There’s something truly delightful about new clothes. The fabric is soft, uncreased, and full of promise. But how do you keep clothes looking new? Well, do I have a few aftercare secrets to share with you!
Taking care of clothes is a really important part of making fashion more sustainable. For one, it reduces the need to buy more clothes, which reduces demand for virgin materials and (often unfair) labour. And on a more personal level, it shows a certain level of care and respect for your wardrobe. As Joan Crawford said, “Care for your clothes like the good friends they are.”
Learning to Love My Clothes…
I’ll be honest, I grew up with very simple rules around clothes. If they smell, wash them. When they’re washed, hang them to dry. When they’re dry, iron them, hang them, and put them away.
My mum is a big fan of ironing, so naturally, I hated it. Standing over a board, half flattening, half creasing my school uniform was a chore. I would wriggle out of it as much as I could, and would even avoid buying fabrics that required ironing where possible.
But, she was right. Ironing makes clothes look fresh, presentable, and new. She also instilled in me the importance of stitching up holes, fixing broken zips, or in her case, wonderwebbing anything that was too long for her petite frame.
It took me a few years after moving out of home to realise that these were valuable life skills. Clothes look better and last longer. And while I’ve never been a particularly proficient seamstress (as the people in that one Agnes LDN sewing class can tell you), I do understand the value of mending garments (or getting them mended by a professional!)
How To Care For Clothes
Here are my top tips for caring for your clothes so they’ll look new for longer, and you’ll get more wear out of them:
Wear and re-wear items as much as possible. One way to reduce the impact of your clothes is to simply wear them a lot between washes! My pair of Nudie Jeans even came with a little leaflet that said the jeans should be washed after a few months’ wear! So, pop a t-shirt under a jumper, wear a cami under tops, and when things do get a little whiffy, use a garment refresher spray!
Wash at a low temperature on a quick wash. When your clothes inevitably require a wash, do so on a low-impact setting. My washing machine goes down to 30°C, so that’s what I use for all my clothes, except for knitwear and silks, which I hand wash in the sink.
Choose the right mode for your washing machine. Some more modern washing machines have different programmes for different fabrics – if you’re lucky enough to have these features, take a moment to learn which mode is best for which garments!
Use a guppy friend bag for plastic-based fabrics. For any fabrics made with polyester, nylon, elastane, etc., try putting them in a Guppy Friend bag* when washing. This apparently catches the plastic microfibres that come off during the wash, and prevents them from polluting water systems and wildlife.
Use eco clothes detergents. One of the most important steps in caring for your clothes is to use a clothes detergent that’s gentle on your fabrics, gentle on your skin, and gentle on the wildlife that it may come in contact with the water that goes down your drain. I shared a few of my favourite brands in my guide to eco cleaning products a little while ago.
Avoid fabric conditioner. Despite Comfort’s new ‘Long Live Clothes’ campaign, fabric conditioner can actually reduce the life of your clothes, especially activewear. Verena Erin’s guide on Ethical Unicorn explains this really well. If you do want a nice smell, try adding a few drops of your favourite essential oil into your wash.
Hang clothes to dry. As much as I love the comfort of freshly tumble-dryed clothes, tumble drying takes a heck of a lot of energy, and weakens fabrics over time. Where do you think all that dryer lint comes from? Instead, try hanging clothes to dry: outside when it’s warm and dry, and inside on a rack when it’s not. (For woolens, make sure to dry these flat).
Steam (or iron) any wrinkly clothes. If you find some of your clothes have a pesky wrinkle in them when dry, try turning them inside out and steaming or ironing them. I’ve upgraded my clothes care game with my Morphy Richards Steamer, which works so quickly and easily on everything from t-shirts to silk shirts – and it gets me away from the nightmare of ironing (!)
Use wooden or velveteen hangers. I’ll be honest, I love the aesthetic of metal hangers, but they are only really practical for structured garments or t-shirts. Wooden hangers, or the more affordable velveteen hangers are better when it comes to ensuring clothes don’t slip and don’t take on the shape of the hanger. For delicates or knitwear, try to avoid hangers altogether and lay flat in drawers.
How To Care For Well-Loved Clothes
When it comes to extending the life of your clothes, there’s also a few extra tips I’ve learned to employ. These are perfect for both well-worn pieces in your wardrobe, as well as anything you may have raided from family members’ wardrobes or bought as vintage!
Remove bobbles and pulls. I find bobbles often make clothes look old prematurely (and sometimes it’s just an unfortunate case of an item catching/rubbing against the fabric). One way to remedy this is to snip off any pulls or bobbles (without damaging the fabric) or to take a disposable razor and run it over your clothes. To be even more eco, get a reusable fabric shaver – especially if you have a lot of knitwear!
Treat clothes to an eco dry clean. Despite most dry cleaners using harsh products that aren’t great for the environment, there are a few eco cleaners out there who can help restore well-loved clothes and remove stains and musty smells. If you’re London-based, I recommend BLANC‘s home collection service.
Get clothes altered. While our bodies change and styles change, our clothes don’t, so it’s easy to fall out of love with them over time. Instead of donating/selling/swapping, try getting things altered to fit your frame and remove overly-styled elements like shoulder pads. I got this vintage coat taken up a few inches at my local laundrette, and it cost just £20 to breathe new life into it!
How To Care For Shoes
Finally, I wanted to add a few tips on looking after shoes. Ethical shoes are still hard to come by, and footwear is one of the most impactful subsectors of the fashion industry (see Tansy Hoskins’ book Foot Work* for more info) so it’s important that we care for the pairs we already own.
Here are my top tips for looking after shoes and keeping them looking new:
Clean sneakers (especially white ones). I love my pair of Veja vegan leather sneakers, but their all-white outer makes it tough for me to keep them pristine. Whenever they get splashed with dirt, I’ll take a wet cloth and clean them, and for anything more stubborn, use a little white vinegar.
Re-heel shoes and boots. I’ve worn Chelsea boots for almost 10 years now, and my current trusty pair (gifted from Wills Vegan Shoes) were in need of a re-heeling earlier this year. I checked them in at my local Timpson store, and for £16 had both re-heeled and polished. Sadly, I only found out afterwards that they used leather in the heel, so my advice is to check the materials before handing your shoes over.
Polish leather shoes. I tend to avoid leather unless it’s second-hand, but if you’re looking to keep leather shoes in good shape, polish them regularly.
Support The Circular Economy
Finally, if you no longer want an item, try keeping the item circulating at its highest value. This is one of the main principles in creating a circular economy, so follow these steps whenever casting off garments:
In the UK, every second we send the equivalent of one garbage truck of clothes to landfill, so anything you can do to reduce this is brilliant!