How to Care for Your Clothes

Selecting my wedding dress was nothing short of destiny. I didn’t find it. It found me. It fell into my lap when a wedding was the furthest thing from my mind. Even when I saw it I thought, “Ooh, I’d love to wear that to the (bank, grocery store, movies, new restaurant by our house…) When the time came, as much as I tried to be objective and try on dozens of other dresses, it all ended up being for naught. But I had fun!

When you find something that truly speaks to you, never let it go. And protect it with dear life.

During the alterations process my amazing seamstress Alana told me she was the envy of her colleagues. They all wanted to work on something different than the traditional white selections. She would hang my dress away from all the other dresses and proudly tell people, “that’s my bride”. No one touched it but Alana. I loved her intensity.

After the wedding I scoured reviews of dry cleaners. Although the salon where I bought it recommended a pro in New York, I wanted something local. It was just easier. So I found a well reviewed, moderately priced dry cleaner that specialized in wedding gowns and went on my honeymoon not thinking twice.

Until I picked it up three weeks later.

I nearly fainted.

My gorgeous, voluminous work of art was now a wilted flower. For weeks, I had nightmares. I couldn’t shake the sick feeling in my stomach of regret and disappointment in making such a hasty decision with the most important piece of clothing I own.

I grew up with the “take care of your things because you’re only going to get one” mentality, so over the years I’ve learned about how to ensure your clothing lasts. That knowledge, coupled with my wedding dress disaster, is what inspired this post for how to properly care for your clothes.

1) If you want something done right, take it to the best. Not the second best or third best, or the best one closest to your house. The BEST.

For extra special garments – wedding gowns, family heirlooms – I will never go anywhere but J. Scheer & Co. in New York. Jonathan, the owner, is my fairy godfather. A genius among geniuses, his knowledge of fabrics and textiles is beyond extensive. He restored my wedding dress back to a work of art so someday when Anna invites me to the Met Institute Gala I’ll have something to wear. And he listens. He understood and empathized with my maniacal ways and kept me apprised throughout the process. His service is like a white glove treatment on steroids.

2) Invest in a (good) garment steamer.

The steam emitted from a professional grade garment steamer is 212 degrees – hot enough to kill E. Coli, Salmonella and dust mites, and eliminate any odors. They are safe to use on the most delicate of fabrics because they won’t scorch things like an iron. I reduce the number of visits to the dry cleaner by steaming my clothes after each wear. Not only does this save time and money, it also protects my clothes from continual exposure to dry cleaning chemicals. Recommended brand: Jiffy Steamers.

3) For denim, skip the washing machine.

In college one of my friends told me she was amazed by how none of my jeans looked faded or worn out. My secret? I don’t wash them. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. But trust me, this makes a night and day difference in the look and feel of your denim. If you absolutely must wash them, I recommend two things. For fancy jeans, put them in the freezer for 24 hours to kill any germs. For workhorse jeans, fill the bathtub with cold water and a very small amount of laundry detergent. Lay your jeans flat on top of the water and let them soak for 30 minutes. Rinse with cold water being careful never to twist them to wring out. Air dry.

4) Build relationships with cobblers, dry cleaners and tailors.

If you don’t already have a trusted cobbler, dry cleaner or tailor, I recommend taking a test piece to start. Choose something that can be easily replaced in case it gets ruined. For shoes and leather goods, I recommend regular check-ups just like we do for our health at the doctor or dentist. Don’t wait until the tip of your heel has fallen off. Preventative maintenance always wins. Leather and suede should always be treated with a protective conditioner prior to first use. Recommended products: Cadillac Conditioner for smooth leather, Synovia spray for suede.

A little birdie told me that the variance between household dry cleaners is only about 15%. In other words, don’t assume that more expensive means better quality. Make your selection based on customer service and attention to detail. For example, the places I go know to never use pins on my clothing. My tailor marks everything with chalk and my dry cleaner loops their tags through the garment tags on my stuff. These little details add up in the long run.

5) Storage

Are your clothes lying in a pile on the floor? Do you return your handbags to their dust bags after each use? Going the extra mile to properly store your stuff makes a huge difference. Sweaters should be folded, not hung on hangers. I put foam padding on the clips of skirt and pant hangers to avoid permanent creases, and anything suede or white is always stored in a dust or garment bag.

Also pay close attention to the condition of your closet. Do you have a window? Make sure anything near the window is protected with a dark garment bag or box to avoid fading. If your closet is adjacent to a bathroom, make sure there is proper ventilation to avoid mold. Humidity and condensation can wreak havoc on certain types of fabrics (not to mention hair-dos). :)