Over time, my shopping habits have dramatically changed. A few years ago, I'd blow my hard-earned cash in the sale sections of H&M and Forever 21 every few weeks, only to find myself, months later, annoyed with the state of my clothes — acrylic sweaters pilled and worn-out; polyester dresses pulling at the seams. Frustrated and disappointed, I would donate everything away and start the cycle again.
These days, I'm a much fussier shopper and my fast fashion fever has given way to a vintage obsession. I find myself sorting through thrift stores and vintage boutiques looking for pieces that are unique and made of high quality materials; my wardrobe has filled up with silk, suede, leather, and cashmere. The vintage gods have blessed me, but I know in order to stay in their favor, I've got to respect the goods!
Having clothes that are made well and of finer materials means taking a few extra steps to ensure they stand the test of time. They need to be washed carefully and stored carefully, which can be a bit of a pain in the butt. But I know that by taking extra steps, my clothes will hold up. Here are a few tips I've learned over the years to help keep my garments looking their best.
Hand-Washing is Key
I own plenty of clothes with tags that instruct me to dry clean them, but hey, I don't like following the rules. The truth is, plenty of dry clean-only garments can be hand-washed — my silk blouses and cashmere pullovers are solid proof. Using a delicates-only detergent (Tocca make my absolutely favorites) or baby shampoo and a sink full of warm water, I get those clothes good and clean and the delicate fibres thank me for it.
I start by running a capful of my chosen cleaning liquid under warm running water, dunking the garment in, and swirling it around in the soapy water. Then I apply a bit more of the detergent into the palm of my hand and press and push it into any particularly soiled areas — usually the underarms, let's be real — and scrub it in with my knuckles. Then I'll use my hands to swirl the garment around in circular motions for a minute or so before rinsing until the water runs clear and bubble-free. After gently wringing the garment out, I'll lay it flat on a clean towel and then roll it up tightly into a bundle to squeeze out any excess water before hanging to dry. I've used this method on all of my most delicate sweaters, dresses and silk tops over the years and it's never failed me.
If, for any reason, hand-washing doesn't get any persistent odors out of a garment, I spray it down with a spritzer bottle filled with diluted rubbing alcohol. This worked wonders on a vintage silk dress from the 1930s that had some extremely set-in 80 year-old BO lingering in the pits, P-U.
Avoid The Dryer
The dryer is a 20th-century invention that makes life much easier for impatient folks like me, but I know well enough to keep certain things out of there. If I suspect something might get pilled — such as any sweater, whether it's cashmere or acrylic or any pair of tights — I make sure it's air-dried.
Over the years I would get so annoyed at how nubbly and scratchy my tights would be after going through the wash, but now that I hang them to dry, they stay silky and smooth, holding up through hundreds of wears.
The same goes for my sweaters. While pilling is usually unavoidable, especially on the sides due to friction from my arms, keeping them out of the dryer helps keep pilling to a minimum. If I do notice any nubbliness popping up, I scrape it away with a dry razor and everything looks good as new.
And please, one thing I can't stress enough: keep your bras out of the dryer! If hand-washing them is too much work, they can survive a washing cycle on low, but should absolutely be kept from the dryer. The heat will only break down the elastic and warp the underwire, taking a perfect fit to a lumpy, stretched out bra that's uncomfortable to wear. MUJI makes a lot of amazing drying hangers that are perfect for clipping bras and tights onto for quick air-drying.
Basic Sewing Skills Will Save The Day ...
I've picked up a few basic sewing tricks over the years like how to stitch a fallen hem, replace a popped button, or reinforce a splitting seam. I've even taken in a few dresses that were too big in the underarms, not only making the dresses look better but also giving me a boost of confidence for remembering skills I learned in 8th grade Home Ec. Hooray!
Having a cute sewing kit makes the process much easier, too. This Cath Kidston one is all kinds of adorable.
... And When All Else Fails, Find A Tailor You Trust
I felt incredibly lucky when I found a 1980's-era Burberry trench in a vintage store for a steal last Fall, but soon my lucky joy turned to annoyance when I realized the coat was just waaaay too long for my frame. I knew it needed to be altered, but I didn't trust my beginner sewing skills with the task of chopping into that iconic checked print.
I did my research on local tailors and found a young woman who specialized in modernizing vintage pieces for the 21st-century crowd. She shortened the coat quite a bit for me and now it looks exactly how it should - like a timeless classic.
Finding a good tailor makes all the difference, especially when you have a figure that doesn't fit off the rack pieces. If you're busty with a small waist, they can make button-up blouses fit in all the right places, and keep jeans from gapping in the back if you've got a booty. And if you're short-legged like me, pants hemming is usually quite cheap. Check reviews of places in your 'hood and ask friends for recommendations. You'll soon see that having perfectly tailored garments makes a world of difference in how you carry yourself.
What are your favorite clothing care tips? Have you ever had any laundry disasters? I accidentally put my favorite (white) Serge Gainsbourg t-shirt into the wash with red jeans once.* Oops.
*It was pink for awhile, but a few bleach baths saved it from what I was sure would be a very rosy existence, phew.