After our article on quality vs. quantity in a mom-drobe....many of you asked us to do an article on the proper care of our clothes. If we're going to invest in quality basics, how do we best take care of them, given the general grime/dirt/food/paint/snot/spit-up that moms face every day?
Uhhh...good question. Here's my far-from-perfect method that's been working OK so far:
1. Get Good Boots (or shoes)...and Take Good Care of Them
Boots (or even great flats) can seriously make the outfit. This is one area I recommend spending money on. Get 'em, then wear the heck out of 'em. Boots can tromp through mud. Boots can play at the park. Boots can get dirty. (Ummmm...one caveat: Don't get light-colored suede. These boots will not tromp through mud or play at the park. These boots are just for shopping and ogling at parties. These are not everyday mom boots.)
Every summer, however, it's time to give your boots some R&R. Bring them to a cobbler. Have him fix the heel, re-cover the sole if necessary (he'll be able to advise), and do a full clean and polish. If your boots are really in tough condition, let him do a whole re-conditioning treatment. This service will cost you anywhere from $20 - $70, depending on the condition of your boots. NOTE: the only time I spent close to $70 was when an ancient vintage pair needed cracks repaired, etc.
Getting good boots and taking good care of them is SO worth it. High quality boots, when well taken care of, will last you decades. You'll be measuring your price-per-wear in pennies.
2. Stop Dry Cleaning Your Cashmere
I do think cashmere is one of the best values for moms. It's soft, holds it's shape, has great drape (which is important when pooch-hiding and/or dealing with shifting sizes and body shape) and never needs to be dry-cleaned. In fact, dry-cleaning does awful things to cashmere. Don't do it.
Instead, throw your cashmere into the washing machine. If you really want to be on the safe side, you can wash it on the gentle cycle with delicate laundry detergent (I don't). Dry it flat on your kitchen table, flipping it over a few times to dry completely.
The result? Your sweater will be beyond soft. The sleeve circumference does tend to shrink a bit, but you can take care of that by re-stretching it when still wet out of the washing machine.
3. Rule of Thumb: Dry Clean Merino Wool, Wash Acrylics
An acrylic sweater can safely be washed in the machine (my mother even throws hers in the dryer!!). Merino wool, however, should not be washed. Not in cold, not ever. It will shrink like a mutha. See my cute little cropped sweater? See how well it fits through the shoulders, and under the arms? It's teeny-tiny, right?
(wearing: Mike's shrunken sweater from Banana Republic, Echo Designs scarf, James Perse tee, Paige denim, 9West bag, Dansko boots....on R: Crewcuts hoodie, Peek denim, Merrill boots)
Yeah. This was Mike's sweater. And looked, once upon a time, like this (but in gray):
So what happened? I washed it - on cold! Once! And it shrunk just enough so Mike couldn't wear it, but I could...as a slightly over-sized, but cozy sweater. Thinking I was safe, I washed again (still on cold!). It shrunk further to it's current cropped-and-fitted shape. Thankfully, it keeps shrinking in proportion. I'm thinking that if I ever get sick of it I'll just keep washing it and give it to the kiddos.
In summary: Don't wash merino wool. At least not Extra Fine, 100% Merino.
So the big question: what do you do with sweater blends?
My mom washes them (most she wins, some she loses) and I dry clean (too paranoid). That said...
4. Stop Washing, Start Spot-Cleaning (and Airing Out)
Rule of thumb: If an item of clothing rarely touches your skin, you really shouldn't wash it all that often. I have sweaters that I only wash....once a year? I know this sounds crazy, but you'd be surprised at what a little spot-cleaning can do. I've found that washing machines are the quickest way to make clothes look old and tired. So view all of your laundry with a critical eye: Does it *really* need to be washed? Right now? Or could you just try a little soap and water? My mom swears by Fels-Naptha to remove just about any stain.
I'm also a huge believer in airing out your clothes. From denim, to sweaters, jackets, dresses and dressy tops, I almost always try airing out before I succumb to the dry cleaners or the washing machine. I used to rely on Febreeze (a long, loooong time ago) but I found that most things will air out with time (out-of-doors helps). However, to speed up the process, I'm intrigued by this article on using vodka instead of Febreeze. God knows we always have some handy....
