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.

30 comments :

  1. Fantastic post! I have to admit that I am very negligent in taking good care of my clothes and shoes. I will definitely be picking up some tips from this post. Did you already get the Hope boots? I really love them, I like how they look good with both cropped pants and jeans. And black Calis are just so classic.

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  2. I just bought a couple of leather flats (what shopping ban?) so this is perfect timing! I really admire how diligent you are with your clothes and shoes. Congrats on your new lovely leathers. They were worth it, cliff falling and all. ;)

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  3. I am really really bad at taking care of my wardrobe. I throw all my clothes in the same load and hope for the best. I never clean my shoes and boots unless I stepped on something nasty or got them completely drenched. I've ruin a lot of pieces over the years so I'm happy to read this post.

    Beautiful new purchases! Totally works with your wardrobe and your ideas of comfortable shoes that can be worn in any occasion. I also use the one in one out rule as an excuse to buy new items; which is great for keeping the number of pieces to a minimum but then I purposely omit how much I've actually spent. Love your new shoes though!

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  4. @S
    Re: The shoes - I had them on pre-order so it shipped out today and I'll be getting it by next week. I can't wait! Also, I was inspired to write this post because the Calis came with the leather all dried out and creased and it bummed me out.

    @Wrapped in Firs
    Ooh! New shoes, pictures please =) If I keep falling off the cliff anymore, I think at some point I won't be able to pick myself up anymore *wink*

    @agnes comme fellini
    I guess I'll be the preacher of the "always weather proof your shoes" sermon =) BTW, I love love love all those Hope and Wood Wood pants you have, please wash them on delicate and hang them up to dry. They'll last such a long time.

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  5. This is so helpful. Thank you for such a thorough post. It's inspired me to take better care of my things!

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  6. excellent post. agree with you that half of the value of 'investment items' is in proper care for them. i may do a similar post of my own, specifically for my bags and some of my shoes. :)

    there's nothing like going into an old school high-end men's shoe store to stock up on quality leathercare products. i've learned a ton from the salesmen there.

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  7. @joyce
    Thanks, Joyce! Glad to be of service.

    @miss sophie
    Isn't it strange how men can care so little about other things but when it comes to proper leather shoes and suits, they get really intense and nitpicky! I've also learned quite a lot about choosing quality garments from mens tailoring. That being said, I'm looking forward to that post you'll be writing - always looking for more ideas to keep my wardrobe looking spiff.

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  8. I love this post, thanks for sharing! I also try to take care of my clothes and shoes. I have the cedar chips and vacuum bags for my coats. I also have little cedar hearts that I put some cedar oil on and store them with my cashmere and wool sweaters. I've never heard of the vinegar/oil/water mist before, though. How much vinegar and oil do you use? I also think that I'm going to have to get that clothing brush. It's worth the $? I haven't been able to find one here, and I've been looking for a long time. Does it remove pills?
    Oh, and great shoes! I'm pretty sure I'll be a Chy owner soon too:)!

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  9. @Garderoben
    I use 50% vinegar/50% water and a few drops of cedar and pine essential oils. It's a tip I picked up a long time ago from a natural dry cleaner - it's suppose to help keep the wool soft and deter moth and other insects and get rid of odor. The brush is completely worth the price but since you're in Europe, have you tried looking at Kent brushes? They may be cheaper if you get it shipped from London. The bespoke stores on Savile Row recommend them =)For pilling I use the sweater stone from The Laundress, but the comb works well for removing very light pilling too.

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  10. This is a great post and so helpful too! I haven't been taking care of my things as well as I should, but I'm getting better about it. I had no idea there were sweater stones or clothing brushes...I just use a small razor to go over the pilling, but that might not be the best option. Love these tips! =)

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  11. Lots of interesting, useful advice I really should stick to...

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  12. Thank you for making this post! I've been wondering about what I should do with my favorite leather shoes. Now I know how I can properly protect them.

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  13. Great post! I must admit that I hate caring for my finer clothes and just give in to sending things to the cleaner. But since I own only 5 pieces that require that amount of care, it isn't that big a deal. I'm taking your tips about leather shoes to heart though. And being a Northwesterner I must agree that water protectant is common sense for anyone owning leather shoes in this region!

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  14. My (far too large) shoe collection is just about the only thing I actually take care off. I obsess over waterproof spray but I should definitely wax/moisturise my loafers more considering how much I paid for them. Haha. My clothes are another story. I too hardly buy anything other than merino in the jumper department but I really need to get me a brush. And I do hand wash them once or twice a season though in organic wool wash which I think is worthy of some good clothing karma. All my other clothes I mistreat terribly though :/ Such is life ;P
    (Had to remove the last one as it was missing some key words and made little to no sense at all. Ha.)

