Millennials have managed to get a pretty bad rap in the grown-up department -- they've landed a reputation for being "lazy," "selfish" and "entitled." A new study won't help their case: Turns out, Millennials can't take care of their clothes, either.
After surveying 502 women, researchers at the University of Missouri found that Baby Boomers reported a greater ability to sew, hem, repair buttons and clean laundry, while those in the 18 to 33 age range reported significantly lower mastery of these basic maintenance skills. Pamela Norum, a professor in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management and the lead researcher for the study, told The Huffington Post that part of her motivation to dig into this age discrepancy was personal.
"One day when my daughter, who's in her 20s, said to me, 'Mom, can I take my pants to a tailor to have the button sewn on?' I thought, 'Are you kidding me?'" Norum said. "That's terrible -- I really let her down."
Norum said she herself had been taught how to sew by watching her mother, who was always sewing in the house. But Norum said her own kids had never seen their mother sew -- the modern-day demands of work, after-school activities and classroom budget cuts had left her children's generation in the dark about clothing care and other tasks that used to be common knowledge.
For her study, Norum worked with a market research firm to survey a nationally representative panel of women who had purchased clothing within the last year. She chose to work with women because they spend more money on clothes than men, and they often buy clothing for themselves, their husbands and their children. Plus, data from the American Time Use Survey shows that it's women who continue to take on the brunt of the housework, which includes laundering and repairing clothes. (Fortunately, public discourse seems to be shifting this conversation a bit.)
After analyzing the self-reported results, Norum found that skills in sewing, hemming, button repair and general laundry knowledge gradually decreased with each generation after the Baby Boomers, with Millennials the weakest of the bunch when it came to those skills.
"I don't like to say that it's somebody’s fault," Norum said. "There just wasn't the same exposure and value placed on them as there had been in prior generations."
Aside from the home, schools have also reduced their focus on clothing maintenance skills, since budget cuts have limited the scope of education. While there's been a recent resurgence in Family and Consumer Sciences (aka "home ec") coursework, the emphasis on basic life skills -- like sewing, cooking and managing personal finances -- hasn't been a nationwide priority for schools. And it probably won't be any time soon, Norum said.
"I would say, now, if Millennials or any consumers want to maintain a more sustainable lifestyle and they miss those skills somewhere along the way, its going to be up to them to figure out how to get them," she said.
Norum recommended that those interested should watch online videos and go to sites like Pinterest for inspiration on upcycling and repurposing textiles. With textiles making up 5.7 percent of solid municipal waste in the US in 2012, moving towards sustainable clothing practices could certainly boost the Millennials' reputation. Luckily, Norum doesn't think this is out of the realm of possibility.
"Young people are really creative and innovative about getting things done in different ways than we older consumers might have traditionally done," she said.