How to Build Your Wardrobe: Part IV – Protecting, Storing, and Cleaning your Clothing

by Antonio on July 23, 2010 · 26 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style

Introduction

First in How to Build Your Wardrobe Part I we listed the wardrobe basics for several different kinds of men.  Next in How to Build Your Wardrobe Part II we went over these basic items in more detail. In How to Build Your Wardrobe Part III we covered hats and other accessories.  In this final installment of the wardrobe series, we’ll cover how to maintain and protect your investment.

Maintaining a Wardrobe in 2010

We live in a disposable society full of waste, one marked by single-use plastic water bottles and single-use plastic grocery bags. It’s little wonder that this way of doing business has spread to the clothing industry; instead of purchasing clothes whose looks improve over a decade, we select items based on price alone, items built with shoddy workmanship and poor quality materials.  After a year when they wear out (as they were made to), we throw them away, the logic being it’s cheaper to buy new than repair the old.

I challenge this way of thinking, and offer an alternative.  When building your wardrobe, invest in quality items that may initially be more expensive (although not always– click here for dressing sharp on less than $200), but over the long run are a better investment.  A more expensive piece of clothing that lasts for decades will end up costing less than a cheaper item that quickly wears out and must be replaced over and over again.

Maintaining quality clothing and footwear requires care, but the reward is a personal presentation that gets better with time.  Imagine shoes that get more comfortable and look better every year you own them – shoes that you wear at your daughter’s baptism and two decades later at her wedding.

This article is about the care required to maintain your clothing and footwear for decades.

Why Maintain and Protect Your Wardrobe?

1.  Your clothing will look better.
Good clothing that is properly maintained always looks better than more expensive clothing that is neglected.  The shine of a pair of buffed shoes, the complimentary fit of tailored trousers, and the sharp collar points of a freshly pressed dress shirt are reflections of well maintained clothing.

2.  Your clothing will last longer.
Even quality clothing will fall apart if abused; sadly we are so used to menswear being disposable that the idea of ironing, brushing, and repairing our clothing is a foreign concept to many of us.  The simple fact is this: well made garments can last for decades.  Recently the Duke of Windsor’s wardrobe was sold at auction.  More amazing than the fact that his clothing was still wearable (despite much of it being 70 years old) was the way a person could see how a former King of England was so attached to his favorite shirts that he repaired them with material cut from his own shirt tails to ensure the fabrics matched.

 

3.  It will save you money.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  All it takes is a few moths to do hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of damage to your fine woolen clothing.  Although re-weaving can in some cases repair holes up to one inch in diameter, why go through this painfully expensive process when proper preparation before packing can eliminate the risk of your suits being eaten?  Protecting your wardrobe costs much less than having to buy replacement clothing every few years.

4.  It instills discipline.
Proper wardrobe maintenance requires discipline; it’s ongoing and requires us to carve time out of our busy schedules to address it.  Like servicing your automobile, tending to your home, and maintaining a strong relationship, the discipline required to properly and consistently maintain your wardrobe is a small reflection of the larger way in which you live your life.

Day to Day Maintenance

Brushing Your Suit Jackets and Trousers
All it takes is 30 seconds and a clean brush with stiff bristles to clean your clothes after each wearing.  Brushing your suit jacket and trousers after each wear is important because it removes the dirt and food that has accumulated on the outer layers before they have the chance to settle into the fabric.  Once this happens, the fabric can be damaged as the food bits decompose and/or attract insects.  A huge upside to brushing your clothing is that it can double to triple the time between visits to the cleaners – simply brush and air out and you’ll be ready to go in a 24 hours.

Mens Suit Jacket Brushing

Brushing a Men’s Jacket

Polishing and Protecting Your Footwear
We’ve already written about this extensively – Visit the classic AOM articles “How to shine your shoes” and “How to waterproof your shoes.

