After 12 years of wearing dress shirts, ties and pants in grade school and high school, and the last 8 years of my professional life doing the same, I’ve found a few good tips to prolonging the life of my dress clothes. Some are just common sense, while others may require an extensive change in your habits. Many of the tips also apply to caring for your casual clothes:
- Wear an undershirt – All during school and the first 5 years of my professional career, I didn’t know about the wonders of undershirts. My shirts were tight as it was, so I couldn’t imagine slipping another layer of fabric underneath. Plus I thought undershirts would just make me sweat more. Wrong on all accounts. After a brutally hot summer where I was the only one with sweat marks in the group of guys, I found out the others wore undershirts. The undershirt soaks up sweat and body oils before they get to your dress shirt, thus extending the life of your shirt. I just get a half-size larger of dress shirt, which is more comfortable anyway.
- Change into casual clothes when you get home – As soon as I get home from work, I change into shorts, sweats or jeans, depending on the season and time of day. Nothing will wear down your clothes faster than, uh, you wearing them. Only wear your business attire when you’re at work. Obviously this means you should take off your loafers when you mow the lawn too.
- Hang and button your shirts – You can get more than one wear between washings on your shirts as long as you hang them rather than throw them into a pile. Also button them up to the neck to keep the collars from sagging.
- Hang your pants with inside seams touching – If you go into a department store, you’ll see all the pants are hanging “sideways”. The seams along the insides of the legs are lined up and touching so that the creases in the front and rear stay bent. If you can’t picture this, go to a clothing store to see for yourself.
- Avoid wire hangers – When hanging your shirts and pants, you want to use supportive, thick hangers. For shirts, shoulders should be padded to keep the form, or at least to avoid the indentation that can come from a pointy wire hanger. For pants, at least use those wire hangers with cardboard rolls that you get from dry cleaners. Amazon has good quality wooden hangers (packs of 30) for about 25 bucks. You’ll definetly want to get some of these for your wardrobe.
- Untie your tie – For men, keeping your tie in a knot may make getting dressed a minute or two faster, but it will kill the life of your tie. Untie the tie and hang it on a hanger or tie rack to let the fabric return to its “natural” shape between wearings.
- Don’t over-wash your clothes – The chemicals from your laundry or dry cleaner slowly wear away the fabric, while also cleaning it. If you wash your clothes after only one wear, not only are you contributing to harmful cleaners entering the environment, but you’re also keeping the “per wear” cost of your clothing high. If you’re just sitting in an office all day, and wear an undershirt, you can re-wear your dress shirts for at least 2-4 times in the winter (given you’re following all the tips above). The same can go for pants, but be wary that you’re sitting on your bum all day and might be sweating in your pants without feeling warm elsewhere.
These are just a few of my own tips, but I’m sure you have your own as well. One tip I also follow, but wasn’t sure about adding to the list, is to dry clean/launder your shirts and pants, rather than washing them yourself. I’ve found that my clothes come back from the dry cleaner much nicer than I could ever get them at home. And for a few bucks a month (I re-wear my clothes), I personally think it’s worth the extra cost. But I also use a discount dry cleaner.
How about you? What tips do you follow to keep your work clothes looking fresh and crisp? Or do you just throw them in a pile and let them soak up stink for weeks before washing them?
Photo by King Chung Huang