Have you ever noticed just how fast clothing falls apart?
I've got a small farm, and I go through barn clothes at top speed. A t-shirt becomes stained, snagged and ratty looking in a summer. After the Apocalypse, how long before for a person's clothing would be reduced to rags?
Not that long - think about this:
Jenny Doe is on the road, looking for her family. She carries a light pack of clothing...maybe enough for a week. That's seven pairs of underwear, seven pairs of socks, three bras, four t-shirts, three tank tops, two pairs of jean shorts and two pairs of full-length jeans. She wears a set of flip-flops and packs a pair of running shoes.
For the purpose of this example she's lost so much body fat that she no longer has her period. (Yes, this happens.) This extends the life of her wardrobe. Otherwise this example will become even more complicated, so we'll keep it simple.
I know from my childhood that a pair of flip-flops will last about 2 months of constant wear. The underwear might last 4 months, with minor repairs. The bras might last 6 months.
The t-shirts will become stained in a matter of days. Then as she tries to clean out the stains, thin patches will develop. In say, 3 months threads will begin to break, she'll have to start patching holes and seams, for sure, in 4 months.
Let's say the shorts last 4 months - but show the wear in frayed edges, side seams, occasional tears and thinning fabric. This is assuming the clothing was of good quality to begin with, and doesn't get any rips or tears for the first 6 weeks. In the Apocalypse she'll be doing a lot of hiding in nasty places, ducking into weeds or woods and occasional fights or flights. All her clothing will show considerable wear in a matter of weeks.
If our Jenny learned a bit about sewing, she'll be in better shape for a short period of time. This means she'll have to take time from traveling to patch and re-seam her clothing. It can't be done by firelight, you need daylight. If you don't believe me, try threading a needle by candlelight.
My experience with clothing tells me that Jenny will be in rags in 4 months, regardless. So she'll need a completely new set of clothes every season.
Where is this clothing going to come from?
No one is making new clothing. The stores will be completely picked over for whichever season the Apocalypse hit - so if it hits in summer - there will be no winter clothing on the shelves. I doubt there will be anything left in in stores after the first six months, in a year, there will be nothing left.
Cotton is the most comfortable fabric, but it rots if it is worn while wet and dirty. Think about a body that gets washed maybe once ever couple of days - and the amount of sweat that body produces from a day of hiking/hiding/fleeing/fighting. Then bacteria start growing, producing acidic waste to add to the acidic sweat. Say goodbye to cloth covering armpits, the inner thighs, socks and your underwear.
Synthetic fabric like nylon has a long wear-life than cotton. The problem with nylon is that it shreds at stress-points. The very threads that hold it together eventually shred the seams.
It's a simple one - after the first year, you won't be able to tell the zombies from the living from a distance. The zombies won't care if they're naked, but living humans are going to have trouble surviving without proper clothing.
Unless our Jenny can find a treadle sewing machine and a fabric store, she's gonna be in big trouble in Year 2. She can't carry a treadle sewing machine in her backpack. She's going to need sewing thread, scissors and a supply of needles in order to keep from being naked...that is if she learned how to sew before the Apocalypse.
There are time-tested fabrics that CAN hold up under conditions that will reduce cotton to thread-bare shreds, these are linen and wool. Both of which can be found in any climate. Each has advantages for different seasons.
Our ancestors had extremely limited wardrobes. In the Dark Ages it was customary for a surf to have only two or three changes of clothing. They might have a set of 'finery' for special occasions. Servants were giving a suit of clothing once a year as part of their pay. This clothing would be handed down from the gentry's family. This clothing would be either linen or wool.
Linen is a must-have for underclothes. The more it's washed, the more it's worn, the softer it gets. It stains easily, but during a burning hot summer there's nothing like it. Made from flax, in a process that involves numerous steps, linen thread can be hand spun and woven in to lengths of cloth.
Wool is another fiber tough enough to survive the post-apocalyptic lifestyle. The drawback with it - many people born in modern times are allergic to the lanolin in it. It will make them itch like crazy. Itching means scratching, which leads to sores, open wounds, infection, blood poisoning, gangrene...and death.
Wool is sheared from the back of sheep. The dirt encrusted, stinking, lanolin dripping fleece was washed (several times) carded, spun, dyed and woven into lengths of cloth, or pounded into felt before it was cut or knitted into clothing.
Leather - the great cop-out.
Leather isn't the all-weather solution to the clothing dilemma. Leather takes more time, special chemicals and skill to tan than most people realize. Not only that, but sewing together a leather garment takes special needles, threads and cutting skills. Then there's the stench...it can carry for MILES.
When leather gets wet, it needs to be treated with oil (like neatsfoot oil) or it will dry as stiff as a dog chew. Anybody want to wear a dog chew while hiking for miles every day?
All these fabrics require something our Jenny doesn't have: a safe place to stay while she grows the flax, or raises the sheep, or tans the leather. Then she's got to have enough to eat for herself and her critters. Not likely while she's on the run from marauders or zombies.
Only those who have safe shelter are going to wear anything better than layers of rags post-apocalypse.
What to wear to the Zombie Apocalypse:
Part II - Footware Jimmi Choo isn't coming to visit.