Minor Garment Repairs & Alterations
Most large problems start off as small ones; it’s our lack of immediate action that leads to these issues escalating.  Are your trousers too tight in the backside?  You’ll very likely split the seam before you lose the weight.  Best to have the trousers opened up an inch – they’ll look and feel better.  Does that suit jacket button look like it’s going to fall off? Cut the string and repair it tonight; once it falls off and you lose the button, you’ll either spend hours trying to match it or spend money on an entirely new set.

A Man Needs to Know How to Iron His Clothing
I learned the fine art of ironing while an officer candidate at OCS; every night, during our “sleep time,” we’d spend hours preparing for inspections which meant uniforms had to be crisp, clean, and perfectly pressed.  Although non-iron fabrics are quite popular, especially with traveling businessmen, they fail to compare with the look and feel of freshly pressed 100% cotton shirts.  Ironing is what gives a shirt its body and character; the sharp creases at the collar, the perfectly pressed French cuffs, and the smooth drape of a perfectly pressed back signal attention to detail. Here’s how to iron a dress shirt properly.

Steaming – Know What You Are Doing
Steaming, whether using a professional steaming machine or an iron with this built-in function, is an excellent way to quickly remove wrinkles from delicate fabrics.  Unlike ironing, there is less chance you’ll damage the fabric as you do not touch it with hot metal.  However, steam is not as effective on cotton for this very reason, and it’s almost impossible to get a crisp look when steaming a cotton shirt. Also, great care should be taken when steaming a wool jacket or other pieces of clothing that are shaped; it’s very easy to blow out seams and create a billowed look where the fabrics connect.

 

How to Properly Store Men’s Clothing & Shoes

General Guidance & Environment
Try to store your clothing and footwear in a cool, dry, clean, and dark environment.  All four of these factors are important to retard bacterial growth, discourage insect infestation, and prevent UV damage and color fading.  If clothing is going to be hung for more than 1 month without being worn, consider placing it in a breathable garment bag to prevent dust accumulation.

Hangers
As Washington D.C. image consultant Grant Harris likes to say, “Wire hanger are useful when you lock your keys in your car – not in your closet.”  His point is wire hangers can permanently damage your clothing, especially woolens as they create unsightly creases that are very difficult to remove.  Spend a little extra and purchase handsome wood shirt hangers (at least ¼ inch thick) and wood suit hangers (at least 1+ inch thick at the shoulders).  In the case of the suit hangers, you’ll spend at least $5 to $20 each, but this is a small price to pay to properly hang a $500+ jacket.

Suit Hanger

A proper Suit Hanger – Photo courtesy The Hanger Project

Shoe Trees
Wooden shoe trees should be a mandatory purchase for any man who wants to get more than a couple years out of his leather shoes.  They maintain the shape of the shoe and prevent the leather from warping in a way that would promote premature cracking.  They also absorb excess moisture from the soles and leather.

Wool Protection – Moth Balls, Cedar, Lavender and a Tight Seal
Wool is a luxury fabric with amazing properties and a long history of use in society; unfortunately, it’s expensive and highly susceptible to damage if not cleaned and stored properly.  It’s important that before storing and sealing your wool clothing you have it professionally cleaned.  Although I’m not a fan of the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process, they do kill the microscopic insect eggs that have potentially been laid on your jacket.  If you have a large freezer that’s not in use, it’s also possible to kill any eggs by vacuum sealing the clothing and then freezing it for 72 hours.

Moth balls are a commonly used insect deterrent.  However, they are a harsh option as they rely on a vacuum seal that traps in toxic fumes, and they often leave a bad smell on clothing.  I personally prefer natural alternatives to moth balls such as cedar, lavender, rosemary, cloves, and other aromatic repellants.  Although they are somewhat less effective than moth balls and need to be replaced and refreshed, these choices do not contain paradichlorobenzene.

Finally, be careful with mixing un-cleaned wool with dry cleaned wool – the dry cleaning process only kills eggs on the garment; it provides no protection days after the cleaning. Hence one infested wool cap thrown on top of a stack of wool suits to be sealed for the summer can lead to disaster.

