The Intelligent Man’s Guide To Wardrobe Maintenance
The proper way to wash, press and store your clothes
From weekend sweatpants to boardroom-appropriate tailoring, a man’s clothes should be always be clean. Whether they’re old or new, faded, foxed, frayed, ripped, patched or repaired, they should still be freshly laundered. The question is, how best to achieve all this? And what about ironing? It’s tempting to outsource all this work to a dry cleaner or a professional laundry, both out of idleness and out of fear of making a mistake. However, clothes washed at home will last longer than ones subjected to the harsh industrial processes employed by most dry cleaners, and some men even enjoy the rituals involved.
A little nervousness around this subject is quite natural, but that needn’t put you off. To help you to get it right, we’ve come up with this comprehensive guide to looking after your clothes.
To do this properly you’re going to need the following:
• Three laundry bags, hampers or baskets
• One washing machine, with a wool or hand-wash cycle
• At least one drying rack
• One ironing board, the bigger the better
• One steam iron
• A mesh washing bag
• Detergent for regular clothes
• Detergent for delicate clothes
• Anti-bacterial detergent
• Good quality coat hangers
• A shoe polishing kit
• Shoe trees
Although lots of clothes have laundry tags that demand dry cleaning, most garments can be washed at home even if they’re made of delicate fabrics such as cashmere and silk. However, it’s always worth checking the tag before you throw something into the drum – tailored clothes do need to be dry cleaned.
Start by rigorously sorting your dirty clothes into three categories – whites, colours and delicates – and always wash them separately. Make sure everyone who operates the washing machine understands the importance of adhering to these categories. Further colour separation is useful for new clothes that haven’t been washed yet – indigo dye will leach out of some blue clothes for the first few washes, so don’t mix pink shirts with blue jeans.
Be sure that the machine is empty after each wash. Bitter experience tells me that a single forgotten yellow duster can ruin an entire load of white clothes.
Bear in mind that a cool wash protects clothes from shrinking, and is good for the environment, but isn’t hot enough to kill the bacteria that can live in dirty clothes. Consider using Napisan, a detergent that uses oxygen to kill bacteria, to make sure that your clean clothes aren’t harbouring any whiffs.
Woollen clothes can be washed at home with special detergent as long as they’re put on a wool wash, which will be shorter and more gentle than a regular wash. The spin cycle can still stretch clothes, but this can be avoided with the use of a mesh laundry bag. The same wool cycle will work for cashmere and silk garments, and is necessary for socks with a high wool content.
Because wet woollen clothes are susceptible to stretching, they need to be dried flat. Lay a clean towel across the top of your drying rack and spread the weight of the garment over the towel, being careful to support the arms so that they don’t stretch. Some gentle reshaping is possible when wool is wet; arms often need to be widened, and waistbands stretched out.
Do not use a tumble dryer on your clothes. The experience is likely to shrink and damage clothes – the fluff that collects inside tumble dryers is fabric stripped from garments while they dry. If you’re so impatient for your clothes to dry that you feel you need a tumble dryer, we recommend you make some additions to your wardrobe.
A man’s approach to ironing says a lot about him. Some take an almost political stand against it, others take a functional view and only press the front of their shirts because that’s the part visible underneath a jacket, while yet others will insist that creases must be entirely eliminated from all shirts, pyjamas, boxer shorts and pocket squares before they can be worn. (Can you guess which camp your writer falls into?)
Time spent ironing is a great opportunity to listen to podcasts. (I recommend Dissect, a extraordinary line-by-line analysis of Mr Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp A Butterfly.)
The best time to iron is when clothes are still damp from the machine. If you need to buy a few hours (say between leaving for work in the morning and getting home at night), then roll up damp clothes to slow down the drying process.
If a shirt’s bone-dry, it will need to be sprayed with water, and for the iron to be steaming, if you want to remove all the creases.
Jeans never need to be ironed, and if you’re going somewhere that you think calls for ironed jeans, then there’s something better you can wear instead.
When ironing shirts, first iron the collar from the outside edges in, then press the cuffs, the yoke (the section of fabric at the top of the back), the back, the front and finally the sleeves. If you live somewhere with hard water, use filtered water in your iron or it will spit limescale onto your shirts.
Watch the MR PORTER guide to ironing shirts here.
Hang shirts up after they’ve been ironed so that they can dry fully.
All clothes benefit from being carefully stored. Doing so should avoid moth damage, stretching, creasing and shape distortion.
Tailored clothes ought to be hung on correctly sized, supportive hangers; a jacket hung on a wire hanger will lose its shape over time. Kirby Allison’s Hanger Project’s sized hangers are an investment that will be repaid many times over if they save the shoulders of your tailored jackets from distorting and stretching. Bear in mind that a man need only buy decent hangers once in his life.
Tailored trousers should be stored hung over felted hangers. Fold them according to the creases in the trousers, not according to the seams.
If tailored clothes aren’t being worn regularly, they should be cleaned and then kept in breathable, but moth-proof bags.
Tailored overcoats should be kept on sized hangers rather than hung on coat pegs to maintain the shape of the shoulders.
Knitwear should be stored folded, with clean sweaters kept separate from anything that’s been worn, and protected by a liberal distribution of anti-moth sachets or balls. We like the natural-smelling sachets from Colibri. When sweaters are put away for the season, store them in breathable but moth-proof bags – look out for bags made from the textile Tyvek.
Shirts are best stored on hangers as folding them only introduces creases.
Ties should be rolled up for a day or two immediately after they’ve been worn, but should then be stored folded once or twice.
Whatever the size of your wardrobe, consider doing a twice-yearly change over. This should involve a thorough cleaning of all the previous season’s clothes and a cull of any seasonally-appropriate garments that didn’t get worn. Square away the clean clothes in moth-proof storage bags and store them in a dry place. Consider a clothing storage service (yes, such places exist) if you’re pushed for space, or are concerned about the conditions in your apartment – humidity is often a problem and must be avoided.