October 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB2

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Factors Associated With Clothing Care Practices of Adolescents Enrolled in 4-H Programs

The study examined clothing care practices of 158 youth ages 13-to-19 in Ohio 4-H programs. The mail survey addressed teen clothing care and repair practices for own and family clothing and disposition of garments not repaired. Findings suggest teens who do not develop necessary skills for clothing maintenance are likely to discard apparel needing repair resulting in a potentially negative economic and environmental impact for the individual as an adult and society as a whole. As one of the few youth programs that develop clothing care skills, 4-H should support and strengthen programs in this area.

Joyce A. Smith
Extension Specialist, Clothing
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Internet Address: smith.12@osu.edu

Kathryn J. Cox
Extension 4-H Specialist, Youth Development
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio

Norma A. Pitts
Extension Specialist, Clothing Emeritus
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio

Hak P. Tam
Assistant Professor
Measurement and Statistical Evaluation
University of Maryland
University Park, Maryland

Today's teens have grown up in a "disposable society" in which replacement often substitutes for repair. When environmental concerns and waste reduction are becoming increasingly critical factors in quality of life, less attention is being paid to teaching and providing positive role models for youth in relation to clothing care and maintenance skills. These skills are needed to lengthen wear life of clothing and reduce waste.

Although family and consumer science education programs have de-emphasized skill development over the last decade, Extension 4 -H clothing programs continue to offer skill-based projects and learning experiences. Many women who taught clothing care skills while serving as role models are now employed outside the home and devote less time to clothing care and maintenance themselves. Today's youth are not being taught skills to care for and maintain clothing to extend wear as were previous generations, since fewer adult role models exist who practice such skills. These factors contribute to less importance being placed not only on maintaining and extending the wear-life of clothing in today's society, but also in preparing today's youth to do so in the future.

However, little is known about current norms followed by adolescents in caring for and maintaining clothing. It is important to establish a "baseline" of youth clothing care and maintenance practices as a foundation for program development. This study was designed to identify and describe clothing care and repair practices of adolescents and the impact of 4-H clothing project participation on those practices.

Little empirical data is available on the clothing care practices of teens. Barnes (1955) reported that 7th to 9th grade girls assumed some responsibility for washing, ironing, mending, and deciding on dry cleaning needs of their own clothing, but were less likely to darn socks. Girls whose mothers were employed outside the home assumed more responsibility for their own clothing care (washing, ironing, and mending) than girls whose mothers were not employed.

Lawrence, Tasker and Babcock (1983) studied time spent on housework by urban adolescents. They reported that teens spent less than two minutes per day on clothing care and unlike the Barnes (1955) study, time spent remained unchanged whether or not the mother was employed outside the home. The time of data collection, 1955 versus 1983, and location of sample, rural for Barnes, urban for Lawrence, Tasker and Babcock may explain some variations in findings.

When teens did assist in laundry activities, daughters were more likely to do so than were sons. A study conducted by Whirlpool Corporation as reported by the Soap and Detergent Association (1988) determined that the female head of household did the laundry 93% of time, with 34% using help from family members. Teenage daughters provided that help 25% of the time and teenage sons 14% of the time.

Age and gender impact clothing care practices. Koester and May (1985) found that as age increased, adolescents were more likely to repair, wash, and iron own clothes and needed fewer reminders to do so. Adolescents were also more likely to wash family clothing as age increased. Gender differences existed with adolescent girls more likely to care for own and family clothing than adolescent boys. When adolescent boys and girls were in the same family, boys were even less likely to care for family clothing.

Despite an exhaustive search of the literature since 1990, only one study (Sanik & Bard, 1996) was found which reported on clothing care practices. It confirmed earlier findings that major responsibility for home laundry rests with female homemakers with only occasional help from daughters and less from sons.

Four-H project curricula include clothing care as well as the development of clothing construction and repair skills associated with responsible consumer behavior. Both types of learning contribute to extending the wear life of apparel and improved use of resources.

Examining the impact of 4-H clothing project enrollment contributes to program evaluation and adds to the body of knowledge on which to base future programs efforts. From an environmental perspective, the results can determine the potential contributions of textiles and clothing education to environmental concerns.


Data for the study were collected using a mail survey. The questionnaire was developed for a larger study to collect data on selection, care, and grooming practices of adolescents. Data on care and repair practices were analyzed for this phase of the study.

Clothing care questions addressed the following topics: (a) teen clothing care practices for own clothing, (b) teen clothing care activities for family clothing, (c) teen clothing repair practices for own clothing, (d) teen clothing repair activities for family clothing, and (e) disposition of clothing not repaired. Practices were measured on a 4 point Likert-type scale: Never (0), sometimes (1), usually (2), and always (3). For statistical analysis, "usually" and "always" were merged into a combined category "most of the time". Youth also identified types of repair made to clothing in their household, who completed the repair, and the disposition of items not repaired.