Cotton Protection – Dry & Cool & Breathable
With cotton, you have little to worry about when it comes to moths.  However, cotton can still be permanently damaged if it’s exposed to moist conditions for prolonged periods – mildew will literally digest the cellulose fibers.  Also, because of its durable reputation, we often overexpose the fabric to alkaline bleaches or do not immediately treat acidic stains such as juices.  Remember cotton is tough, but not indestructible!

 

Organizing Your Closet – Dealing with Limited Space
The space a man has for his belongings depends on his home’s size, age, and location.  Personally, I have a tiny amount of closet space; my 110 year old Victorian house was designed with a master bedroom closet that allows 6 feet of hanger space.  My wife is kind enough to give me 18 inches of that.  As a clothier how do I deal with such limited space?

The key to dealing with limited space is to rotate your clothing.  If you’re not going to wear it in the next month, fold it, pack it, mark it, and store it.  By doing this, I have at my fingertips only the clothing I need; when the weather begins to turn I’ll simply rotate to jackets and shirts more appropriate to the season.  What you want to avoid is an overstuffed closet. As a rule of thumb I try to maintain at least 1/2 inch between garments for airflow and ease of selection.

Cleaning Men’s Clothing – Cleaning Methods That Can Extend the Life of Your Garments.

 

Hand Washing
Just because you own a washing machine, this doesn’t mean you have to use it every time you get a small coffee stain on your favorite dress shirt.  Consider simply hand washing the garment in a small tub of water. Let it sit for a few minutes and apply a concentrated amount of detergent to the stained areas and spot clean.  Rinse and wring.

Hang Dry
Before the days of the dryer, there was the clothesline.  And although I love how the dryer makes the necks of my undershirts return to their original size, I do not expose my quality clothing to the extreme heat and tumbling as a dryer slowly destroys clothing (Where do you think all that lint comes from?  Yes, that is your clothing being torn apart, bit by bit).   Instead, I simply pin them on a clothesline in my basement, and within hours the shirts are dry.  Need the shirts sooner?  Simply iron the shirt while it’s still moist and turn off the iron’s steam function – use the shirts own moisture to better press the cotton.

Specialty Cleaners
Not all detergents and cleaners are created equal.   Although detergents will remove most stains, they are ill equipped to handle persistent or hard set stains such as armpit discoloring caused by antiperspirants.  It’s worth trying a variety of cleaners before you throw away that white dress shirt – detergent boosters such as Oxiclean or specialty cleaners such as sweat stain removers are viable options and may just save your favorite piece of clothing.  Beware of overdoing it though – I once tried soaking a shirt in a 50% concentration of bleach overnight hoping to remove the stain.  Instead I was left with half a shirt.

A Man’s Wardrobe Series – Conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Building Your Wardrobe series – Brett and I felt there wasn’t much quality information out there on the web concerning the specifics of building a wardrobe.  Ten-thousand words later, we hope these articles have helped change that.  Would you like to learn more?  Please ask in the comments below or contact me!
_______________
How to Build Your Wardrobe: Part I 
How to Build Your Wardrobe: Part II – Men’s Clothing Specifics
How to Build Your Wardrobe: Part III – Men’s Hats, Watches, and Other Accessories
How to Build Your Wardrobe: Part IV – Protecting, Storing, and Cleaning Your Clothing

Written by
Antonio Centeno
President, A Tailored Suit
Articles on Mens Suits – Sport Jackets – Blazers – Dress Shirts
Join our Facebook Page & Win Custom Clothing

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bryan July 23, 2010 at 1:33 am

I would love to hear your thoughts on storing and cleaning ties. Also, any suggestions for keeping cufflinks, watches and pocket squares in top shape?

2 James J. July 23, 2010 at 2:00 am

Great article. I really learned a lot.

Moth balls really are terrible. I associate them with my grandparents, because it seems like only older folks use them. It’s cedar all the way.

I’d love to see an article about ironing and how to do it properly and efficiently. It takes me half an hour to iron one dress shirt and it still doesn’t look very good.

3 Miles July 23, 2010 at 3:06 am

An excellent series of articles. Thank you.

