Buy and Hold: Clothes preservation finds a new audience
Have you noticed the small revolution in clothing maintenance? Women who resist the waste and short lifespan of fast-fashion have led renewed interest in preserving what one has, which for at least twenty years had been as rare to find as a community of canning enthusiasts. (And men, too—I called an old friend to catch up; he told me he was darning his wool socks.)
Now, their wisdom and ways have found an audience. Today, a summary of their suggestions.
1. Store with care
Textiles need protection from light and dust. Shelves and uncovered racks like the one below, which I see on so many decor sites, are hard on fabrics. The plus of the shot below is that it shows spacing, so there's air flow, but few of us have the space to practice this "sartorial distancing".
Open shelving is also dead easy for pests to find. (I periodically post on my never-ending battle with clothing moths; if looking for tips, see this post.)
For sweaters that you're wearing regularly, the bags many makers supply will do, or use Ziploc XL bags. For longer-term storage or just nicer bags, breathable natural-fibre ones of cotton or Tyvek (a paper-based fabric) are better. The problem with most cotton storage bags is that the closure is not tight.
A fabric conservator recommends these Tyvek bags with a three-sided zipper from Restore Products, a seller of textile conservation products, but they are expensive, £17.50 each. Also available as a gusseted or non-gusseted garment bag. (Note: If you use a cotton sweater bag, won't moths eat that? Maybe, but unless you are away for years, they will not progress to the inner treasure, your sweater.)
2. Reduce laundering and especially dry-cleaning
The simplest way to extend wear is to air and brush clothes. This is antithetical to the habit of removing and stowing immediately, in drawers or closets with no air flow.
Find a spot in your laundry or bedroom where you can hang what you wore at least overnight. Extra points for brushing both before and after hanging. I adopted the hanging habit during the first months of covid, when we thought the virus could attach to clothes, and kept it up when I noticed I laundered them less often.
Steam reduces odour-causing bacteria and relaxes wrinkles. Instead of dry cleaning so often, use a steamer or "semi-steam" the garment with the steam setting on your iron, while you hover the soleplate over the piece. The travel trick of hanging the garment in a bathroom while you shower only relaxes creases.
Of course things need to be washed—but many times we over-wash, punching in a long cycle when a shorter one suffices. Read your machine's manual; this seems obvious but it took several years for me to read mine, as well as the instructions on soaps. Use a mesh laundry bag for anything delicate, even on the delicate cycle.
Sometimes "Dry Clean Only" is real. Last summer I shrank a rayon dress labelled Dry Clean Only even on the delicate cycle and so, if you think you can wash it yourself, hand-wash and test first on a small area.
Do not use the often-touted hack of spraying vodka on a garment as a "pick up" between dry cleaning. "Costume Spray Mythbusting" explains the matter, and offers a better spitz recipe. (Hat tip to 20dollarlolita.)
With knits, washing reduces the pills, but it's kinder on a fine woollen jumper to air and de-pill if that's all it needs. Since long fibres resist pilling much better than short, I prefer the gentler action of hand combs like The Gleener to battery styles that are in fact tiny electric clippers, so cut fibres.
3. Furlough the dryer
I don't use the dryer for any clothing; clothes last far longer when not subjected to high heat and friction.
Hand-washing and spot cleaning will save you hundreds of dollars a year, versus dry-cleaning. There are endless choices for soaps and stain removers; I like stain-treatment bar soap for spots, collars and underarms. Whether you buy the posh Laundress Wash and Stain Bar or good old Fels Naptha, the magic ingredient is borax, a type of sodium, which in this dilution is considered nontoxic.
The gold standard is the Carbona Stain Devils kit, which contains nine products for specific stains like ballpoint ink, grass, blood and grease, as well as treatment instructions.
You know all about those handy Tide to Go pens or similar products. Did you know, though, that the pen in your handbag will lose its cleaning power at around the one-year mark? (They also dry up.)
4. Consider your cultural programming
I'm Canadian, apparently we are washing maniacs. My French girlfriends roll their eyes at Canadian houseguests who habitually launder daily. Huguette visits Canada for one month every summer with her medium-sized check-through suitcase. She does a washer-load once or twice, and hand-washes her lingerie and socks. (She does not participate in strenuous sports.)
Anne views the North American propensity to launder the life out of clothes as bizarre. Her European machine has a much smaller capacity, and takes three times longer to run a cycle. She pays for even cold water use, unlike here. When her daughter and family visit from Canada, she can't believe how her teenaged grandchildren use her machine nonstop and have no idea why there's a clothesline strung in her back garden.
Probably a whole other post, but we also might also examine our attitude that being seen wearing the same outfit repeatedly is a cause for shame.
5. Shop with longevity in mind
Factors include textile lifespan, construction and how to maintain the piece. Some of the most delicate and demanding textiles are absolutely worth the special care, but others are best passed by when you consider yet another trip to the specialty cleaner's.
|L.F. Markey "Ethan Coat" in Indigo|
Second, and I'll bet you in the Passage do this, avoid dry clean only clothes. I was mildly interested in this tencel/cotton denim coat ($US 242) from L.F. Markey, a hip 'streetwear' designer, until I saw it's DCO! Why does a firm clearly not parked in the "classics" pew go down this path?
|Toast Indigo Denim Long Jacket|
Toast's Indigo Long Denim Jacket is washable and made of Japanese indigo-dyed denim. More expensive but eventually cleaning costs will override that, and this is a better-quality fabric that would age nobly. (Price, $US 460.)
Good basic tip sheet: The Ultimate Guise to Making Your Clothes Last Longer; on GoodOnYou's site.
Tips from experts: How to Take Care of Your Clothes (New York Times Magazine). If your access is limited it is worth spending one of your non-paywalled peeks on this.
Moth prevention: "How to Stop Moths Eating Your Clothes- 10 Steps to Clothes Moth Prevention". A no-nonsense article that does not recommend ineffective methods such as lemon-scented drawer liners.