Researchers developed the questionnaire based on Dillman's Total Design Method for survey research (1978). The instrument was reviewed by three family and consumer science youth educators for content validity. The instrument was then pilot tested with 35 4-H members in one rural and one urban county in central Ohio and further refined.

The study population consisted of adolescents enrolled in 4- H programs in Ohio. Random number tables were used to select the sample of three hundred youth from membership lists of Ohio 4-H members, age 13-19, from a stratified sample of six rural and three urban counties. The total 4-H enrollment in the three urban counties sampled approximated the total 4-H enrollment of the six rural counties sampled as well as the proportion of urban/rural 4 -H enrollment in Ohio.

The questionnaire and cover letter was mailed to 300 adolescents. A second survey was mailed to non-respondents, the week following the return deadline. The final usable response rate after one mail follow-up was 53% (n=158) and comprised the sample on which descriptive and inferential statistics were based. Comparisons between early and late respondents showed no significant differences. According to Miller and Smith (1983), late respondents are similar to non-respondents and comparison of early and late respondents is an appropriate method of controlling for non-response error.

Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics and frequency distributions, including means and percentages, were used to describe care and repair practices. Chi-squares were calculated to determine the significance of relationships between adolescent care and repair of own and family clothing with number of clothing projects taken and gender. Loglinear asymmetrical qualitative analysis was performed to determine interactions between demographic variables and adolescent care and repair of own and family clothing. Configural frequency analysis was utilized to determine patterns on types of care activities performed by adolescents for own and family clothing.


Demographic Characteristics

Respondents in the study were primarily female (70.4%) and lived in rural areas (68%). Sixty percent were age 16 or older and had been in 4-H for approximately six years. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents had never taken a clothing project; however, 21.5% reported enrolling in one to four clothing projects and 14.6% reported participating in five or more clothing projects.

Most of the youth in the study (81.5%) lived with both parents, 12.1% lived one parent, 1.9% lived with a guardian, and 4.5% were in college or lived independently. Responses to items related to perceived family income indicated 41.4% had "money left over after meeting expenses", 43.3% had "enough money with a little extra sometimes", 12.1% "usually had just enough, but no more", and 3.2% reported that the family "usually couldn't make ends meet." Over half (55.7%) of the youth reported being employed outside the home.

Clothing Care and Repair Practices

When asked about responsibility for clothing care activities, youth were more likely to hang up or put away their clothing after wearing and put away their own clothing after laundering. Almost half (45%) reported washing their own clothing "most of [the] time", and 39% reported doing so "sometimes." Sixty-nine percent reported some responsibility for machine washing family clothing. As a group, youth were less likely to repair or iron family clothing as well as repair, iron, or hand wash their own clothing (Table 1).

Table 1
Frequency of Teen Clothing Care Activities
Clothing Care ActivitiesFrequency
 NeverSometimeMost of Time
Hang Up/Put Away After Wear10%34%56%
Put Away Clean Clothes2%18%80%
Repair Own Clothes29%44%27%
Machine Wash Own Clothes6%39%45%
Hand Wash Own Clothes34%42%24%
Iron Own Clothing31%34%35%
Repair Family Clothing70%26%4%
Wash Family Clothing31%44%25%
Iron Family Clothing58%31%11%
Adult Reminders Needed33%41%26%

To collect data on repair of own clothing, youth were asked to indicate who, if anyone, made four types of repair: (a) replace buttons, (b) repair hems, (c) repair seams, and (d) patch holes. Respondents were most likely to replace buttons (51.3%) on their own clothing. Parents were more likely to repair hems (64.7%), repair seams (61.4%), and patch holes (58%)(Table 2).

Table 2
Who Repairs Adolescents' Clothing
Clothing RepairWho Repairs
 TeenParentOtherDon't Repair
Replace Buttons51.3%42.4%2.5%3.8%
Repair Hems19.2%64.7%10.35.8%
Repair Seams19.6%61.4%12.7%6.3%
Patch Holes17.8%58.0%7.6%16.6%

Youth were asked to indicate the disposition of items not repaired. Most respondents (53.4%) indicated garments needing buttons were likely to be worn without repair for same use. Approximately one-third would wear garments needing seam repairs or holes patched for another use. Of even greater interest is the number of youth who discard items rather than repair them. Youth were likely to dispose of clothing items for the following reasons: for unrepaired seams (49%); for unrepaired hems (31.9%); for unpatched holes (40.4%), and for missing buttons (9.6%).

Relationships Between Respondent Characteristics and Clothing Repair Practices

Chi-square and loglinear asymmetrical qualitative analysis were used to determine the significance of relationships between adolescent repair practices and demographic variables. Age, gender, and 4-H project enrollment were significant in explaining repair practices. Variables studied that were not significant included family structure, family income, adolescent employment, presence of siblings, and place of residence.