Like Bryan, I too would appreciate a word on the proper care of ties and pocket squares.

4 Greg M July 23, 2010 at 4:17 am

I have an evening routine after work that involves proper daily maintenance and storage of my clothing when I arrive home from work. I give my shoes a once over, put away my accessories (tie, pocket square, cuff links, knife, spare change, keys) in their proper place and hang and brush my suit. It is a very relaxing way to start the evening and my sons (4 and 2) love to sit in the chair and watch “Dad’s time” while we talk about the events of the day.
When I’m done, everything is in its proper place and ready for the next day so I won’t miss the train by looking all over the house for what I put where.

5 Jimmm July 23, 2010 at 6:20 am

Bravo, gents, on a fine series. A great reference!

6 austinklee July 23, 2010 at 8:17 am

I used to work in a professional office setting and had my wardrobe set accordingly, however, I changed careers in late 2009 and now am in a Casual Creative atmosphere. I was really hoping that you guys would post some examples of the clothes from the list you provided in Part 1.

7 Brucifer July 23, 2010 at 11:10 am

This has been an excellent series. Too many men, especially these days, never learned this stuff from their fathers. And too many men these days have their Mothers or GFs take care of their laundry , etc. for them, so don’t know squat when left to their own devices. For too many men, their ‘wardrobe’ consists of jeans, T-shirts, sneakers and an ubiquitous ballcap….. and they *still* can’t even take care of those properly without female guidance. My mother thankfully taught me how to do laundry and cook. My father taught me how to shine shoes and to tie a tie. (and not much else, alas) My Drill Sgt. taught me how to put my clothes away in a neat, proficient and military manner … and to give him 20 when I failed to meet his expectation. The rest; dry cleaning, storage, wardrobe choices, etc., I had to pick up piecemeal. I wish this series (and AOM) was around when I was younger. Perhaps a book should come out on this, Brett?

8 Brett July 23, 2010 at 11:56 am

What KIND of brush would you recommend for brushing suits?

9 Antonio July 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm

@Bryan – Have quality ties cleaned professionally – if the cleaning costs more than the tie, consider buying higher quality ties:) As for storage, either hang them on a tie rack or roll them and place them in a drawer than protects the silk from snagging on anything. This can be done on a $10 budget or $1000 custom tie drawer.

As for storing your cufflinks and watches, I use my old Military Jewelry Box – http://www.marineshop.net/browse.cfm/jewelry-box-with-brass-top-marine-corps-emblem/4,6904.html I’m sure any simple and handsome wooden box will do.

Pocket squares can be folded twice into squares, and stored either with your ties or in a a drawer that you divide into smaller section – again making sure there are no sharp edges to tear or catch the silk or cotton

@James J. – We’ll work on the ironing article!

@Miles – Thank you Sir!

@Greg – Great advice – balancing what’s important and sharing it with the next generation.

@Jimmm – Thank you Sir!

@AustinKLee – Please let me know what you’d like to see – I have about 1000 images I still need to edit and post on my site and can try to find what you’re looking for quickly.

@Brucifer – Always great to see our comments sir – thank you for the encouragement and great advice!

@Brett – Suit brushes are hard to find as most are not marketed as “suit brushes”. I like buying vintage brushes off Ebay (very decorative, ultra cheap), but even an unused shoe brush you dedicate to your jacket will work OK. The key is to have a stiff bristle – no metal though! Metal will tear the wool, you want something that will give resistance but not damage the jacket.

10 Carson Chittom July 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I feel like an idiot—somehow it never occurred to me to just iron shirts while wet from the washing machine. I dislike the dryer (for exactly the reason mentioned in the article; well, that and why spend money you don’t have to?), but our only alternative for a clothesline would be outside (no space inside the house, and no basements in this area), which isn’t acceptable due to the high number of pollen allergies my family has.

Many thanks for the pointers!

11 AustinKLee July 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm

@Antonio – Specifically what cut of Jeans looks smart and not slouchy, what fabric for sport coats to pair with jeans, what collar on a dress shirt to pair with jeans, and finally what shoes make jeans look great at work.

