The Key to Owning a Great Wardrobe is Knowing How to Maintain It

So I’ve got you sold on which brands are worth investing in, and you have learned that purchasing quality over quantity is essential to filling up your closet with pieces that will last a lifetime. There’s one more thing you need to know in order to build your wardrobe: how to maintain your clothing. Understanding how to do this will keep your clothes in suitable shape for as long as you own them, abating as much unnecessary wear and tear as possible.

Back in my days of being a bachelor, I had the horrible habit of letting dirty clothes sit in the hamper (or on the floor) for months on end, possibly wearing things multiple times between washes. Whenever I finally got around to doing laundry, everything would get washed and dried on high heat. I would then get frustrated by how often new clothes ended up shrunken or with holes. Like me, most men don’t seem to be taught how to care for their clothing, but I will show you the three main areas often overlooked that are likely destroying those garments you’re spending your hard-earned money on.

How Long to Wear

Dirty Laundry

There is a profound misunderstanding of what the clothes washer is supposed to be doing for us. Though there are occasional stains that need to be removed due to errant food, the washer’s main purpose isn’t to clean the outside of the garment but to remove bacteria from the inside. This bacteria gets onto our clothes from skin contact and tends to accumulate in the groin and armpit areas. Over time, it eats away at the fibers of our clothing and increases the likelihood of holes and tears. (Freeballers: this is why we wear underwear, to protect our clothing!) Below are the general rules for how many times or how long you should be wearing each kind of garment before washing them or having them cleaned.

Underwear, undershirts, and socks: 1 wear

T-shirts and polos: 1 wear

Knitwear and sweatshirts: 1 season (provided you always wear a shirt underneath)

Casual shirts and dress shirts: 2 wears

Chinos, dress pants, and sweatpants: 2 wears

Suits and blazers: 1 season (or 1 year if you don’t wear suits often)

How to Clean

Here’s some unadulterated truth: washers and dryers destroy our clothes. Washers have a habit of pulling pulling apart delicates. And dryer lint? That’s comprised almost entirely of clothing fibers. I haven’t even touched on the fact that socks straight up disappear without a trace. Unfortunately, dry cleaning everything isn’t economically feasible for most people, and it would take forever to hand-wash and line-dry a load of clothes. Therefore, since they are a necessary evil, it is important to minimize the amount of damage these machines do to your clothing.

This is where the label comes in. The bad news here is it is essential you know how to interpret these symbols because many clothes don’t have written instructions. The good news is the symbols are easy to interpret (this is evidence of good design, by the way). General rule of thumb is that you can wash almost anything on the delicate setting and air dry flat. Hand wash if you really don’t want to take the chance. Some materials allow for delicate drying as well. The only exceptions are suits, blazers, and knitwear, which should always be dry cleaned unless the label explicitly says not to.

care-labels.jpg

Once you have your load ready for the wash, be sure everything is inside out so that most of the clothing fibers and dye that come off are from the inside. Be sure to wash everything on the delicate setting, cold wash. No real need to separate lights and darks because the cold water should keep most dyes from bleeding. If you are worried about a new shirt, try washing it a couple times by itself before throwing it in with everything else. (Full disclosure: I had to replace one of my husband’s white dress shirts after a new blue shirt transferred dye in the wash. Lesson learned.)

After the washer is done, remove all the garments that need air dried. Hang shirts as usual, but hang chinos and dress pants from the cuff to allow for wrinkles to release due to gravity.  T-shirts, polos, sweats, and knitwear should all be dried flat on a drying rack. Anything left in the washer that can be machine dried should be thrown in on the delicate setting, low heat, to minimize shrinkage. Once everything is dry, feel free to iron as needed.

How to Store

It’s the question every man asks himself at one point or another: do I fold or hang? I think most kids are raised folding everything. Then somewhere along the path of maturity, we pick up this idea that adults hang everything. The fact is, whether you should fold or hang depends on what kind of garment it is because some of them will get stretched out on a hanger. On the other hand, some clothes are better hung up because they keep their shape while wrinkles and creases are released from the fabric over time. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you get your closet organized:

Underwear, undershirts, and socks: fold

T-shirts and polos: fold

Knitwear, sweatshirts, and sweatpants: fold

Casual shirts and dress shirts: hang

Chinos and dress pants: hang

Suits and blazers: hang

One more point I should make on this subject is that you might need to make a small investment in decent hangers. Just because you get your clothes back from the cleaner on a wire hanger doesn’t mean you should leave it there. Wire hangers will dig into the cloth and destroy garments over time.

Worst: Wire hangers

NO WIRE HANGERS EVER!!

Okay: Plastic tube hangers

TubularHangers_BPIW (1)

Better: Clear plastic hangers

10054248-BREAK-RESISTANT-DRESS-AND-S

Best: Wooden hangers

HangersNatural100541G_x

Suits and blazers: Coat hangers

HangerSuperiorNat5584G_x

You don’t have to go all out and purchase all wooden hangers, but the plastic tube variety are a step in the right direction. The best quality for the price are in the clear plastic hangers. Of course, as with everything else, suit jackets and blazers are the exception. In order to best keep their shape, they should be on a wide hanger that supports the shoulders, be it plastic or wooden. Many stores will include a proper hanger with the purchase of a suit or blazer, but if they don’t, be prepared to buy one.

Denim

denim-storage-2.jpg

You may notice that jeans are never specified throughout the rest of this post. The care for denim jeans is quite debated amongst denim enthusiasts. Some people wash them after a wear or two while some only wash them once a year, freezing them to kill bacteria between hand-washes. Some people hang them while others insist that they should be folded or rolled. And none of this even takes into account raw denim, washed denim, or selvage. If you are looking for expert advice on denim, you should google other blogs, but personally, I think my method–rotating through about 6 or 7 pairs, machine washing and hang drying once a season, and folding for storage–would work for most people.

Final Thoughts

It took me a long time to learn all this and implement it myself. There are still other areas such as footwear and suits where care is even more subjective than denim, so if you’re interested in them, Google is your friend. This post should largely cover most men’s wardrobe care needs. Believe me, if you are buying better quality, more expensive clothing, you owe it to yourself to keep it in the best condition for as long as possible and this guide will help you do that.

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