One time when I was shopping with a friend, she found a beautiful dress that was well made, fit her perfectly, and made her look absolutely fabulous. Yet I advised her NOT to buy it. Why? Because it was made from 100% linen.
Since she’d said that easy clothing maintenance was very important to her in her needs assessment, and since she had two large piles of clothes in her room marked “dry cleaning” and “ironing” that she seemed to do nothing with except add to them, I felt that a 100% linen dress would not be a wise purchase. She bought it anyway. When I asked her about it during her seasonal update appointment six months later, she sheepishly admitted that she’d worn it twice and washed it once before it joined her “ironing” pile, not to be worn again that season.
I know a lot of you can relate to this story. There was a time in life when how to maintain a garment was the last thing on my mind when I purchased it. Colour, fit, price – all of those things were more important to me.
Until one has kids, that is. Imagine this scenario:
Finding time to iron or hand wash, or schlepping a pile of clothes to the dry cleaners in one arm while holding a little one in the other – it “got old” very fast. When I found myself awake in the wee hours ironing some of MY DAUGHTER’s high-maintenance clothes, it occurred to me that there had to be a better way.
There is: it’s called “fibre blends.”
If you don’t know a lot about fibres, here’s a quick cheat sheet:
Natural fibres like cotton, wool, and silk are comfortable to wear because they absorb body moisture, vent body heat, and are less prone to static electricity. While they generally clean easily, they are also prone to shrinking and wrinkling and usually require extra maintenance like hand washing, air drying, and ironing.
Man-made fibres like acrylic, nylon, and polyester wrinkle less and tend to hold their shape better than natural fibres, and they can usually be machine washed and dried without too much additional care (be sure to check the care label). But synthetic fibres don’t absorb body moisture well, they tend to trap body heat instead of venting it (which is why, not to get too personal, you should wear cotton underwear), and they’re more prone to static and piling than natural fibres.
So what’s a gal to do to get the body-friendly features of the natural fibres with the easy care of the synthetics? I’ll say it again: “fiber blends.”
You’ll need at least 35% of a fiber to see a difference in performance, and 50% to get the most of the fiber’s good qualities (except for stretch fabrics like Lycra and Spandex, where less than 10% can make a big difference). So if you find a shirt you like that’s 50% cotton and 50% polyester, for example, you’ll enjoy equal parts absorbency and easy care. What if it’s 65% cotton and 35% polyester? More absorbency but more wrinkles. How about 65% polyester and 35% cotton? Less wrinkles but less absorbency. See how this works?
So when should you think about how to maintain a garment?
BEFORE you buy it – preferably before you head to the dressing room to try it on. Take a quick look at the fibre content and the care label. If you see that you’re going to have to hand wash, iron, or dry clean the garment and you’re willing to make the commitment or take on the additional expense, then go try it on and see how it looks.
But if spending a little quality time with your ironing board or dry cleaner offers about as much appeal as taking all of your children (or grandchildren) to the grocery store with you, put the garment back on the rack and back away slowly. There’s no sense even trying it on. Because if you fall in love with it, you’ll kid yourself about the maintenance, buy it, take it home, wear it once or twice, and then put it into one of your special care piles for who-knows-how-long, like my client with the linen dress.
So don’t fool yourself.
“All marriages are happy,” wrote playwright Raymond Hull. “It’s the living together afterwards that causes all the trouble.”
So it is with clothing care. Don’t fall in love with a garment and take it home without a second thought to its care. Go into the purchase with your eyes wide open, particularly if you’re dropping a bundle. If it’s going to require a lot of effort or money to upkeep and you’re not up to the challenge, don’t buy it. Don’t even try it on. Put it back on the rack and find something that DOES work with your lifestyle. It will be money better spent.