Until very recently, caring for and mending our clothes and other textiles was a necessity. Sometimes because of rations or scarcity, but more often, because clothing was valued. Time and effort went into both purchasing and maintaining a wardrobe.
The key to a longer-lasting wardrobe is to care for your clothing. Treat clothes gently and mend them when they need repair. That means sewing on buttons, replacing a hem or mending a moth hole. Through these small acts, we will create a more meaningful relationship with the things that we purchase and prolong the life of our clothes.
Prolonging the life of your clothes
With the variety of modern fabrics, content labels, care labels, natural fibers, synthetic, stain resistant, wrinkle free, it is easy to become overwhelmed and just throw everything in the wash at once. Caring for textiles is a skill and one that is built over time and gained by testing different products and techniques. Generally, it helps to have a basic understanding of the care and keeping of each type of fiber and garment. Washing, drying and storing are all key factors in extending the life of clothing and home textiles.
For those of you who are interested in learning more about the how’s and why’s of textile and garment care, this book Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson is written for you! (I credit her with everything I know about keeping house.) It is so well researched and thoughtful- it literally has everything you need to know about textile care, repair, stain removal and proper storage.
The washing process is harsh on clothing and textiles. As a general rule, you only want to wash clothing when it is necessary. Clothing should be washed or dry cleaned only when it is soiled. Over washing fades the color and wears the fibers out rapidly. Each garment comes tagged with a care label. Try to make a practice of reading those and sort your laundry and wash accordingly.
As a gentle alternative to washing, allow your clothing items time to air out. A good 24 hours or so will allow the moisture from the body to evaporate and air to naturally deodorize your garment. I have a large basket in my room for this purpose. When I change at night, I drape my top, pants and bra over the side to air. (Socks, undies, running clothes are an exception. Wash those after each wear. Every time.) For dresses, jackets or anything that needs to be hung, I have a hook next to my closet for this purpose. Then in the morning, I brush the items before replacing into my drawer or closet.
If after airing and brushing I still feel like my clothing could use a good re-fresh, I use a hand held steamer and some laundry spray.
In my laundry room (basement) I have a sorting table where I lay all delicate and hand washable items. Underneath that are 4 baskets, one for whites, light colors, dark colors, and sheets and towels. Additionally, I have two drying racks and a laundry line. Most clothes are washed and hung to dry. After they are taken off the line, I put them in the dryer for 3-5 minutes to soften and get the wrinkles out.
There is so much I could write on storing! Long term storage, short term (day-to-day), seasonal, attic, you get it. For this post, I am just concentrating on basic closet storage. Though keep in mind that soil and stains attract insects. When allowed to remain on clothing, stains set in and become permanent. You never want to store dirty clothes. Clothing storage should accommodate hanging as well as folded items. Closets, drawers and shelves are all necessary- that doesn’t mean they have to be large. Just clean and organized. An organized closet is not only welcoming, but allows you to see what you have.
Avoid using wire hangers and plastic bags. Wire can rust and distort the shoulder line. Instead, use wood or plastic hangers that are designed for each type of garment. Jackets, pants, shirts, dresses, skirts all have hangers designed to fit. It may seem like a big and unnecessary waste, but it is an investment that will go a long way toward keeping your clothing in tip top shape.
As a general rule, when folding and stacking clothes in a drawer or on a shelf, place the heavier, bulkier items on the bottom. Also, try to alternate the way that you fold your shirts and sweaters after each wear so that a permanent crease does not develop. As a space saver for packing and storing, consider rolling items such as socks and undies. Rolling can decrease the amount of storage space and prevent wrinkles.
What other clever tips do I have to share, you might wonder?
Here are five must-haves for anyone who’s interested in making their clothing last longer, their wallet a little fatter, and the world a little greener.
Clothes Brush This brush style is great for jackets, coats, pants, jeans and most sturdier clothing. Just a quick brush with the nap of the fabric and then against, helps to remove dust, hair, and debris.
Cashmere Brush Yep, it is an expensive one, but trust me, this brush lasts and is worth every penny. I have cashmere sweaters that I’ve worn winter after winter for 20 years. They still look as good as new.
Steamer This one is lightweight, doesn’t drip and steams and cleans like a champ.
Ivory Soap This is a classic and what I use for all hand washables. It is gentle, fragrance free, and cheap. A little goes a long way.
I hope that this post may encourage more consideration about what you wear and how you care for it, and ultimately, discourage thoughtless consumerism.