Last week I wrote a rather lengthy article focusing on my belief that when times aren’t so good, people tend to go for the classics. When every cent counts, a wardrobe based on longevity and timeless style often wins out over flash and of-the-moment fashion.
Focusing on the classics, like a well cut single-breasted grey suit, is a smart investment that will last for years and fit the bill for most any business situation.
But investing in classic suits, solid dress shirts, dressy chinos and quality footwear is only half the battle. The other half is properly looking after your pricey investments. Keeping your clothes in great shape takes a little work but that effort will keep everything in runway shape for a long time. Having Ralph Lauren’s closet (above) sure doesn’t hurt either.
Though the natural aging of fabric and leather and wearing down of cuffs and elbows are normal, and often quite charming, these inevitabilities should be held off as long as possible. Doing so allows your possessions to keep their appeal while still developing the character that makes you want to keep them around for years to come.
Here are a few basics that will help your cherished clothes last longer while still looking great.
Hang up you clothing and invest in sturdy wood hangers. Using a solid and well sized hanger (suit hangers for suits, slimmer hangers for shirts) will add years to your clothing and help protect your garments from snags, wrinkles and stains.
Wood hangers only – no arguing
When you get home after a long day at work, change right away and either hang up your work clothes or toss them in the laundry/dry cleaning bin. Make a point to keep you closet in order too, so no crowding. Garments need room to breathe and space to air out. In most cases, wrinkles will work themselves out in between wearings. An impromptu steaming can help too – just hang your day’s outfit next to the shower.
Dry Cleaning v. Brushing
Most suits and sport coats only need to be dry-cleaned once a year. Delicate fabrics and linens may need more attention, but on the whole brushing your garments with a clothing brush will remove most dust and dirt. Spot cleaning can address minor stains and help avoid unnecessary trips to the cleaners. If your suit is looking a little too lived in, go ahead and take it in for a pressing only. It will look refreshed without being unnecessarily exposed to damaging dry cleaning chemicals.
Though some people insist on dry cleaning their dress shirts, I prefer to launder them at home. When it comes to home laundering, cold water is usually best but always look for the care tag first. Iron on a slightly cooler setting and lay off the starch.
If you are still compelled to use it, starch only those areas that can get a little unruly, like the cuffs, collars and plackets. If you regularly send your shirts off to the cleaners, pass on the starch there as well. Commercial presses do a fine job of working out wrinkles without the need for extra chemicals.
Nowhere else does the concept of “investment clothing” hold forth than with footwear. A good pair of quality business shoes can easily cost several hundred dollars. Custom shoes quickly reach into the thousands. Though it can be a big financial hit up front, good shoes will always being in style and when properly cared for, can last a lifetime. Though they may seem an extravagance (and for many of us they are), custom shoes in addition to looking great, will help keep your feet healthy. So as a general rule, keep your footwear in top notch shape.
In addition to protecting your dress shoes’ leather by keeping them polished, make sure to always use shoe trees. There are many variations, but the best are full-sized and made from untreated cedar. The shoe tree will absorb moisture and help maintain your shoe’s shape. Fancy varnished trees are fine too – the kind with heavy brass knobs or pull rings – in fact I’m looking for some myself.
Be careful to not overuse your good shoes. Don’t wear the same pair day after day; they need to rest and dry out. At the end of the day, give your shoes a quick brush down, insert the trees, and give them a few days off. Should you get stuck in a rainstorm or have to tramp through snow, do not try to dry out your shoes quickly; it can permanently damage your fine footwear. Stuff them with newspaper, set them in a room-temperature place and leave them alone. Change the paper if it gets damp but don’t rush the process. Also, make sure to brush off road salts or dirt immediately. Once the leather has air dried, insert your shoes trees and give them a good polish and waxing to recondition the leather.
In fact, splurge every now and then for a really good shoe shine. My favorite stand is in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station – right by Amtrak’s F Gate. Those guys are the best.
Taking care of your clothing should not been seen as a chore; quite the opposite in fact. To me, looking after my clothes is a pleasure and since I put real thought into my wardrobe, taking care of it all is a happy ritual.