There are smart reasons to invest in the highest quality clothing you can afford:
You’ll present a more polished and successful image.
(Science tells us that people form a near-indelible opinion about us within seven seconds of seeing us.) Appearance not only counts, it counts a LOT.
You’ll be more comfortable.
Fine clothing generally wears better; superior materials and construction techniques lend more flexibility and resilience than you’ll find in many factory-produced garments.
It’s a lasting investment.
Given proper care, better clothing often looks and wears well many years after lower-quality garments are faded and shabby. It’s not unusual in old-money families to find a young man wearing his father’s hand-me-down bespoke English suits and bench-made Italian shoes.
Taking proper care of your better garments can help you get maximum return on your clothing investment, as well as saving you the time and trouble of having to repair or replace garments as often.
Here are a dozen secrets (plus a bonus) that we’ve learned in four decades of selling and caring for fine clothing that will help you get the most from your wardrobe.
One: To Clean or Not to Clean?
Excessive dry-cleaning and machine washing of clothing wears it out sooner than it should. Garments that look and smell fresh may be hung for wearing again without need for washing. You’ll not only save the garments, you’ll save on laundry products and wear and tear on your washing machine by reusing unsoiled clothes.
Brush your jackets and trousers to remove dirt and food before they have a chance to sink in and damage the fabric or attract insects such as wool-eating moths. Doing this regularly can double or triple the time between trips to the cleaners and cut your costs accordingly. Brush and air out your suits, sport coats and slacks and they’ll be good to go in 24 hours.
Two: Stain, Stain Go Away
Wet stains with plain or carbonated water (an ice cube also works.) Organic stains from animal proteins (butter, blood, fat, etc.) can set in permanently if you use hot water, so use lukewarm or cool water for those. Stains like dirt and synthetic oils can be treated with warm or hot water as you desire.
Dab the water onto the fabric behind the stain, and set it stain-down on a paper towel or clean, absorbent cloth — so the stain substance is leeched off the surface of the cloth, rather than soaking deeper into it. If the stain is deep-set or large, immerse the whole item in room-temperature water for up to a day to loosen the stain.
Three: A Stitch in Time
Old Ben Franklin knew what he was talking about. You should repair small clothing problems right away before they turn into XL clothing problems. A few stitches now to repair a small tear in a jacket lining is better than having to sew an entire seam later – and it’s certainly less expensive than replacing the item if it becomes too damaged to mend.
Those slacks that are too tight in the seat? Get a competent tailor to let them out an inch or two before the fabric splits and can’t be repaired. Five minutes securing that loose coat button today could save you losing it tomorrow and spending an hour searching for a matching button to replace it.
Four: Machine Washing
First off: Read the garment’s care label. Like asking for highway directions, most guys simply won’t. If you do, though, the manufacturer will tell you exactly how you should care for the clothing.
Most clothes labeled as “delicate,” “dry clean,” or “hand wash” (but not “dry clean ONLY” or “hand wash ONLY”) can be cleaned safely in a washing machine, if you’re careful.
Use a gentle wash cycle. If cycles are listed in terms of heat and length, use “cool” or “warm/cold” or similar setting (not cold and never hot) and a short wash cycle. Separate colors from whites. Pure soap with a handful of baking soda is a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to chlorine bleach.
Download a free guide to translating care label symbols here.
Five: Hand Washing
For delicates such as silk, cashmere and other knits, hand washing is prescribed. It’s not difficult or very time-consuming – 30 minutes a week should probably do it. Fill a large, clean basin or sink with lukewarm water. Stir in a mild detergent (not a “detergent soap” — use plain detergent.) Gently submerge your garments and swish them around slowly from side to side for about five minutes.
Don’t scrub, even at stains, and don’t try to cram in too much at once. You want plenty of water moving around and through the fabric. Change out the water after each piece, especially if you’re washing badly soiled garments.
Dryers wear out your clothes and fade their colors. Drying in sunlight or in open air is a much healthier way – for you and your clothing. Sturdier fabrics like cottons can be hung from a clothesline or drying rack but delicate fabrics should be dried lying flat.
If you absolutely must use a dryer, choose the warm setting and clean the lint filter after each load. If the temperature is too hot, your clothes will come out wrinkled. If your dryer has a delicate cycle use it.
Seven: Iron, Man
It would be beyond our scope here to give lessons on how to iron. The fact is, though, everyone would profit from knowing the basics of ironing clothing, at least enough to handle daily touch-ups.
