Reader Request: How to Care for Your Clothes

Reader Request: How to Care for Your Clothes

This is a weird one, but one that y’all have requested multiple times: how do I look after my clothes? I’ve alluded to it several times (including in this post about budgeting).  Today though, I’m going to tell you all about my top ways to care for your precious clothes, starting on the first day they become yours and moving through the four phases of life in your wardrobe.

ONE: when you buy your clothes

Make sure your clothes fit.  Fabric that’s under pressure is fabric that will stretch, lose its shape, collapse or sag.  Pants that are too long will drag across concrete and wear terribly.  Shoes that are too big will wear down more quickly as you slap them across the ground; shoes that are too small will stretch and wear. 

Look inside your clothes, and make sure that seams are strong.  Check buttons are well attached and that there are no signs of someone else being rough with it before you.  I’ve had buttons re-attached to vintage coats in order to make sure I don’t lose them, and I’ve had seams strengthened in order to make sure I don’t tear them (my forearms are apparently not in proportion).  Be thoughtful about what you’ve observed in your own clothes in the past and either don’t buy those problem items or head off the problem before it arises.

Buying something that’s in good shape and will fit you properly not only creates a better look the first time you wear it, it gives your clothing the best start possible.

If you’re buying vintage - especially vintage woollens - make sure to freeze it to kill any moth eggs.

TWO: when you wear your clothes

I am a big fan of the layer effect.  Wear a layer between you and your “tricky to wash” items, like polyester or silk.  Most of the time, you could wear that layer multiple times and protect multiple items from wear via washing.  Scroll to the bottom of the post for a quick tutorial on how to make your own washable dress shields!

You know how you buy those things that have those cloying tags that say “I’m delicate! Treat me with care”?  You can practically hear the simpering, but those tags exist for a reason.  Do not mix delicate and rough items – do not wear your fragile Deadly Ponies bag with a voluminous wool coat that will rub against the leather and slowly tear it apart.  Don’t wear white shoes or bags with a brand new pair of jeans.  Be sensible!

Finally, for the love of all that is holy – if you spill something on yourself, please deal with it immediately.

THREE: when you wash your clothes

Most of us really don’t need to wash our clothes as often as we are.  With that in mind: stop washing your clothes every time you wear them! You are wearing them out and damaging them.

As an alternative to washing your clothes:

  1. Air your clothes after you wear them.  I aim to hang things out for a day (just on the back of my bedroom door) before I pop them back in the wardrobe.  If you have an outdoor line, you might want to hang things out for an hour or two of sunshine and breezes.

  2. Lightly mist your woollens with a refreshing spray and hang them out overnight before you wear them.  You don’t need to buy a spray – most of them are just alcohol, purified water, and essential oils.

  3. Freeze them!  A couple of days in the freezer will kill the smell-inducing germs.  Just remember that smells in the freezer will equal smells in your clothes (says the woman who once made a vintage jumper smell like lamb and garlic sausages).

  4. Iron them.  A cotton tee that you’ve worn for light duties will look crisp again if you iron it or steam it – you don’t need to wash it to achieve that look.

  5. Spot clean.  We’ve all spilled all sorts of things in our time, and unless you’ve had an absolute disaster, you should just be able to wash the small area that is now the colour of coffee.  Wash it in your sink, hang it out overnight, success.

The other thing that changed my life, clothes-care-wise, was buying a steamer.  It is ideal for more delicate or floaty fabrics, where using an iron to press out the creases is just too intense.  Irons are great when you are pressing in creases or hems or suchlike, or for heavier fabrics like denim (even with heavily creased linen) but the steamer is the real star. 

FOUR: when you store your clothes

For day to day, the most important thing is to give your clothes space to breathe.  I am so guilty of this – cramming too many things on the rail or in the drawer – but they manage better (and need less ironing) if you give them freedom of movement.

It’s springtime now, which means I feel the itch to get out all my light summer tops from the suitcase under my bed, and put away all my woollens and heavy coats.  This is prime clothes-care time: just means a bit more admin but means a lot more life in your clothes.

Obviously, everything must be clean and dry before you put it away.  Residual oils on your clothes will fester away while everything is in the box, which will attract bugs and put you at risk of stains and degraded fabric.  Check all your buttons and hems and things now – it’s like Christmas when you open up the storage box, but not if things need mending.

Don’t store your clothes in plastic boxes!  They leach nasty gases for a surprisingly long time, which will make your clothes stink and potentially damage them (particularly more delicate items).  If you only have a plastic box, and you are reading this with horror/frustration, try leaving the lid ajar.

Clean your shoes and boots and feed them with leather conditioner before you put them away.  Leather will dry out if it’s unworn.  Make sure all your soles and heels are repaired so they’re ready to roll next winter.

DIY some dress shields

You will need: fabric, scissors, needle and thread or a sewing machine, an iron.

Cut out four squares of a light, washable and breathable fabric (like cotton muslin, as pictured). I’d recommend you make yours out of fabric that isn’t patterned, so it won’t show through any lighter fabrics. It needs to be soft so it won’t rub or chafe.

Cut all four pieces at once to create four identical ovals. I cut around the perimeter of my hand to get approximately the right size.

Sew two pieces to each other, right sides together if your fabric has noticeable sides. Leave a gap in your stitching and use this to turn your ovals inside out, so all the stitching is hidden on the inside.

Iron the ovals flat, then quickly stitch close the gap you left. At this point, you have dress shields. You can safety pin these to the inside of sleeves (bridging the seam that sits in your armpit) and you are good to go. This is my preferred approach.

OR, you can go one step further and add ribbons to the top. Cut long pieces of your fabric on the diagonal, for stretch. They should be about two inches wide. Sew the two long sides together, then trim the excess and turn your long tubes inside out (to hide all the sewing on the inside).

Stitch your ribbons on at approximately 10 and 2. These tie around your arm, while the bottom edge tucks into your bra. You can also use elastic around your arm. I don’t particularly like either of these methods, but they’re handy if you can’t (or don’t want) to pin something to your clothing.