The Importance of Wardrobe Maintenance, Part 1

It’s a disposable world we live in … or so retailers would have us believe. Clothing, shoes, and accessories are cheap and abundant here in the U.S. of A., and we seem to like it that way. We turn a blind eye to cost-suppressing labor practices and schnarf up the low-quality, low-cost goodies. And since we can get undies for $3 a throw at Target, sundresses for $14 at H&M, and stilettos for $23 at Payless, we may not spend much effort caring for the items we ALREADY possess.

My folks spent their anniversary in Paris last year, and came back with tales of $300 men’s dress shirts and $500 women’s pencil skirts. Basics from Macy’s-equivalents were costing that much, and my parents were flabbergasted. But, as many of you know, that is how it has always been outside the U.S. People expect to pay more for their garb, which causes them to take two steps that we don’t: They purchase fewer items with greater discernment, and take excellent care of the items they purchase.

I believe that if you treat your stuff like shit, you’ll have shit for stuff. Obviously, there will be unavoidable red wine mishaps and undetected invasions of ravenous moths. But more often than not, potential stuff-ruiners are completely reversible.

Below are some of my best practices for stuff maintenance. These focus on cleanliness, and if you’re interested repair/maintenance pop over to part 2.

1. Palmolive
If you are not aware of the mystical powers of Palmolive, let me enlighten you: Palmolive is created from fairy dust and unicorn eyelashes. This stuff will remove recent grease, ground-in tomato, and stains of practically every type short of Sharpie. Keep a bottle at home, even if you prefer something else for washing your dishes. If you stain a non-dry cleanable, bring it home, moisten with cold water, and douse in Palmolive. Let it sit overnight or longer, then wash in the machine. You will be ASTONISHED by what this fabulous elixir can salvage.

2. Tide pens
I basically have to mummify myself in napkins if I want to avoid slobbing food all over my clothes during meals. My Tide pen is great for stain triage, and will keep a food mishap under control until I can get home, strip, and marinate the stain in Palmolive.

3. Leather cleaner
Shoe stores such as Clark’s and high-end bag retailers such as Coach will try to sell you leather cleaners and conditioners and waxes when you invest in their wares. Unless you already possess these leather condiments, plunk down the extra $20. I’m no good at religiously massaging my handbags with soft sponges and chamois, but I’ve found that minor scuffs can be miraculously healed with a timely application of conditioner.

4. Lint rollers
Show your love for your pets by carrying photos, not by showcasing their fur on your outfits. As I know only too well, the world’s most pulled-together outfit can be ruined by down-leavings from a winter parka. Keep one at work, one at home, maybe even one in your car. Lint rollers are your friends.

5. Old toothbrushes
I’ve found multitudinous unexpected uses for these babies. I dip them in Tarn-X to get the gunk out of sterling jewelery crevices and dunk them in shoe polish when tending to my strappy shoes. I once owned a pair of Camper sandals lined in pale yellow satin, and by the end of each summer there was, inevitably, a grey-brown outline of my foot embedded in the fabric. A little warm water and (you guessed it) Palmolive, half an hour of toothbrush scrubbing, and an overnight dry … they were good as new. Hang onto your old toothbrushes when you swap in a new one. You just never know when they’ll come in handy.

(Palmolive image courtesy Kitsch, lint roller image courtesy constantgardeners.blogspot.com)

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  • Krista

    I second the handwashing of the bras. Good infrastructure don’t come cheap, and I’ve made some pairs last more than 2 years with careful washing.

    And oooh, a reader request: any chance you want to write about the care and feeding of a good leather handbag? I bought a lovely one earlier this year and am not doing right by it, but when I google around what I primarily get is product advertisements.

  • In Yr Fshn

    With two kitties, I have the lint roller at number one on my list. You hit al the marks here… I wish we (as Americans) supported the same quality over quantity culture that Europe seems to exemplify. H&M starts to drive me crazy after a while, because i know any piece I buy won’t last more than a year.

  • Anonymous

    Spray and wash stick – no idea what it is made of – but it does wonders. That and oxy cleaner.

    There was a section of the first shabby chic decorating book that had a bunch of tips in it way back – some for linens/vintage clothing.

    But not all european countries invest $$$ in their fashion – that is basically big city think. Zara, H&M, topshop – all thrived for years before we ever got wind of them. There are clothes you spend on, and disposable-esq ones too.I think it’s the individual approach rather than the nationality. One spends more on standards, less on trend.

  • Sal

    For sure! As generalizations go, lumping all of Europe together as a single spending-habits group may be a bit TOO broad. And very true that all those affordable Euro-chains have been wildly popular for years in their native lands.

    I mainly just wanted to point out that Americans often appear to feel ENTITLED to clothing that is so cheap it’s practically disposable – a mentality that I have not encountered elsewhere. At least, not often …

  • Imelda Matt

    I live a lint brush permanently clipped to my belt. I wear black on black but own a blonde dog with fine needle like hairs. As you would imagine I have the potential to look like a homeless bag lady if it wasn’t for my trusty lint roller.

  • Spandexpony

    It would be awesome if you set up a little quiz to judge if your readers are “maintenance mavens” “or “disrepair divas” or something. LOL! I think I’d fall on the “diva” end of the spectrum. I really should be more careful about my things, but most of them are thrifted, so if my $3 bag needs a new strap, get a new $3 bag… My dad used to always tell me about how the French have 1 really good suit to carry them through their days, and just mix it up. Somewhere on my “to do” list is “invest in quality classic pieces” like a black pencil skirt, white oxford and power heels. BTW great tips!

  • Anne

    Sally – This is Anne from UMF, Nan shared your blog with me. Keep it up – you are a great writer! I enjoy reading this:)

  • enc

    Aaaah, what a fantstic post!

    I must admit, I never hand-wash my bras, but then again, I don’t have any padding in mine, either.

    I have a couple of suede-care items: a brush and a rubber block, and those are helpful. I have big bottles of Lexol, and some Shout! That takes care of most of my problems.

  • fleur_delicious

    Ecover – like a green version of Woolite. Also, as I’ve discovered over the years, if you get it rubbed into a stain right away, an excellent stain remover – even took machine oil out of a delicate dry-clean-only satin, without leaving water marks. totally fab. I’ve found that Whole Foods usually carries it at a lower price than anyone else.

  • Ayesha

    Oxy-clean is amazing for getting marinara sauce out of my clothes, as of course I always wear white anything to eat Italian. And I’ll definitely have to try Palmolive!

  • WendyB

    Good post. And I’m so with you on treating things well. You should see the things people do to their jewelry, then they come crying to me to fix it.

  • Budget Babe

    definitely with you on hand washing bras, like you said, they’ll last longer and stay in great shape.

  • Lynn Sibley

    I will never, ever wash my bras again in anything but soak
    http://www.amazon.com/Soak-Wash-Scentless-Laundry-Detergent/dp/B001B03KBO/ref=pd_bbs_sr_4?ie=UTF8&s=beauty&qid=1236914246&sr=8-4
    lots of great scents, too
    I got it when I got my first bra that fit. The price of the bra made me cry a bit, so I didn't hesitate to buy the nice stuff to take care of it.
    It's green, you don't need to rinse, it's super easy and it does a darn good job. I can't recommend it more! My roommate used mine so much I got her her own for christmas- it's fantastic for delicate clothing, too.

  • – tessa

    Ivory bar soap is also a miracle stain remover. Rub the bar right on the moistened fabric – even blood on white fabric!