Sunday, August 17, 2008

Garment care tips from a fashion designer

The clothing industry considers the lifetime of a garment to be one season. Not one year, mind you, one season. As in, three (3!) months. As a designer, I can't imagine someone getting that little use from my work, and hope to heavens that my own garments last longer than that! You can, of course, get an awful lot more bang for your buck if you understand how to care for your clothes. Here are my top five tips for getting longer life from your garments and keeping them looking great for the whole time you own them:

5) Machine wash your clothes in cold water on the delicate cycle. The only real use for the hot water and regular agitation cycle on your washing machine is for towels, blankets, underpants, sweaty gym clothes, and feminine hygiene products. Hot water fades the dye in your clothes, and agitation promotes shrinking as well as putting the fibers of the fabric under strain. Luckily, cotton fabric actually becomes stronger when wet. Almost everything else, however, gets weaker, and is more likely to shred when wet.

4) Stop using Woolite. When hand washing your delicate items don't use Woolite. Aside from smelling awful, it isn't recommended for many fabrics. Instead, use a gentle hair shampoo. Just make sure it doesn't contain any dyes or conditioners. Baby shampoo works great, as does almost anything in the super sale aisle at the grocery store.

3) Ditch your deodorant. Specifically, avoid antiperspirants containing aluminum. Read the label! This is incredibly important for a couple of reasons. First, it's recently been linked to breast cancer. Second, it eats your clothes. You know those yellow armpit stains? Not your sweat's fault. It's your aluminum-based deodorant. The worst part is that it can happen after only a couple of wears, and there is nothing on Earth that will remove those pit stains. Especially from your new white work shirts. Eventually the stained areas will become stiff and brittle. I cannot tell you how much longer my white clothes have been lasting since I switched to aluminum-free deodorants. I like the Adidas cotton-tech brand, though that is really hard to find around my city, so now I am using Tom's Of Maine's natural deodorant. Like I said, though, just remember to read the ingredients list on everything you buy.

2) Just say no to dry cleaners. Most traditional dry cleaners use really nasty chemicals on your clothes that are known to destroy rubber (think elastic and lycra), fade and shrink acetate (your wedding dress, perhaps?) and, alas, cause cancer. If you absolutely must dry clean a garment look for an "eco-friendly" cleaner that doesn't use carcinogenic chemicals. A note of warning, though, they are expensive.

1) And the number ONE tip for making your clothes last longer? Stop freakin' washing them so often! No, no, not everything of course. I wouldn't expect you to stop washing your underpants or t shirts or socks. But the general rule is: if it doesn't touch your sweaty parts then don't wash it every time it's worn. Blue jeans can go several wearings without washing, as can most pants and skirts (as long as you wear underpants, that is). Shirts worn with an undershirt are also okay to go a wearing or three. I have a vest and skirt that I've owned for years that haver never been washed. Unless they get dirty, I won't clean them as they are made from delicate fabrics that may not hold up well to washing. I simply wear them over other garments.
If it's dirty or has something spilled on it, wash it. If it smells funny, wash it. If it is just wrinkly? Hang it up and spray it with water and let the wrinkles pull out by themselves. It's the single most important and easiest thing you can do to have longer-lived clothing.

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