Now for something hot and steamy

I grew up a tomboy. I’m sure this isn’t particularly surprising to many of you; most of the butches and masculinely-identified people I know share in some part of this experience. I was however, one of the lucky ones. My parents were fairly good about letting me toss aside the dresses in which they so loved putting me, as I preferred jeans and rugby shirts and sneakers. In fact, they only made me “dress up” for major holidays or fancy dinners and even then I had some control over the outfit – I remember this one jumper style dress that had sneakers and baseballs on it that I practically wore out because it was the only one I would wear when pressed to dress up.

As I got older I dressed like my male classmates did. Jeans and shirts I could get dirty when playing kickball at recess were standard. As I hit high school and learned about teen angst and grunge rock I ditched the sneaks for Doc Martens, wrapped a flannel shirt around my waist, and called it good. And this is how it stayed for a long time (though trust, I did lose the flannel very early in my college career) so when I started my butch clothing adventure these were the only kinds of clothes I’d ever cared for. There was a huge learning curve to overcome as I learned how to properly take care of the wardrobe I was slowly piecing together.

The fact is no matter how much money you throw at your wardrobe, it will look like crap if you do not care for it. A well cleaned and pressed outfit continues to present you as someone who puts effort and care into his or her appearance.  I hope that some of the things I’ve learned about wardrobe care and maintenance may be helpful to you.  And I know the topic is dry, but really, it’s stuff you should know and do.

For most of us doing laundry is a pretty banal chore (though I do know some who adore it) that, at least for me, used to consist of just throwing everything into the largest washer I could find and washing it all on cold. I’d then just toss it all into the dryer and blast it with high heat, all so I could finish the chore as quickly as possible.  This is NOT GOOD for your wardrobe. Really. Read labels and follow instructions. Separate your dark and white clothing as it should be cared for differently. Generally speaking, whites and linens can be washed in hotter water as this will clean the fabrics better. Hot water makes dark colors fade and shrinks some other fabrics.  Your darks can be much more safely washed in warm (the warmer the water, the cleaner the clothes get) and cold water should be reserved for very delicate items and clothing that says to wash in cold water only. Yep, this is going to require you to read the tags.

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Don’t just assume everything should be high heat dried. Yeah, most things can be, but throwing your dress shirts in with your towels isn’t a good idea as it will increase drying time (dress shirts dry quickly) and overheating the fabric doesn’t bode well for clothes you’d like to last a long time. A note on dress shirts; if you are so blessed as to have a laundry room of your own, the BEST way to dry them is on a hanger.

Once again, reading the garment tag will help you determine how clothes should be dried. If the label says “dry flat” this means NO DRYER. Really. These instructions are in place to help your clothes maintain their original shape and size. Ignoring them can mean having a dryer full of expensive sweaters that will now only fit Muppets. Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn this the hard way.

Pre-treating stains also gives you the best possible chance of stain removal. If it’s a really hard stain, then you may have to pony up and take it to the dry cleaner. If you think it’s a really hard stain it is probably better to take it to a professional first, before you do something that will further set the stain.

Let’s talk a bit about dry cleaning. I love dry cleaned garments. I do. I don’t like the two to three dollars a shirt that it costs me to get that crisp, starchy feel. Additionally, the chemicals that dry cleaners use to get that feel dramatically decrease how long the clothes will last.  Sometimes, absolutely, bring your clothes to the dry cleaner. When you change wardrobes seasonally, or it’s been a while, or you’ve got some pants that really need a professional pressing, sure, drop a few bucks and have things professionally cleaned. But mostly? Take care of it yourself.

I’ve found that people either LOVE to iron, or hate it. And amdist the camp that hates it, the reason for such antipathy is that they don’t know how to iron. I was in the latter camp for a long time, until I got tired of paying for dry cleaning and having to replace shirts more often.  About irons; cheap irons are not good, and not-good irons won’t press your clothes well. You can spend between $50 and $70 and buy a really good steam iron.  I use the “Euro Shark Pro” and have found it to be quite adequate, and it has a variable steam and temperature settings. It also has auto turn off so you won’t accidentally burn your house down.

