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How to Care for Your Clothing : 101

Demystifying the clothing care label doesn't mean you have to read Sanskrit. Most of us actually overlaunder our clothes or, worse, are intimidated to clean them gently at home. With the exception of certain silks and very tailored wool and cashmere coats and jackets, most things don't have to be dipped in a toxic chemical bath to be called clean.

Did you know that leather can be ironed through a sheet of brown kraft paper? Or that wool blazers should not be cleaned more than twice a year but rather steamed after being worn? It's all true. Unless you have dropped food or wine on your clothes, the average skin slough and light perspiration is only damaging to silk and you probably clean your wearables too often and too vigorously. A short wash time of about six minutes is usually sufficient for all but the dirtiest clothes. Most newer washing machines have cold settings that automatically monitor the temperature of the water so it doesn't get below 65 degrees, the point where most detergents fail to do their job properly. Use common sense. A Geoffrey Beene linen dress in a tub with water and Oxyclean is not economical - it's stupid.

Wool can weaken when wet - just like your hair, so you don't want to rough them up when washing. Measure your sweaters in four places before you wash them so you can reshape them back to the right size afterward - under the arms (across the bust), shoulder to shoulder, across the bottom and along the outer sleeve. After you've rinsed the soap out of your sweater, press out the excess water with your hands and lay it on a clean towel. Roll the towel up, pressing as much water as you can out of the wool. Do this three times before you lay your little darling on the final towel, patting and GENTLY pulling it back to your original dimensions. Don't dry them on racks that bend them in half and never, ever hang your sweaters on a hanger.

There are little things you can do, when you've still got your clothes on, that can keep them in gorgeous shape. Clip those string belt loops as soon as you wear the piece for the first time. Not only does the waist of each woman vary but these temporary belt holders are only there to keep the belt from being lost in retail stores. They also put undue stress on fabric and seams by having to support a heavy belt. Don't pull up the sleeves on a knit sweater. Don't use a shoulder bag when wearing a leather jacket. Don't stuff your pockets. Unbutton a suit jacket when you sit down. Don't spray perfume right onto your clothing. Sound like too much work? It's not. Once you've made a mental note to change your bad habits, instinct will kick in and you'll be doing the right thing as far as that Irene suit is concerned.

With talk of acid-free tissue and cedar, you may always feel like you're doing something wrong if the inside of your closet doesn't look like the archives at F.I.T. Relax - clothing was meant to be worn and fibers are astoundingly resilient. You are not storing Victorian silk velvets for museum displays so most of what you already do is just fine. Can you hang a Pucci silk gown or should you roll it? What the hell do you do with beaded dresses? Rolling is a great option but it won't work if you end up stuffing the item in the bottom of a drawer and piling things on top of it. Eventually, every rolled item becomes a folded one due to gravity so if you're looking for long-term storage, we recommend getting that Pucci dress out and re-rolling it every few months. Wrapping it in clean undyed cotton muslin and stashing it on a top shelf is a safe bet. Heavier beaded pieces should not be hung. The stress that the weight of the piece can put on the shoulders is never good. Love it, wear it, have it cleaned and then roll it up in a layer of muslin.

Plastic is bad news. When you get stuff back from the dry cleaners, get rid of those evil bags and wire hangers. Padded hangers for suits with appropriate hangers for their bottom halves (pant hangers for the pants with the clamp end across the hem, not the waist) and skirt hangers for skirts. It is best to hang the skirts from the loops. If a suit doesn't have them, consider having a tailor put them in for a few bucks. It's also a tip-off that the suit may not have been well-made. Most better tailors and designers make those de rigeur. Don't store anything in plastic bins with lids - the fibers need to breathe and plastic is a notorious humidity breeder. When you undress at night, brush off your jackets and air everything out before you put it away and don't cram you closets. Let it all have some space.

What about moth damage? Flying moths are not the culprits, it is the larvae that lives in your knits that do the damage. Hard to detect with the eye, they make your sweater fibers part of their cocoon so prevention is really the key here. Brush sweaters off with a good lint brush after wearing and have them dry cleaned before you store them for the winter. While very fresh cedar works as a repellent, it does nothing to kill adult moths or the larvae - only that stinky napthalene will. You can also put your wool and cashmere in deep freeze but unless you own a meat locker, this can be impractical. Don't want to smell like an eighty year old lady? Air your stored sweaters out for a few days after recovering them from summer hibernation - the smell will dissipate quickly unless you cram them right back into that smelly storage. Nothing like moth balls to ruin good perfume, eh?

Whether you spend $20.00 on a 1940's silk blouse or $6,000 on an Ossie Clark python coat, you chose that piece because of the style and its wonderful condition. With just a tiny shift in your regular routine and subtle attention to how you undress and store your clothes, each and every vintage piece you love will stay as wonderful as it is now.

is that what the little circle in a square means

(From L to R) A little wash tub means that you can safely launder this piece at home in cool water with gentle soap. If you choose to use the washing machine, please set the dial to gentle.

The same wash tub with an X through it means don't wash it. Water will more than likely permanently change the texture of the fabric or do irreparable damage by shrinking or weakening the fibers.

Bleach is cool if you see this symbol but please follow the directions. Chlorine bleach should never be used undiluted, even on cotton wifebeaters, and when regularly used will yellow the fabric.

No bleach. Period.

This dash inside a square means you should dry the item flat on its back.

The three vertical lines inside the square mean you should line dry this piece. A portable wooden rack or a good old-fashioned clothesline is perfect.

A circle in a square means you can tumble dry your piece. We recommend medium setting for everything and investing in a dryer that stops ityself by checking the moisture content in the clothing. The 90-minute timer is usually too hot and too long.

Unless you are ironing leather through kraft paper or heavyweight cotton, the low setting (around 230 degrees Fahrenheit) will do the trick. Very lightweight rayons and cotton voile should be ironed through a clean dishtowel to prevent scorching and glazing.

Buy a Jiffy comercial steamer and use it when you see this. You won't regret spending the few hundred dollars and they don't spit water like the travel ones can.

Entrust this piece to your dry cleaner.

Save the environment - don't dry clean.