This piece was originally published on April 19, 2016.
Clothing, like all of life’s headiest pleasures, is not built to last forever. Material thins. Metal tarnishes. Seams pop. The sooner you accept this, the better in order to delay the inevitable demise of your favorite pieces. This is particularly important knowledge to bank in the winter, when the elements seem dead-set on ruining everything adorning our bodies (plus our attitudes).
Knits, furs, denim, silk, shoes, bags and even intimates, eyewear and jewelry — I chatted with nine different fashion experts, from bra specialists to niche designers, about how to keep your shit together in the winter and always.
Despite the aesthetic differences, care and keeping tips for heavy knits are not that different from gauzy delicates. Harjit Thiara Khosa, co-founder of THII, a British line with a focus on luxury fabrics, instructs: “Hand wash in a sink with cold water. Just like silk, you should always air dry. Use a towel to wrap the knit like a sushi roll or dry flat. For storage, always lay flat or fold. Hangers will destroy your sweaters’ shape.”
Dry clean them. But what if you don’t have the time/don’t feel like it?
Should a bit of bolognese sauce make its way onto the sleeve of your grandma’s vintage chubby, I Waited For You… co-founder and designer Melanese Reid has a fast fix: “Scrape [the food] away using an old toothbrush. After, use a bit of eucalyptus oil with a cloth soaked in warm water to fully remove.”
At the end of the season: “Store fur in special fur storage bags — not plastic, which dries the hair out,” advises J. Papa’s Jillian Papa. “And keep it in a cool dry place in your closet where moths won’t get to it.”
“The beauty of denim is that it looks better after it’s been worn a few times, so you can get away without washing regularly,” M.i.h Jeans founder Chloe Lonsdale tells me. “But I also love the feeling of freshly cleaned jeans. I always wash in cold water — 30 degrees max — and use a tiny amount of detergent. Too much heat and soap strip the color and character from natural fibers and can damage material’s natural stretch. And always air dry; the heat from a tumble dryer shortens the lifespan of denim.” This whole process should happen at least once before hemming new jeans. “Because they shrink a bit in domestic machines, it ensures you get the right length.”
When it comes to vintage jeans and raw denim, both of which are more sensitive and difficult to stretch out, you may want to forgo using water altogether. Papa suggests putting your jeans in the freezer: “The frigid air kills bacteria while maintaining the fit you have been breaking in naturally over time.”
Silk comes in many forms (chiffon, satin, brocade, crepe) but you only need to memorize one set of cleaning instructions: HAND WASH OR DRY CLEAN ONLY. Home systems are far too rough for such a fragile textile and are guaranteed to cause shrinkage (hehe), bleeding, tears of the ripping variety and tears of sadness.
Determined to do the job yourself? “You can hand wash in cold water with a small amount of liquid solution, but do not use enzyme detergents, as it will damage the fibers,” explains Khosa. “To dry, roll the garment in a towel to extract the water but never wring or crease. It will completely stretch out the shape. And silk is sensitive to heat, so if you want to iron later, do so on a low setting.”
(Don’t know if your detergent contains enzymes or not? Look for protease, amylase, mannanase and pectinase on the label.)
“The key to extending the lifespan of your intimates is not overwearing your favorite pieces,” undergarment fit and style expert Jenny Altman insists. “If you absolutely love one of your bras or a pair of undies, buy multiples. That way you can rotate the wears.”
You’ve got to brush up on your handwashing game as well. “While, yes, sturdy cotton undergarments hold up in the washer and dryer (just be sure to use a mesh garment bag), anything with wire, molded cups or delicate fabric should be laundered manually. Do it in the sink with like colors, cool water and delicate detergent; start with light colors and move to darks so that the dye doesn’t bleed on your whites. And the dryer is bra suicide. Do. Not. Use. It. Instead, gently squeeze the water out of each garment and hang dry.”
Dries Van Noten mule and derby
If properly stored and resoled on the regular, there’s no reason your best footwear can’t make it to your granddaughter’s closet one day. According to shoe designer Isa Tapia, the process starts with prevention. “I recommend having shoes resoled before extensive use to keep silhouettes looking crisp and new for a long period of time. This is especially important for anything with a pointy toe. You can add taps and half soles at a shoe repair shop for around $20.
When you aren’t wearing a pair, store it in the original box or a plastic bin lined with tissue paper. For travel, pack each individually in cotton shoe bags and stuff the toe with paper to maintain its shape.”
Protective sprays also go a long way toward minimizing stains and scuffs. “I like Nikwax leather and suede sprays because it helps seal and waterproof everything,” says Tapia.
As for damage control? “Find out whether the leather is finished or unfinished — it requires different products. If it’s treated (most is), remove the dirt with a soft brush or toothbrush and rub a clean, dry cloth against the surface of the shoe. Dampen the cloth slightly and wipe the surface again toward the grain of the leather. Let the shoe dry completely on a tree to hold its shape and treat with a cream polish in a matching color.”
However, if the shoe is suede…
“Brushing is key! Use a fine-bristle suede brush to smooth away dirt but DON’T go back and forth! Instead, push repeatedly in the same direction. After, spray a coat of suede protector to prevent further stains and marks.”
While many leather bags are fairly hardy and can absorb scrapes and scuffs, suede carryalls — just like suede shoes — need the help of a brush. “It really increases the lifespan of your suede or nubuck bag,” designer Clare Vivier told me. “Combined with a suede eraser, it removes imperfections and restores the material back to its original state.”
According to SheBee designer Ann Spence, almost every jewelry issue can be fixed with things that are likely already laying around your house, including…
Pencil erasers: “Use to remove tarnish on gold — but rub lightly!”
Toothpaste: “To polish sterling silver jewelry that has gotten dull or dark.”
Needle-nose pliers: “They can help you close a jump ring or fix a clasp last minute — a much better idea than your teeth!”
White vinegar: “Mix with tea tree oil to clean your dirty diamonds overnight. Then buff with a clean cloth, or coat the jewelry with baking soda before buffing and then rinse in water. Shebang!”
“Frames are very vulnerable outside of their nice, cozy case,” Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa — two of Warby Parker’s co-founders — warned me. “They can be scratched, dropped, chewed by a dog…” But damage can be avoided. “Clean your frames with a lens cloth whenever possible — it was designed for that purpose. If they’re extra dirty, use warm water and hand soap or dish soap. Never hot water. And always hold at the nose bridge instead of the temple arms. This will place less stress on your frames, decreasing the chances that they (eventually) weaken and/or break.”
Have any tips of your own? Add them below.
Collages by Emily Zirimis.