A splash of coffee here, a snag there, and suddenly your new blouse has lost its luster.
“Life takes a toll on what we wear, but with proper care, you can keep your wardrobe fresh and looking new,” says Jenny B. Davis, stylist, fashion journalist and author of the second edition of Style Wise: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Fashion Stylist. “It’s not about expensive solvents or imported gadgets or sprays. It’s about paying attention. Check your clothes and shoes at the end of each day—if there’s a problem, deal with it right away.”
Davis says there are many quick fixes to help combat daily obstacles—stains, slow fades, yellowing and tears—and keep our wardrobe in top shape.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
Waterproof your shoes—canvas, leather, suede—and if they have leather soles, have rubber soles and heels put on before you wear them. Proper storage practices are crucial, too. “Use boot shafts or rolled up magazines in your boots to keep the shape,” says Davis. Dropped a pizza slice on your suede? Add enough cornstarch to cover the greasy spot, press down firmly, and let it sit overnight; then brush lightly with a suede brush. Salt stains? One tablespoon of vinegar in one cup of water, a once-over with a rag and they should disappear.
Brighten Your Whites
Keep your whites bright by adding a half-cup of baking soda or white vinegar to your wash, and dial back your machine to warm instead of washing on hot—the always-launder-whites-on-hot myth is simply that. Skip the fabric softener, which can leave a residue over time, and chlorine bleach, which can destroy fabrics and turn whites yellow. Nature, says Davis, is the best whitener around. “If you can air-dry outside, the sun’s ultraviolet rays naturally brighten—plus, they’ll smell fresh without you spending a penny.”
Keep It Cool
Washing clothes in cool water could extend their life, as lower temps can help prevent shrinkage and color fade—your wardrobe’s biggest enemies. Keep black jeans from going prematurely gray by turning them inside-out, then launder in detergent specifically for darks. Air-dry jeans, delicates and stretchy workout clothes—and anything with elastic, such as underwear—because high heat could be damaging. No time to wait for the sunrays to do the work? Machine dry on low or cool. “People forget there’s more than one setting,” says Davis. “Too much heat will destroy fabric faster than anything. For proof, check your lint trap—that soft fuzz is a result of your clothes being worn away by the dryer.”
Don’t Sweat It
Forget about dry-cleaning your wool and cashmere sweaters; the harsh chemicals can break down their delicate fibers. To get more wear out of your sweaters, layer up—add a tee or camisole underneath to absorb oils and odor, then simply air them out at night. When you do wash them, be gentle. “I use baby shampoo or dish soap with water that’s just warm enough to make it bubble,” says Davis. For de-pilling, she recommends a sweater comb (about $3).
Clear The Air
Take clothes out of those flimsy plastic dry-cleaning bags, which can encourage the growth of mildew, and hang them in breathable cloth garment bags instead. For foldables—like tees and sweaters—plastic boxes are better than cardboard, which can attract bugs. Add lavender sachets or unwrapped bars of soap to keep the pests away—and your clothes smelling fresh. “Always clean clothes before you pack them for the season,” says Davis, “and don’t stuff too tightly—stack loosely so air can circulate.” Something still smelling funny? “A very light spritz of rubbing alcohol will send musty smells packing.”
Chocolate, red wine and coffee spills are tough. Club soda can help dissolve them but the rule with all stains is to act quickly. Keep stain sticks in your purse or glove box to minimize the spot until you can get home, then pre-treat with a fizzy, peroxide-based stain removal product and repeat, if necessary, until the stain is gone. “It sometimes takes patience,” says Davis. “You’re trying to save something, so you may have to put in the time, but if you can wear it again, it’s worth it.”
By Ellise Pierce