I ended my previous article about building a wardrobe on a budget with an adage: a well-made, well-loved garment will pay itself back.
However, this sequel is about ensuring that your clothes are well-loved. Maintenance.
The fast-fashion industry has created an environmental crisis, and has conditioned us to think of clothing the way we think of plastic straws: “disposable,” capable of magically disappearing the moment we toss it aside.
One of the reasons I go for traditional menswear is that it’s more resistant to this mentality than other forms of fashion.
Even when thrift-ed, menswear is expensive: you have to buy it, have it altered, and then clean and store it.
The tips I propose in here can help us think about clothing as an investment, something we want to keep around for decades to come.
As before, my focus here is on menswear.
You’ll also notice that wool (and its cousins flannel and tweed) is tricky fabric to take care of.
Cotton and linen tend to last better.
Your Maintenance Arsenal
#1 The garment brush
Much like a lint brush, a garment brush helps remove dirt and lint.
It’s an essential for wool and cotton garments, and it is handy for repelling wool bugs and moth eggs.
Your garment brush needs to be a stiff-bristled brush that you’ll use to dust off your garments before putting them away.
#2 The steamer
This little gadget is a lifesaver.
I keep mine in my luggage along with my garment brush.
Fill it with water, plug in, and steam away.
The steamer will relax the wrinkles in just about anything, and it is helpful in providing a light cleaning too.
The steamer is perfect for wool and linen.
#3 The iron
There are plenty of fancy irons out there, but I’ve done just fine with a basic Black and Decker.
Whenever I’m ironing a delicate fabric like a silk tie, I’ll layer the item with several plain cotton handkerchiefs above and below.
The cotton keeps the silk from coming in contact with the heat, while still allowing the steam to penetrate.
For wool, I resort to the steamer above, since there’s no hot metal involved.
#4 Fabric garment bags
Garment bags need to be breathable, lest they retain moisture.
No one wants their lovely wardrobe smelling mildew-y or musty.
A garment bag made out of a breathable fabric will help keep bugs and moisture out.
It is a must for sweaters, wool trousers, or wool suits.
#5 Hangers with shaped shoulders
These are essential for suit jackets, especially wool ones.
Wool is elastic and tends to conform to the shape of the hanger, so it’s best to make sure that a wool blazer keeps the proper curve in its shoulders whenever you’re storing it.
#6 Cedar and lavender
There is a variety of cedar hangers, collars, and sprays you can use to protect your garments.
For those of you who garden (like me!) lavender sachets are a lovely addition, too.
Stick some cedar and lavender in each of your garment bags, and your clothes will smell like the south of France. There are worse things.
Cedar shoe trees.
Men’s shoes are among the most expensive items in any wardrobe, so it’s worth your time to store them correctly.
Cedar shoe trees help maintain your shoes’ shape, and the cedar helps deodorize them too.
Cleaning and clothes-keeping
Martha Stewart and The Laundress are the definitive guides to stain removal, so there’s not much I can add to their guidance.
These scattered points are simply observations from my own experience of avoiding trips to the dry cleaner as much as possible.
There is such a thing as dry cleaning too often, as is especially true of wool: chemicals used in the dry cleaning process can cause wool fibers to degrade and grow brittle.
I try not to dry clean more than two or three times a season. Steaming and brushing usually freshen up garments to extend their life between cleanings.
Most of my garments are cotton and washable.
I keep a laundry pre-treatment in my laundry hamper, and immediately treat any stains I find, especially on shirt collars. This prevents yellowing.
I could also write an entire post just on shoe polishing and leather restoration.
I find it relaxing, especially between stints of grading. If that’s more than you have time for, take your shoes to a shoe repair shop and have them polished for you.
(Or, if you’d like to dive down the shoe care rabbit hole, The Hanger Project has a wonderland waiting for you.)
If it says “dry clean only,” don’t wash it. And certainly don’t put it in the dryer.
I may or may not be referring to the $150 tan herringbone linen blazer that I once ruined back in 2010, all to avoid the expense of the dry cleaners.
As one of my friends once wisely said, there is such a thing as false thrift.
My final note is this: we live in a culture that has monetized time.
If you wish to save money, you must spend time to take care of your clothing yourself.
If you wish to save time, you must spend money for someone else to do it for you.
If building a wardrobe is a cost-benefit analysis, then maintaining a wardrobe is a balance of money and time.
A well-loved wardrobe is a fine and sensible thing.
Dr Thomas Bullington is a lecturer of liberal arts at Mercer University, Georgia, United States.
He completed his doctorate in literature at the University of Mississippi in 2016, and focuses his research on imagery of plants and gardens in 18th-century British literature.
Thomas lives with his partner Jeff, and is still convinced that velvet slippers are a perfectly practical investment.
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