Make Your Wardrobe Last Longer

By Jocelyn Voo
MSN.com, via LHJ.com | August 2006



Clothing

Anybody who's adopted a "do it yourself" spirit and shrunk a beloved dry-clean-only sweater knows that proper care of your clothes is paramount to getting the best and most wear out of them. Here, we've gathered expert opinions on the cleaning, storage, and repair dos and don'ts for every type of garment in your closet.

Cleaning

Reading clothing care labels is the first step to preventing accidental shrinking, fading, and wrinkling. If you think that a "dry clean only" tag is merely a suggestion, don't be surprised when you pull a rumpled, doll-sized blouse out of the wash. Fabrics like rayon, silk, and wool react adversely to water. However, if you're not a fan of playing "Beat the Clock" to make it to the cleaners before closing time to pick up your laundry, do-it-yourself home dry cleaning kits, like Dryel ($13 for up to 16 garments), are effective, easy to use, and drastically cut down on professional dry cleaning costs.

"Bright colors and black should be dry cleaned to prevent fading. Wool jackets and pants should be dry cleaned, but any unstructured, unlined garment of cotton or silk or linen can probably be hand washed in cold water," says Mary Gehlhar, Fashion Director at arts showcase Gen Art and author of The Fashion Designer Survival Guide. "I generally handwash delicate items such as sweaters and lingerie."

Storage

All knit sweaters and crochets should be folded and put in a drawer to avoid accidental pulling and stretching. Other items, particularly coats and shirts, should be hung on wooden hangers. "Plastic or plastic-coated wire hangers are fine for other items, but I recommend never using wire hangers. They can cause clothing to lose its form, flatten, and cause creases in the shoulders and pant legs," says Gehlhar.

Don't know what to do with your winter jacket once spring hits? Dry clean it, then store it in a linen or canvas bag or box. Never keep garments in plastic dry cleaner bags, as that can encourage yellowing or streaking. All seasonal items should be dry cleaned before you zip them up to deter moths and to also prevent any missed stains or sweat marks from setting permanently into the fabric.

Repairs

Moth holes in your favorite sweater? "Cedar is good for deterring moths," says Gehlhar, "but it won't help once the moths are there. The best thing is to keep your clothes clean." This means proper dry cleaning and storage.

Stains, on the other hand, can usually be remedied if you take immediate action. If the stain is from a liquid, like red wine, seltzer will work as a temporary fix. If you've accidentally knocked an entire glass onto your skirt, immediately dab away the excess, then cover the stain with coarse salt to soak up the wine and run hot water through the fabric. Once you're home, use a prewash stain remover, such as Shout ($3.49), and toss the garment in the wash. Wash white garments in hot water and color garments in cold.

With a little patience and skill, simple tears and unraveled hems can be fixed at home with needle and thread. And if there's a hole or stubborn stain that's not too large, remember that a strategically placed brooch or pin can close or cover an unsightly blemish.

Outerwear

Cleaning

Leather, shearling, suede, and fur coats should not go to your neighborhood dry cleaner, advises Michael Ehrlich, owner of Chicago-based garment repair shop Without a Trace. The regular dry cleaning method will deplete essential oils, causing the material to shrink or fade. Instead, send these items to a specialty shop.

With regular wear, leather, shearling, suede and fur coats should be cleaned once a season. "Leathers are cleaned in oils and fats and soaps," Ehrlich explains. "They're immersed in solvent, not water." Water may shrink or dry out the skin, but solvent puts oils back into the skin, keeping it soft and pliable. Leather should also be conditioned when the leather becomes dry, usually several times a year.

Avoid the urge to spot-clean skins since water will leave a ring. However, if salt from winter snow is splashed onto your coat, blot it off immediately with a clean, damp cloth, as salt will burn through the skin. Water rings are treatable, says Ehrlich, but not salt burns.

To minimize water-spotting, all skins should be stain-guarded before you wear them. If you want to treat a leather jacket, choose a stain-guard that is free of silicone and wax, since these ingredients will break down the natural oils in leather. Expensive outerwear, however, should be treated to professional stain-guarding, which needs to be reapplied after every cleaning.