Age and Employment of Adolescents in Explaining Repair of Own Clothing

Age was significant in explaining repair of own clothing (L2=12.30, p < .01)[l2=log-likelihood chi-square]. youth employment and interaction between age and employment of youth were not significant. youth under age 16 were more likely to report that they repair own clothing sometimes (z=3.254, p < .01) while youth over sixteen report that they repair own clothing most of the time (z=2.399, p < .01).

Age and 4-H Clothing Project Enrollment of Adolescents in Explaining Repair of Own Clothing

Given age, 4-H clothing project enrollment was significant in explaining adolescent repair of own clothing (L2=7.80, p < .05). interaction between age and clothing project enrollment was not significant. youth who did not enroll in 4-h clothing projects were more likely to report that they never repair own clothes (z=2.209, p < .05), while youth enrolled in 4-h clothing projects were more likely to report that they repair own clothing most of the time (z=2.608, p < .05). the greater the number of clothing projects in which youth enrolled, the more likely they were to repair their own clothing, than have someone else do it, or not repair it at all (x2=24.726, p < .001).

Age and 4-H Clothing Project Enrollment in Explaining Repair of Family Clothing

4-H clothing project enrollment was significant in explaining adolescent repair of family clothing (L2=9.43, p < .05). however, youth age and interaction between clothing project enrollment and age were not significant. youth who did not take 4 -h clothing projects were more likely to report they never repaired family clothing (z=2.827, p < .05).

Gender and Adolescent Repair of Clothing

Gender was significant in explaining adolescent repair of own and family clothing. Girls were more likely than boys to repair own clothing most of the time (X2=30.260, p < .001), and family clothing some of the time (x2=17.720, p < .001).

Adolescent Care of Own and Family Clothing

Adolescents who reported they "sometimes" (z=6.9744, p < .001)or "most of the time" (z=9.5638, p < .001) performed five clothing care practices (a) hang up or put away after wearing, (b) put away clean clothes, (c) machine wash own clothes, (d) hand wash own clothes, and (e) iron own clothes) on their own clothing were more likely to cluster or form a class than would be expected by chance alone (p < .001). adolescents who reported that they "never" (z=4.670, p < .001)did any type of care (repair, wash, iron) on family clothing and adolescents who responded that they "sometimes" or "most of the time" (z=5.833, p < .001) repaired, washed or ironed family clothing clustered or formed classes more than would be expected by chance alone.


Age of teen, gender, and enrollment in 4-H clothing projects were statistically significant in explaining care practices for own clothing. Care of own clothing and 4-H clothing project enrollment were significant in explaining care practices of family clothing.

Although clothing interest among adolescents who enroll in 4 -H clothing programs might be considered a confounding variable in relation to care and repair of own clothing, this would not explain the significant incidence of repair of family clothing by adolescents. In addition, one might think that factors such as adolescent employment, family structure, family income, presence of siblings, and place of residence might also influence clothing care and repair practices of adolescents. However, such was not found to be the case in this study.

These results suggest implications for programming, project, and curriculum content for 4-H clothing programs, and should also be of interest to teachers, parents and others involved in preparing youth with the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need for meeting critical consumer and environmental issues now and in the future.

Specific implications are:

  1. Encourage and provide clothing care and repair experiences for youth, beginning with young members.
  2. Continue to include clothing care and repair experiences in 4-H clothing projects and expand by incorporating family clothing care experiences, especially for older youth.
  3. Relate project offerings and learning experiences to recycling and environmental responsibility.
  4. Expand economic education experiences focusing on resource use and extending resources.
  5. Incorporate the study findings in 4-H advisor training.
  6. Develop promotion activities to increase continuing participation in 4-H clothing.

With increased concern for the environment, care and maintenance of clothing to extend wear life becomes more critical. Data suggest that teens who do not develop the necessary skills for clothing maintenance are likely to discard clothing needing repairs. Because school and community opportunities to develop the necessary skills to perform these tasks are declining, strengthening these learnings in 4-H clothing programs should be a priority.


A survey on laundering: Female head of household still in charge (1988). Cleanliness Fact. New York City: The Soap and Detergent Association, March/April.

Barnes, S.H. (1955). Preferences and practices in the purchase, use and care of clothing of 225 junior high school students in Zanesville, Ohio. Unpublished M.S. thesis, Ohio, Ohio State University.

Dillman, D.A. (1978). Mail and telephone surveys: The total design method. New York, New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Koester, A.M. & May, J.K. (1985). Profiles of adolescents' clothing practices: purchase, daily selection, and care. Adolescence, 20(77), 97-113.

Lawrence F., Tasker, G., & Babcock D. (1983). Time spent in housework by urban adolescents. Home Economics Research Journal, 12(2) 199-205.

Miller, L.E. & Smith, K.L. (1983). Handling non-response issues. Journal of Extension, 21(5), 45-50.

Sanik, M.M., & Bard, E.M., (1996, October). Laundry practices: Who makes a difference. In C. Garrison (Ed), Association of Home Equipment Educators National Technical Conference Proceedings. Utah: Salt Lake City, 39-55.