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  15. Thanks for the tips. Your blog and this post was inspirational in terms of the light it has shed on my consumption habits. :)

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  16. Thanks for this very helpful post - bookmarked for future reference. I'm especially intrigued by your solutions for avoiding dry cleaning. I've always considered dry cleaning a necessary evil but have been too lay to seek out any real alternatives. I'll be trying the misting trick with outerwear later this year for sure.

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  17. Amanda, I've been so bad at keeping up with my reader that I am only now getting to this post. How informative! Thank you for sharing. I hate taking things to the dry cleaners. I've been handwashing all of my woolen knits with the Laundress cashmere detergent and have been very pleased with the results. I am going to try out this vinegar, water, cedar, and pine essential oils trick for wool coats.

    I have this wool sweater with nubuck elbow patches that I'm terrified to handwash. I think dry cleaning might be the best solution, but maybe you have some better ideas?

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  18. What a great post. I am awful when it comes to caring for my wardrobe- You've inspired me!

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  19. Very informative post. I used to be more ontop of making sure I got my "fancy" shoes rubber soled before I wore them, but I've gotten a bit lax in that. I don't think I could ever be this dedicated though. I do use a water repellant spray but not a heavy duty one from Kenneth Cole/Nine West, but I've read good things about Apple Garde.

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  20. I know this is kind of an old post, but I think you mentioned somewhere on your blog having a comme des garcons play sweater. I was wondering if it has shrunk at all when you washed it? do you think the cdg knits are worth the money?

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  21. @Anonymous

    I didn't wash the cardigan at all before selling it. But I have another v-neck CDG sweater that shrunk slightly after handwashing, it became slightly shorter. The sweaters are very well made (they're made in Japan) and the wool is thick, doesn't pill and isn't scratchy. The reason I bought it was because I couldn't find anything else on the market that was quite so well made for that price. However, I am starting to find that the logo disturbs me somewhat.

    So to answer your question, I think they're ok - high overrated but if you can afford it then by all means, get it.

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  22. Hi Amanda,

    I was wondering when you do your regular shoe care, do you use the products in this order?

    Meltonian cleaner & conditioner
    Apple conditioner
    Montana leather dressing

    Since the Meltonian product cleans and conditions, doesn't applying the Apple product over do it? And do you use brush or lint free cloths to apply the various products? Any specific recommendations.

    I just bought a Frye boot so I'm really hoping to put your advice into work before I wear it.

    Thanks

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  23. Hi Tashrin, I don't think you can actually over do the conditioner, but if that worries you then you can alternate between the Meltonian and Apple. I find that the Meltonian is more "liquidy" and works better as a cleaner than a conditioner. I just use an old sock to apply the shoe products. You leave the conditioner for a while then buff it up by rubbing in circular motion with another sock. Remember to wipe down your shoe of dust/debris before applying anything on.

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  24. @Amanda

    And I suppose the Montana dressing goes on at the very end after the conditioned shoe has been buffed up?

    Thanks in advance!!! :)

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  25. @Tashrin I use the Montana pitch more often than the conditioners since it's the waterproofing step. If you live in a damp climate, you can just put it on even when you don't condition.

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  26. @Amanda

    Thanks a billion. I just ordered the products. :) Looking forward to actually taking care of my investments. :)

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  27. Thank you so much for this entry! I've been wondering how to care for clothes as well. I'm currently a college student trying to buy way less clothing and avoid trends but make fewer higher quality purchases. This is definitely helpful and I hope you'll share with us more about clothing care in the future!

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  28. Hi,

    I love this post! I bookmarked it some time ago thinking I'd go back to it and now that I bought a pair of second hand Hope Chy boots I have a question: does the moisturizer help at all with minor scuffs?

    Thank you :)

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  29. Hello,

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I am looking for recommendations for Frye boot care. For some reason, I feel like Montana Pitch Blend is more natural and better than Frye's own conditioner. Do you recommend Montana dressing for Frye's polished and smooth leather boots?

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    1. Hello! Sorry I'm getting back to this just right now. I have both the Frye conditioning cream and Montana Pitch and I find myself reaching for the Montana Pitch more often mostly because I find that it repels water better. And I used the Montana Pitch on my Frye Erin oxfords as well and it worked really well (I have since sold my Fryes), and I use it on all the smooth leather shoes and bags I own.

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