Storage

Ideally leather should be stored in a well-ventilated, cool, dry place, such as a closet. Excessive humidity or dryness will prematurely destroy the material, so forgo plastic storage bags in favor of cloth bags, which allow skins to breathe. Hang jackets on wide, padded hangers to preserve their shape.

Repairs

If you get caught out in the rain, the Leather Apparel Association recommends you let your outerwear air-dry naturally. Once dry, treat leather with a conditioner to restore flexibility, and brush suede with a terry-cloth towel to restore its former appearance.

If the hem of your leather jacket is worn, a small amount of rubber cement applied to the edge works as a temporary fix. Serious rips and holes in outerwear can be repaired in specialty shops. Without a Trace (www.withoutatrace.com) employs three methods in which the fabric is rewoven by hand.

Lingerie

Cleaning

Undergarments can be cleaned in a washer -- put the garment in small washer-safe bag first -- but ideally should be hand-washed with a mild hand-washing detergent or soap. Air-dry your bras and delicate underwear, as a hot machine dryer may warp, shrink, or deteriorate the dainty fabric.

Storage

To keep cup shape and prevent creases, don't cram bras into a drawer like you might your socks. Instead, make sure that your bras have enough space to keep their natural curvature. Stacking bras so the cups align not only keeps your garments in top shape, but also saves space.

Repairs

Beyond simple needle-and-thread fixes for pulled-off back hooks and the like, there's no good way to repair worn-out lingerie. Your best bet is to keep several sets on rotation to avoid wearing out the garment prematurely. "Give the fabric a chance to regain its elasticity by only wearing it every second day," advises Rebecca Jennings, owner of plus-size lingerie boutique Hips and Curves.

Shoes

Cleaning

Shoes should be cleaned whenever there's visible dirt. Shoes differ from clothing in that excessive cleaning should not wear out your favorite shoes prematurely. Also, don't underestimate what a quick shine will do for a dull-looking pair. KIWI Express Clean & Shine Wipes ($4) are a perfect portable fix for leather shoes.

Luckily, shoe cleaning is not that complicated. A little elbow grease can take care of most shoe fabrics, expensive skins included. "For leather; most surface dirt can be simply wiped of with a soft cloth," says Kenneth Cole Spokesperson Meredith Paley. "Once done, you can use a leather cleaner or conditioner to keep the leather from drying out and wearing prematurely." For suede shoes, Paley recommends a soft bristle brush to remove dirt -- try using an old, clean toothbrush. Synthetic materials can be cleaned with simple soap and water. If you're looking for serious stain removal, a professional dry cleaner will do the trick. However, unless they're fabric sneakers, stay away from putting them in the washing machine.

Storage

Store your shoes in a cool, dry place, like a closet. Rather than throwing shoes on top of each other, invest in a shoe rack or keep them in their original boxes to preserve the fabric and shape. Shoe trees are also handy to keep the shape of closed-toe dress shoes.

Repairs

Besides enduring normal wear, shoes are most often damaged by wearing the wrong shoe in the wrong environment. If you live in a weather-volatile area, a simple waterproofing agent, such as Penguin Water and Stain Repellent ($6), is a must to protect your shoes from rain and snow.

Luckily, even if you get caught in an unexpected downpour, your shoes are still salvageable provided that you act quickly. Loosely stuff your soaked shoes with newspaper, which will absorb moisture and help keep the shape, and let them dry naturally, advises Paley. But "by all means, do not expose wet shoes to heat. No hair dryers, microwaves -- don't laugh, I've seen the result! -- or radiators. Likewise, don't leave wet dress shoes out in the sun." Apply a leather conditioner and nourishing shoe polish, such as Buffalo Butter Shoe Conditioning Cream ($9), once the material is completely dry.

Simple tools will extend the life cycle of your favorite pair. Using a shoe horn will help prevent the heel counter (the back part of the shoe) from collapsing. And don't think that once the heel on your favorite boots has worn thin that you have to chuck the pair. Cobblers can perform a myriad of shoe fix-its, from re-heeling and re-soling to tightening loosened straps and fixing broken heels.