Protecting your clothing investments
I have a confession: last week, before I went off the edge of a cliff and decided to rant about my mid-year wardrobe assessment, I bought exactly two pairs of shoes which culminated in my actually falling off the edge of aforementioned cliff. The shoes I bought were another pair of Dieppa Restrepo Calis in black (from Totokaelo on sale), and the gorgeous Hope Chy Boots per Mommy Style. In effect, I got rid of two other pairs of shoes and a bunch of clothes at the consignment store which sort of covered a meagre fraction of the new shoes. Not that it's any excuse, but I think we shall move beyond this and resume shoe shopping only next year, no?
Leather and wool are my downfall when it comes to shopping for clothes, and those are the only things I am willing to pay premium price for. I don't particularly like silk and linen, which I find really difficult to care for and while I try to buy organic cotton whenever possible, but I don't really get frustrated if I don't. I am however a little embarrass to admit that I'm rather fond of quick-drying polyester and the whole cotton/poly/tencel blend is a life-saver when traveling.
Anyhoo, over the last few years, ever since I was old enough to buy my own clothes, I have realized that part of making your wardrobe investments worthwhile is learning how to take care of your prized possessions. People write about investing in quality and choosing well-fitting clothes but no one really talks about how to make those purchases last such that your cost per wear actually amounts to something. It surprises me that most people don't really know or care about the right way to treat their clothes e.g. hanging heavy sweaters, not using shoe trees or dry cleaning cashmere etc.
The first (and I reckon the most important thing) I do when I get a new pair of leather shoes is to apply a coating of leather conditioner and put in shoe trees. If the soles are made of leather, I scuff the bottoms up a little by wearing it on tarmac for two weeks, then I have sole grips put on. About every 8 weeks thereafter, I try to clean and condition my leather goods, mostly everything in one go. While I use all natural products with low toxicity, I still make sure that the Little Rascal (aka Dieter the Dachshund) is locked away upstairs and all the windows are opened to allow some air circulation. Cleaning and conditioning leather ensures that your items remain soft, pliable and won't crack. Creases are inevitable, but using shoe trees and stuffing your purse with rags or tissue will help keep its shape. Also, since I live in a perpetually damp climate, I keep my shoe and bags somewhat water resistant with the miracle known as Montana Pitch-Leather Dressing (a combination of mink oil, pine pitch and beeswax). A word of caution: the leather dressing does darken items by one shade, but it protects leather from water damage and helps keep the leather looking so shiny and supple that I think it's absolutely worth it. I don't have any suede shoes at the moment, but back when I had a pair of suede oxfords, I find that Apple Garde works miracles.
For leather shoes/boots and bags I use:
1. Meltonian All-Purpose Cleaner and Conditioner
2. Apple Leather Conditioner
3. Montana Pitch-Blend Leather Dressing
4. Cedar wood shoe trees
5. Apple Garde Rain and Stain Repellant
I'm a terribly lazy sod when it comes to laundry, so I just put all my wool sweaters in a mesh bag (from the dollar store), chuck them in the washer on delicate (no spin) and air dry them on a towel atop a clothes rack. I probably only wash my woolens about 3 times during the winter season and brush them with boar hair bristles or a sweater stone when they start to get a little grungy. For that reason alone, I stick to merino wool and try to minimize the amount of cashmere I own since the delicateness of cashmere warrants a gentle swishing in cold water by hand. Another tip is that I always try to wear an undershirt (cotton/silk blend) with my sweaters so they don't get particularly musty. I find that 'Woolite' tends to make my wool sweaters stiff, so for American consumers, my pick is the Ecover Delicate Laundry Detergent which is both environmentally friendly and works really well.
For wool coats, I mist vinegar and water mixed with cedar and pine essential oils and brush them out with boar hair bristles about once a month. Before I pack them away for the summer, I make sure to let them air out completely (preferably outdoors when it's warm but under the shade), brush them clean then store them in a vacuum bag with cedar chips. I have never dry cleaned anything in my life and I don't intend to.
For wool clothing I use:
1. The Laundress Clothing Brush
2. Cedar wood balls
3. Mesh laundry bags
4. Ecover Delicate Wash Laundry Detergent
I find that with proper care and attention, my most well-made clothes, shoes and bags have lasted at least 5 or 6 years of constant use with minimal signs of wear and tear. I have a merino sweater from Scotland that has lasted since my first visit to the UK in 1997 which I attribute both to fine workmanship and care. Do you have any tips on how to keep your wardrobe items in tip-top condition? Please share!
Update: The Laundress is offering a 25% off all products with code "Lindsey2011". Expires 6 August 2011.
P/S: For Americans following the debt ceiling negotiations, I think it wise to maybe stop buying for a bit and get as much use out of the items you currently own - who knows what the children in Congress will do to further screw us over.