High Maintenance: Dress Shirts
If you work a white-collar job your dress shirts may see the most daily use and abuse of any item in your closet. While they may not be worn as often as shoes, they are less resilient and take some serious abuse. Here are a few tips:
At minimum you’ll want five shirts. That’s enough that you can wear a new one each day of the work week. From a style perspective it’s better to have ten as it allows you to get a broader spectrum of patterns and colors. However, five is a good start for the average working man.
By having a new shirt for every day you’re able to give them all some time to breathe. Just like your shoes, your shirts need a day off to be able to recuperate from constant contact to your body and exposure to your sweat and natural oils.
Depending on how much or how little you sweat you can get two or three wears out of a shirt – which means you could arguably go two or even three weeks between doing laundry on these. This saves you time and money and also helps keep your shirts lasting longer.
Use a wooden hanger (like these). They are wider than wire hangers so it prevents the weight of the shirt from stretching itself out in the shoulders. The cedar can also help keep moths from getting into your wool items in your closet and it also looks better. I’ve found that I take better care of both my clothes and my hangers by using wooden options instead of plastic and wire.
I get asked a lot about how often you should wash your shirts. While there is no set rule, it’s better to wash less often than more. Whether it’s dry cleaning, machine washing, or even hand washing – cleaning your clothing speeds up the natural break down of the fibers. It can also affect the vibrancy and the cleanness of the colors. My personal routine is that I only wash my shirts when they stink enough that they need to be. For me this means I can get two, maybe three wears out of each shirt. Some of you will have to wash more and others less.
Remember that dry cleaning can do more damage than other types of washing and should only be done on garments that are dry-clean only. Even then, machine washing on a light cycle on cold and air drying is better for fabric maintenance than periodic dry cleaning.
Ring Around the Collar
Unless you’re new to wearing dress shirts on a daily basis you already know that one of the toughest spots to get clean are the collar and cuffs. These areas see the most skin-to-shirt contact and suffer as a result.
Because these are oil-based stains you want to pre-treat them before throwing your shirts in the wash. The best way to do this is with a heavy-duty stain remover from a company like Shout. For those with lighter stains you can get away with the spray bottle but you with heavier stains will want one that comes with a scrub brush.
If you use the spray bottle you’ll just spray it on the inside of your collar and cuffs before and then rub the fabric together. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort and you’ll want to remember that breaking stains up is the goal. They won’t be removed until you’ve actually run the shirts through a cycle.
For the heavier stains you’ll rub the brush against the material instead of the shirt against itself. It gives you more leverage and helps manage that meaner muck.
Know also that this can and should be done every other wash or so in your armpits to prevent yellowing stains. Those are a complete pain to get out if they’ve already set in, but prevention makes them much easier to deal with.
Regardless of whether or not your shirts are sold pre-shrunk, you’re going to see more shrinkage unless you take proper care of them. Heat is what causes cotton to shrink so the best way to prevent it from doing so is washing in cold water and allowing your shirts to air dry.
From personal experience, the hardest thing about air drying is remembering which items need it and which don’t. I recommend doing separate loads of air-dry only clothes so you don’t accidentally throw a shirt in the dryer with your socks and underwear.
Yes you need to iron your shirts. Even those that are wrinkle-free or non-iron still look better if they’ve been given a quick run over with the hot metal. It’s pointless to invest time and money into a well-curated wardrobe of things that fit and complement your contrast if the wrinkles make your clothes look sloppy.
No you can’t just iron the part of your shirt that shows up under your jacket. You need to iron the entire thing. You never know when you’ll have to take off your jacket and still keep a clean appearance.
These little stain sticks are one of the best modern inventions ever. You can buy them in packs of three and should keep one in your car, one in your briefcase or office, and one at home. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a small stain on a freshly cleaned and ironed shirt. Rather than throwing it in the wash and starting the cycle all over again, just treat the spot with one of these sticks.
At some point you’re going to have to simply replace your shirts. The easiest way to deal with this is to just accept it. There’s only so much prevention you can do and it’s worth getting more years out of each shirt, but they all need to go to the farm eventually. When your whites are grey, your collar stains never seem to go away, the cuffs or collars are frayed, your colors have faded, you have pit stains, or you start to see threads separating it’s time to simply embrace the fact that you need a new shirt.
Just like your shoes, taking care of your shirts does require a bit of an investment in both time and money. However, in the long run, you’re better off dealing with maintenance and the extended use it provides than having to rebuild your shirt wardrobe every year.
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