to do it

Iget a little exercised when I see the Duchess of Cambridge described as “thrifty” for wearing more than once an outfit worth several hundred pounds. But Prince Charles has just been photographed in a pair of Vilebrequin swimming trunks that he first wore at least 12 years ago. “Probably 16 years ago,” says a spokesperson for Vilebrequin, “because this particular style went on sale in 2003 and designs tend not to stick around beyond a season.” The trunks retail at £195 (leaving inflation out of it, this equates to £12 a year of ownership), so you will have to decide if their longevity amounts to thrift.

Admittedly, the pair – which have a pink, blue and green floral pattern – do look a little faded. And the prince has worn other swimsuits in the past decade or so, such as a pair of yellow ones with a dolphin print. But still, he has done well to carry any trunks serviceably through middle age. This particular pair may have been laundered many times, but at least it is made from polyamide, which does not shed microfibres as easily as some synthetics.

The prince’s choice is interesting at a time when not only the wastefulness of the clothing industry but also consumers’ habits of purchase and wear are under increasing scrutiny. According to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report last month (Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability), textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined. In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) estimates that the average lifetime of a garment is just 2.2 years. Statistically, this makes the prince’s trunks a notable outlier.

Making garments last is hugely important. “Keeping our clothes for longer is the No 1 way to reduce their environmental impact,” says Cecile Martin from the Love Your Clothes campaign, which was launched as part of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan. She says that following the care instructions “is the golden rule” for ensuring longevity of your clothing (the Love Your Clothes guide will help decipher the hieroglyphics) and “the general rule of thumb is to turn down the dial to a lower temperature whenever you can”. Avoid ironing and tumble drying. Combined, these changes can cut an estimated 700,000 tonnes of CO2 from UK emissions every year, Martin adds. And don’t wash clothes unnecessarily. If swimsuits fade, remember that the bleached look works well on the beach.