There are plenty of resources available on the Internet to teach you the basics of using an iron. Here are a few we like:
Ironing dress shirts:
How to iron polo shirts:
Ironing shirts and slacks:
Eight: Or Steam Instead
Steaming is often the go-to wrinkle-removal strategy of fashion and clothing professionals.
Whether using a professional steaming machine or an iron with this function, steaming is an excellent way for you too to remove wrinkles from fabrics without the risk of scorching or burns that come with regular ironing.
In a pinch, you can hang wrinkled clothing in a closed bathroom while you run a hot shower for 15 minutes or even use a tea kettle for steaming small areas.
However, steam is not effective on cotton; it’s almost impossible to get a crisp look when steaming a cotton shirt. Take care when steaming a wool jacket or other pieces of clothing that are shaped – it is easy to create a billowed look at the seams where the fabrics connect.
Nine: Get Better Hang-Ups
Remove clothes from the dryer and hang them up immediately. Ditch the wire hangers, they can cause damage and creases, especially with woolens. Use wood or plastic shirt hangers (at least ¼ inch thick) and wood suit hangers (at least 1-inch thick at the shoulders.)
Button the top button on shirts. Slacks should go on special pants hangers – preferably ones that let them hang full-length. Smooth the fabric with your hand, to even out any wrinkles.
To avoid fold creases spoiling the line of clothes that are not suitable for hanging, gently roll them instead. Sweaters should be folded and placed in drawers, on shelves, or in storage boxes.
Ten: Wool protection
It’s important that before storing and sealing your wool clothing you have it professionally cleaned. This will effectively kill moth eggs. (A natural way: Seal clothing in plastic bags, put in freezer for 72 hours.)
In closets and drawers, moth balls are a commonly used insect deterrent. There are natural alternatives to moth balls such as cedar, lavender, rosemary, cloves, and other aromatic repellants. These are somewhat less effective than moth balls and need to be replaced and refreshed regularly. They do have the benefit of not leaving your clothing with an eye-watering chemical aroma though.
Eleven: Cotton Only SEEMS Indestructible
Moth won’t go after your cotton garments. Cotton clothing can still be ruined though if it’s exposed to prolonged moist conditions – mildew will literally dissolve the fibers. Heavy starching of cotton shirts and chinos can also lead to premature fabric breakdown.
Like fine wine, your clothing and footwear will last longer if regularly stored in a place that is cool, dry, clean and dark. Doing so will help retard bacterial growth, discourage insect infestation, and prevent sunlight damage and color shifting. If clothing is going to be hung for more than a few weeks without being worn, covering it with a breathable garment bag to prevent dust and dust mites is a smart idea.
Twelve: Far from the Mangling Crowd
Crowding clothing into closets will cause them to wrinkle and possibly slip off hangers and fall in a heap on the floor. Aim to maintain at least ½ inch between garments in your closet for ventilation and ease of selection.
Very few of us have the luxury of massive walk-in Celebrity Cribs closets with endless storage space. The best way to deal with limited closet, shelf and drawer space is to cycle your clothing. Store near at hand the clothing and accessories you need for the next month or so. Everything else should be folded, packed and stored away until needed.
As the seasons turn, simply rotate in the garments you’ll be wearing in the next month and store the clothes you’ve been wearing. (Store them clean, remember.)
Bonus Tip: Don’t Sweat a Shrunken Sweater
A selection of fine sweaters can be a practical and stylish component of any cold-weather wardrobe (“festive” Christmas sweaters excluded.) The best sweaters – cashmere, silk, Merino and other quality wools – can serve you for decades if treated like the worthy assets they are.
If you accidentally shrink your favorite crewneck or cardigan, you may be able to save it if it is still damp. Lay it out flat on a clean surface and smooth it into shape. Then, take an end in each hand and give the sweater a gentle, slow tug along the line of the weave.
Go slowly, testing the material for give and working as evenly as you can. The seams and any detailing may have shrunk more or be more prone to breakage – stretch these very gently at first.
If the day is warm and you can be at home, you may be able to rescue sweaters which have shrunk badly if you wear them while drying, gently tugging and smoothing them to your shape.
There you have it, a Clothier’s Dozen secrets for looking sharp and protecting your wardrobe investment picked up over decades in the menswear business. Now it’s your turn. What great tips can you share that will help the rest of us get the most from our clothing?