Friday, February 1, 2013

Elevate 101: Caring for Your Clothes

We live in a society that views clothing, shoes and accessories as being disposable. A missing button or other simple embellishment is reason enough for a garment death sentence. God forbid there's a stain that a Shout wipe can't remove or a tear on a seam or scuffs on your leather. I'm guilty of it, too, I admit. The first time I scuff a new leather handbag or shoe, it ceases to be my favorite and might end up at the back of my closet for many months before I replace it with one that is remarkably similar yet blemish-free. Once a white shirt is not as bright as the day I bought it, my inclination is to buy a new one rather than bleach the old one.

Part of this trend has to do with the quality of clothing these days. They aren't designed to last- they're mass produced and often poorly made (hence the small price tag). When you only spent $15 on a dress, and after four or five wears, it's faded, stretched out and maybe has a hole or two, you're probably not that upset. After all, it only cost $15. Additionally, with products like Dryel, Shout wipes, Tide To-Go pens, etc., it's easy to think that if you can't make it look good at home on your own, then it probably should be tossed.

Today I want to focus on how to care for your garments, specifically the ones that are of a better quality. In 2013, the "elevate" theme extends to shopping, meaning we are going to try to make better, smarter purchases of higher quality pieces. It also extends to garment care. No longer are we putting all of our dry-clean only garments in the dryer with a Dryel sheet. No longer are we treating difficult spots with Tide To-Go pens only. No longer are we going outside without treating our leather and suede properly.

You know from my Elevate 101 post last week that the first step is to find a quality dry cleaner, tailor and cobbler. The next step is to actually use those professionals. The final step is to actually do the things at home that will help your garments look good in between their visits to those professionals.

1.) Shave your sweaters. Don't worry about investing in a fancy sweater shaver, a disposable Bic razor will work just fine. Lay your sweaters out on a flat, well-lit surface. See all those pills? Gently run the razor over the garment and shave off the pills. In a few minutes, your sweaters will look brand new. Do this every time you wash them. Be careful not to press too hard or you could snag the yarn and put a hole in the sweater.

Cashmere and Bic- an unlikely pairing. 

2.) Remove stains before laundering. After a garment goes through the washer & dryer, that stain is there for good. Try these basic stain removal tips:

-- For oil and grease based stains like salad dressing, hand lotions, etc., lay the garment on a flat surface. Cover the stain with baby powder and let it sit for a few minutes. Lay a washcloth or other fabric on top. Using the steam setting on your iron, blast the covered spot with steam for about 15-30 seconds. Allow to cool, then remove the washcloth and brush off all the baby powder. Repeat this process as needed until the stain is removed. Corn starch works as well, but doesn't smell as nice as baby powder.

-- For blood, first try spitting on it (if it is your own blood). I know this sounds gross, but there's some kind of magical connection that allows your own saliva to remove your own blood from fabric. If it is not your own blood, start with COLD water and blot the spot, which will lift the stain from the fibers. If the fabric is silk, be sure to dry the fabric immediately, or you could end up with a water mark where the blood stain used to be. (P.S. If you used the saliva method, I hope it goes without saying that you should also follow up with a quick wash.)

-- For general staining such as ring-around-the-collar, self-tanner or make-up stains, use a small amount of clarifying shampoo. Simply take a wet washcloth and a small amount of the shampoo. Using a circular motion, gently scrub until the stain is removed. Be sure to rinse the area so that there is no shampoo remaining or it can cause yellowing over time.

-- Another quick and easy tip for make-up removal is to use a piece of scotch tape. Place the piece on the stain and simply lift it back off. Repeat until the stain is gone. This works best for powder residue including eye shadow and blush.

While there are lots of methods on the internet for removing ink, red wine and other more stubborn stains, my advice is to take those to a professional. Dry cleaners know the best cleaning method not only for each specific type of stain, but also for each specific type of fabric. Many of the methods described online will only work with sturdy synthetic fabrics such as polyester. Many more delicate fabrics- including natural ones- can't always hold up to the stain removal method.

3.) Save the extra thread, buttons, notions and closures that come with your garments. I have a little box that I toss them all into. When I buy a new garment, the extra button or thread goes right into that box. Then, if I never lose a button or have a small tear to repair, I have the exact replacement right at my fingertips. Everyone, and I do mean everyone should learn the basic skill of sewing on a button. It's not rocket science and hardly takes any practice at all to master the skill. Keep your needles in the same box as the extra buttons and you'll never have to go looking for either. Learning to do simple repairs on your own will not only keep your garments looking good, it will save time and money because you will have fewer trips to the tailor and/or dry cleaner.

4.) Keep your shoes in their original boxes, or on shoe racks. Boots should be stored with boot shapers to keep them upright. Don't forget to treat the leather to prevent drying and cracking. The same goes for your handbags. You don't want to pull out a favorite bag after a year only to find that it's in worse condition than when you put it there.

Not all my shoes are still in the original boxes, but quite a few are and they stay in great shape that way! 

5.) Finally, always remember to store your clothes properly or you risk shortening their lifespan. Crowded closets are not good for any clothes, so rotate your clothes in and out seasonally. Keep your off-season clothes in a cool, dry place, free from pesky critters like moths and mice. Breathable storage bins, cedar closets, and garment bags are all great storage methods that will keep your clothes protected. Remember to always fold your sweaters and knit garments; never hang them.

My sweaters never touch a coat hanger! 

I hope this post helps you understand how best to care for your garments and shoes. If you have any proven methods of garment care, feel free to share in the comments.

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