Bottom line: I only dry clean or launder items like sweaters, jackets, denim and dresses when I can't fix the issue by airing out or spot-cleaning.
5. Go Buy This Fabric Shaver
M got me this nifty little gadget for my birthday last year. It's from Brookstone, and I LOVE it. Ignore the fact that it states "Not for use on fine fabrics or weaves such as cashmere, angora, mohair". Hunh. I use it on cashmere constantly. Cashmere will clog it up after a while, but it can be easily cleaned out.
Wanna see a before and after? Warning: It's cah-razy:
6. Get Better Jeans and Wash Them Less
It makes me mad when jeans stretch out after each wear and require washing to retain their shape - especially if I've just spent $200. Unless I'm pregnant (maternity jeans are the worst offenders)...I simply don't tolerate it. Find denim brands that fit you perfectly without losing their shape. You should be able to go several wears without washing your jeans. (Even my $30 pair of Levis rarely need to be washed).
When you do wash your denim, turn them inside out. Theoretically, you should air dry them...but I hate how it makes them feel. My mom has had luck with air drying them until they are almost dry...then popping into the dryer to soften them up. I wash mine so rarely that I do just stick them in the dryer.
But yes - some of my jeans are often covered in some unidentified substance. If a quick spot-clean doesn't work, I often just tell myself it's part of the premium wash and move on. I'm more focused on how my bum looks in denim anyway.
7. Find a Good Tailor
I have everything fixed: holes are sewed shut in my cashmere sweaters, elbow patches are added, and torn t-shirt necklines are fixed. If you know your way around a sewing machine, this gets even easier.
However, this piece of advice makes no sense if you are wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt that you can replace for $10. However, if you've spent a little money, chances are that the shirt still has great drape and is worth a few bucks to fix.
8. Moms Need Play-clothes Too!
Most kids don't make mud pies in white faux-fur jackets, and neither should you. For the messiest of days, try play clothes! My play-clothes consist of either loungewear that I luuuv (totally washable yet totally cute), cute workout gear that I mix with normal clothing depending on the situation, or my favorite: Mike's old, soft tees and my paint-splattered Gap boyfriend jeans.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I can be found in either my loungewear or play-clothes every morning, again at nap time, and again at the end of the day. And some days? If we're having a baking/painting/mud-pie bonanza? I'm in 'em all the ding-dong-day. So I try to find cute ones. It's better for my self-esteem.
9. When Buying Cheap, Go Dark
With the ca-razy body changes of pregnancy, post-partum, nursing, and then back again...sometimes we just need a d@mn shirt. One that will get us through the next X months days.
Darkly colored clothing hides a multitude of cheap-construction sins. My favorite turtleneck sweater (that you've seen here) is acrylic and cost $30 from the Gap. It was also available in a gorgeous light plum/pink. But the cheap acrylic fabric in the light plum looked, well, cheap. Every mis-weave and fuzzy bit showed up in the light color...and would only get worse over time.
The same is true for denim. If the jeans look cheap, try the darker wash. Very few low-cost denim lines can do a light wash correctly, and fit issues can often be (slightly) hidden by a darker wash.
10. Minimize What You Have To Store Away
Proper storage of clothes is a huge hassle. They have to be cleaned, then stored in a way that protects from moths (something I quite haven't figured out), and hinders mildew/mold, yet still lets the clothes breathe. I try to keep my wardrobe seasonless, as much as I can, so I don't have to worry about storing tons of clothes. I try to restrict myself to one or two small boxes, at most. I store these boxes on a closet shelf, and try to avoid putting anything in a damp (or moth-filled) basement. I don't have any great storage-words-of-wisdom, other than to keep it to a minimum. So yeah - this does mean that my striped cashmere sweater above? The one you're sick of by now? You'll probably see me in it this summer, as a bikini cover-up on a cool summer night.
Mamas, I'd love for you to weigh-in. Are there any clothing care/tips that you can't live without? Any special fabrics that can take a beating, then a cleaning, and still look great?