Thanks for the articles! Great stuff!

12 Adam Sell July 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Great article! Looks like the next one needs to be a man’s primer on ironing well.

13 Gary July 24, 2010 at 1:42 am

GREAT SERIES!!! LOVE IT!!!

These really are the lost arts that fathers don’t seem to be teaching their sons anymore…hopefully this will help to end the cycle of the ‘disposable attitude’…

14 Hunter July 24, 2010 at 10:26 am

Great series. What are your recommendations for fighting collar stains?

15 Kyle July 25, 2010 at 9:21 am

Great series. I especially found the “rotate the wardrobe” part to be a good protip. I’ve got a real issue with closet space. I have a generous amount of casual clothing right now, jackets for two seasons, and professional wear—that, on top of a huge amount of supplies and clothing the military gave me! Putting the out-of-season stuff into storage ought to help with that problem.

16 Derek L July 26, 2010 at 12:11 am

Antonio, my question refers to your first installment of this series. What do you consider a “collared, button-up sport shirt.” I’m not quite sure what you would designate as a “sport shirt” rather than just a dress shirt. If you could link to a picture that would be great.

Love these articles. Keep up the good work!

17 Russ July 27, 2010 at 7:00 am

Great article Antonio.

Here is another suggestion I don’t think has been mention yet.

On a dinner suit I recently purchased there was a tag attached that suggested once a month or so hanging the suit in a shady area where there is a slight breeze.

The breeze supposedly makes it unfriendly for the bugs to make a home in the garments.

I have tried this on some of my older suits & it seems to work for them well. It also gets rid of the musty or camphor odours.

18 Thornproof July 27, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Hey! I was about to write something similar over on my site … I guess that great minds think alike.

About quality clothes, I just purchased a new pair of dress cowboy boots. Yes, I spent nearly $500 on them but, if they last like my last pair did, I won’t need to replace them for at least 16-18 years (and then only if something major changes … like my shoe size). Buy quality, take care, and your clothes can last as long as you do!

19 Dave July 30, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Great seeing the Hill School bsnner on the right – I’m a graduate. Keep it up with the site, it’s one of my favorites!

20 Jeroen August 16, 2010 at 9:21 am

@James J.

Here’s a great video on how to iron a shirt (in 3 minutes!):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeA9gH_iWXY

21 Sydnee December 15, 2012 at 11:08 am

WOW! I really loved this series and learned so much! I don’t feel nearly as lost as I did. This is a great website with great tips on keeping the original distinguished culture in mens clothing. Your series also made me realize and appreciate my fathers style more. When I was little, I thought he was overly dressed or put too much attention into his clothes. Reading your series made me realize he was APPRECIATING his clothes, and keeping his reputation and his choice of style alive. I look forward to starting my new wardrobe, bit by bit. Thanks alot!

22 Denis Everest January 24, 2013 at 11:10 am

When I was growing up, I had to wear a shirt & tie to school M-Th. We used to roll up damp shirts (roll tails to collar) & keep them in the freezer. Each morning I got one out & thawed it during breakfast; then it was perfect for ironing.

23 Wazir April 25, 2013 at 8:51 pm

How to keep bow ties straight while wearing them? I mean on the neck.
Thanks for your expertise.

24 Joe May 29, 2013 at 2:15 am

Thank you for the useful articles. Can tell us how to fold a suit jacket, if necessary? I never even considered the possibility until my aunt showed me once years ago. She folded it in a way that was unintuitive, yet neat and apparently meant to preserve the shape of the jacket as much as possible. I had asked her about folding a jacket, because I had an occasion that necessitated I put it in luggage (although I would have, of course, preferred to hang it). Thanks!

25 AaronAllen November 26, 2013 at 5:28 am

Just get a good quality luxury wooden hangers and half of the problem will be solved. It even make your wardrobe looks more attractive and luxurious.

26 Cassidy January 30, 2014 at 1:21 pm

What are your thoughts on borax as a more natural detergent booster alternative to oxiclean?

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