Have you ever come across a dress or a man’s jacket in a vintage store and been quite astonished at how old it is? Sometimes you can find clothes from the 1920s, 30s or 40s in perfect wearable condition. I have even found Edwardian skirts from the 1910s - that’s over a hundred years old. They have survived because of excellent clothing care.
In an age before washing machines or even easy to wash fabrics, we couldn’t cheaply replace clothes that looked a bit tired. People took great care of their clothes to make them last. Perhaps they didn’t imagine that they would still be here a century later! But I’m sure they would be delighted to know that their loving care ensured that could happen. We can take a leaf out of their books and spend more time on clothing care to ensure these pieces, and modern ones too, get to last a long time into the future.
Clothing Care - Wear More, Launder Less
We have got into the habit of throwing our clothes into the washing basket after every wear. For many items, this isn’t necessary. Every time we wash something, fibres, as well as dirt, get washed away. These end up in the oceans, which is very bad for marine life. It’s also bad for your clothes because each time fibres are released, it’s logical that the garment is getting thinner and thinner. They look floppier and floppier and will eventually develop lighter patches and finally holes.
If you wore a garment just twice instead of once before washing, it might last twice as long. Obviously, if something is sweaty or smelly, chuck it in the wash. This goes for anything next to the skin, like t-shirts and especially underwear. But jumper or trousers can go a little longer. In the past, a man’s cotton or linen shirt was his underwear (and the long shirttail wrapped between his legs in place of boxer shorts). A woman had a cotton chemise, which went next to the skin, under the corset. For clothing care these were both given a good hot wash, while the waistcoat and corset were generally just aired out.
Choose your Washing Technique
For clothing care the washing machine is an excellent time-saving device. But for many items, hand washing is far more beneficial. It’s much gentler and still gets your clothes clean. It’s the best for Wool or cashmere jumpers and cardigans, and you can wash any silk items like blouses or dresses by hand too. Use a dedicated hand-washing detergent. I recommend rubber gloves to protect your skin. You can do it in the bath or shower or use a clean washing up bowl.
Soak the item overnight in slightly warm water and a squeeze of detergent. In the morning, swish it up and down, and gently rub any visible areas of dirt or stains. Rinse three times in clean, slightly warm water. Do not wring but lay flat on a clean white bath towel to absorb the water. Avoid hanging the clothes up, at least at first, because they will be very wet, making them stretch.
Sometimes, you can skip the washing altogether. Practice brushing mud off trousers, using a lint roller on jackets, and spot cleaning stains with a sponge. When you do use a washing machine, set it to a low temperature and a quick wash. Look for special detergents for dark clothes and coloured items, to keep them looking bright and fresh for longer. Cheap, harsh detergents are a false economy. They will fade your attire and cause holes, and you will find them looking shabby very quickly.
Wash Inside Out and Separate Your Colours
Whether you are hand washing or machine washing, always separate your colours. The dye in clothing (even vintage clothing) will run, and if you mix a pink item with a blue, they will probably both come out a dingy lavender. Not worth it.
Washing inside out is also a very quick and easy addition to your routine. It will protect the fibres.
Clothing care - Store Properly
Just as hanging up a sopping wet jumper to dry on a hanger is bound to stretch it within ten minutes, hanging it up while dry will do the same, just more slowly. A jumper or t-shirt is designed to stretch. You just don’t want to do that when it’s sitting doing nothing in your wardrobe. For the best clothing care, fold t-shirts and jumpers carefully and store them flat in a drawer. The folding systems you can get, which are the same that shops use are excellent. They consist of a flat plastic guideline that you can fold the garment around. It prevents creases, saves space, and looks excellently neat on your shelves.
With items like jackets that need to be hung, never use wire hangers. Use broad or padded hangers to protect them. These will also look much nicer in the wardrobe and bring more happiness when you open it.
Don’t put clothes away dirty, as it attracts clothes moths. You can also put lavender bags in-between folded items or hanging from the rail to discourage them and keep clothes smelling nice.
Repair Damage as Soon as It Appears
Be diligent about repairing the damage that has occurred during day-to-day wear. Sew in the button that is hanging by a thread or has already come off right away. It won’t be long before you’ve lost it altogether, and a missing button isn’t a smart look. Also, sew up holes in armpits or at the cuffs. These are straightforward jobs.
Look for clothing care guidance on YouTube for hints and tips. For holes elsewhere, look at visible mending. This is where you deliberately want people to know that you’ve mended a garment. You could embroider a little flower over a hole or stain or darn it in a different colour. Be proud of what you’re doing! If you leave holes too long, they are likely to get worse.
Another great tool for clothing care is a de-pilling device. These are inexpensive handheld machines or combs that you run over knitted items, removing the little fibre pills that build up. It makes the clothing look fresh and new again.
Clothing Care - Alter to fit
Some of the clothes at the back of the wardrobe tend to stay there because they no longer fit. Or perhaps they look out of style. It’s worth making simple alterations to them, like taking in something that’s too baggy or raising a waistline. If your sewing skills don’t extend that far, take them to the tailors.