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There was trial and error in the learning process, but I can now iron like a champ and even though it still takes some time (about 5 minutes per shirt) I take pride in how good my clothes look and that makes it worthwhile.

Lots of  people have their own formula for ironing; here’s mine.  I find it the best for me, and it keeps me from ironing creases into things I’ve already ironed.  First I do the sleeves, followed by the shoulder panel, right front, back, left front, and finally, the collar. Occasionally, and depending on the shirt, I use a little spray starch to stiffen up the collar. Remember to take the collar stays  OUT before washing your dress shirts! The plastic will melt and bend and be of no use to you. Hot butch tip? Get some silver/metal collar stays. Remember, it’s the little things that set you apart.

There are a few other things you should do to keep your shirts looking their best. Most important: wear an undershirt. This will keep odors out of your shirts, and keep stains (yes, the pit kind) from forming and ruining your shirts. Also, with good washing and ironing (unless you are a slob or clumsy) you should be able to wear shirts at least twice in between washings.  Two things that help you achieve this are cedar hangars and letting clothes rest. Cedar hangers absorb odor and moisture. They also are good at helping your clothes retain shape and have the added benefit of being a natural insect repellent.

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Letting clothes rest allows the fibers in the fabric to relax and return to their original shape. This sounds cheesy, I know, and I know no one except you is going to recognize that the blue button down you wore under a sweater yesterday is the same one you’re wearing with a tie today. But it really really helps keep your shirts looking great and lasting a long time.

Additionally, hanging up your clothes in between wears instead of tossing them in the corner or shucking them throughout the house (ok, I’m guilty of this, often) as you come home will help you get more wear between washings. Hang all pants (I hang my jeans but you don’t have to, I’m just anal) and shirts, fold and store all sweaters and tee-shirts. Easy easy rule: sweaters on hangers are bad bad bad, and just stretch them out.

Alright – I seem to be able to go on ad nauseum about this topic so I’m going to break it up into parts. I’ll tackle footwear sometime in the upcoming weeks.  Did I miss anything here about shirts and laundering ? Any special tricks you have for keeping your wardrobe in tip top shape?

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3 Responses to “Now for something hot and steamy”

  1. I’m so bad about all of this…even though I buy my clothes in thrift stores, I don’t treat the fabrics the way I should. Thanks for this reminder.

  2. lady femme Says:

    Ok, now, granted, i do stuff like this for a living, so i get obsessed. But a few important tips about STAINS!

    DO NOT put a stain under hot water, or an iron, as this will set a stain. If you have something that is hard to get out (ink, tomato sauce, lipstick, blood) definitely spot treat, do not put the clothes in the drier or in hot water until you are SURE the stain is gone, or else you will be stuck with that stain FOREVER. Additionally, i have NO LUCK with dry cleaners removing stains. In fact, they often make them worse. My favorite stain remover is ivory soap (ivory only- not other ones, like dove, that contain oils) cold water, and an old tooth brush. Saturate the stain, wet the soap, get a chunk of lather (kind of a lot, load it on) on the tooth brush, and rub away at the stain a little at a time. You will be surprised how quickly stains come out. I have removed EVERYTHING except stage paint with this method, including sharpie. Just keep rinsing in cold water, and re scrubbing a little at a time, so you don’t damage the fiber of the garment.

    As for ironing:
    i say, invest in a spray bottle for water. This is especially useful for ironing linen. I always buy cheaper irons (guilty!) and use a spray bottle to spritz the shirt with water to dampen it, and then iron over. this is useful for huge, hard to get out wrinkles. Just be careful with this method- check the heat setting on the inside of the shirt- some poly blends will get shiny on the edges if the heat is too high. check inside the shirt tail before going to town on the button placket…

    • Dear Lady Femme,

      THANK YOU for your cleaning advice. It is appreciated, and I will SO try the Ivory thing – as an aside, it’s the only soap I use to clean myself because it is unoffensive, lathers well, and makes me feel squeaky clean.

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