A Brief Guide to Making Your Clothes Last Forever

From shoes to watches to leather, all you need is a little TLC

By Danny Agnew

A Brief Guide to Making Your Clothes Last Forever
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29 August 2018

Unless you’re a staunch minimalist, Tibetan monk or nudist, chances are you’ve got more than a few shekels invested in your wardrobe. As you should — looking good equals feeling good, after all.

But nice clothes, like any other investment, require some routine care and maintenance to remain their spiffiest and serve you faithfully in your stylistic endeavors.

And sure, you could continually pay professionals to take care of your handsome brogues, three-piece showstoppers and luxury timepieces, but we believe that a true gent should know enough to take care of his own gear.

Herewith, our primer on doing just that, chockablock with tips and tricks for keeping the contents of your sartorial arsenal in prime operating condition.

Spoiler alert: it’s easier than you think.

Shoes via Paul Evans

Your Dress Shoes

Considering that a good solid polish is A) your expensive kicks’ first line of defense against the elements, and B) virtually idiot-proof to execute, it shocks me that more guys don’t do it themselves. Plus it’s a zen way to spend 15 minutes and will save you loads of dough in the long run.

The gameplan:

  1. Order a nice horsehair brush and some quality polish and/or shoe cream. Polishing cloths are great, but in reality an old (clean) sock will do just fine and you won’t feel bad pitching it after a couple shines.
  2. Begin by giving your shoes a super thorough brushing to remove dirt and residue. This is arguably the most important step in the process (as you don’t want any of that stuff in between the leather and the polish), so don’t half-ass it. Salt stains and/or stubborn dirt can be removed with a cloth dipped in a 1:1 mixture of warm water and vinegar.
  3. Rub a little polish on your cloth/sock and give the shoe a solid once-over from tip to tail. No need to go crazy with the polish, just make sure you get the whole shoe.
  4. Back to the brush, hitting the shoe with fast, vigorous strokes — friction equals heat equals the leather opening up to accept more polish (the occasional mirror-fog breath also helps). Keep going until you get your desired shine. Feel free to go for a (lighter) second coat if you’re feeling saucy.
  5. Do the other shoe. Congratulate thyself on your self-sufficiency.

A few other tips on caring for your footwear:

  • Dry Effectively: Stuff wet kicks with newspaper to help keep their shape and dry them away from direct heat, lest they dry too fast and the leather crack. Unfinished cedar shoe trees draw the moisture out as well. Once dry, keep the leather supple with a generous application of leather conditioner.
  • Careful with Suede: Real stains on suede are best left to the professionals, but a kneadable eraser will take care of light scuffs and a brisk scrubbing with a soft toothbrush will help to bring back flattened nap.
  • Wrap ’em Up: When the weather’s bad, try to protect your kicks with rubber galoshes (like these from SWIMS). The easiest shine is the one you never had to do in the first place.

Suit via Black Lapel

Your Suits

Once upon a time, I was that guy dry-cleaning his suits over and over again in an effort to keep them fresh — I thought of it like suit laundry. But then a buddy (who worked for suiting legend Martin Greenfield) clued me in to the fact that dry-cleaning chemicals are really hard on suit fibers and can seriously shorten a kit’s lifespan. So you should really only do it when absolutely necessary. In the interim, here’s how you can handle things personally:

  • Spot Clean: A clean damp cloth actually goes a lot further than you’d think in getting small stains out of a suit. But BE GENTLE — rubbing too hard can mess up the fabric’s texture. A light brushing with a suit brush also helps remove particle buildup and keeps the fibers clean and healthy.
  • Invest in a Steamer: Not only is a good hand-held steamer the best way to remove wrinkles (a proper iron can burn the fibers and create irreversible sheen and thus should be avoided), but it’s also a low-key defense against odor — if your kit smells a little funky for whatever reason (your correspondent was brilliant enough to stand near a campfire at a recent beach wedding in his), give it a good solid steam from top to bottom and then air it out. You’ll be shocked at the improvement.
  • Invest in Good Hangers: A good wooden suit hanger serves two key purposes: it helps hold the jacket’s shape and also allows the suit enough space to properly air out (see above).
  • Store Appropriately: For suits in rotation, keep a couple cedar hangers in your closet to deter moths (moths love wool). For suits in seasonal storage mode, keep them in a garment bag with a cedar block or two in there for good measure.

Watch via Omega

Your Watch(es)

Considering how much wear it gets, the infrequency with which the average gent cleans his watch is, well, gross. Long story short, that baby is picking up everything from sweat to lotion to spilled beer, and could use the occasional decontamination. Lucky for you, this process is so simple a little kid could do it. In fact, if you have little kids, this is the exact kind of job you should be fobbing off on them — tough to mess up and they’ll feel important helping you out. To wit:

  1. Start by removing the band/bracelet from the watch case (do this part yourself). Wipe the caseback down with a clean damp cloth to remove any grime that’s built up on it. A Q-Tip is great for tiny crevices if you really want to get meticulous about it.
  2. Drop the bracelet into a dish of warm, soapy water (dish soap is great — it’s easy on the alcohol and meant to cut through grease). Let it soak in there for a few minutes. Note: if your watch strap is leather, skip this step. We’ll get to you in a sec.
  3. Remove the bracelet and give it a good scrubbing with a wet toothbrush. Rinse it off with warm water and pat dry with a clean cloth. Leather strappers: dip said toothbrush in the soapy water and give your strap a good brushing. Afterward, wipe it off with a damp cloth and then apply a small amount of leather conditioner as it dries to keep it supple and prevent it from drying out.
  4. Reattach and wear with pride.

Brief via Cartier

Your Leather Goods

First things first: we’re talking jackets, bags, wallets, etc. — but if you’ve got a, uh, “special suit” or something else that requires leather love, more power to ya. Story’s the same regardless, as high-end hide care is pretty consistent from item to item (though less so from hide to hide, more on that in a minute). Here’s what you need to know to keep yours tip-top:

  • Check the Label: Not all leather is created equal, and often certain types require slightly specialized care. Before doing anything, read the tags to double check that you’re not about to flush a week’s pay down the toilet.
  • Keep It Conditioned: Think of leather like skin (cuz, well, it is): the drier it is, the more susceptible it is to damage and increased wear-and-tear. Investing in a suite of quality leather care products is a no-brainer, using them semi-regularly to keep your gear supple and help protect from the elements.
  • Water Is Bad: While a damp cloth (or the water/vinegar mix from the shoe section above) can be used to wipe away salt/grime/etc, by and large water is the enemy of leather and should be avoided. If you’re unfortunate enough to get caught out in the rain, hang your jacket or bag on a padded hanger and let it air dry away from any direct heat. Soon as it’s dry, hit it with the conditioner straightaway.
  • Remain Stain Vigilant: Generally speaking, the faster you get to a stain on leather, the better chance you have of getting it out. Baking soda works great on oil/grease (just coat the stain and let the powder soak up the offending substance), and the aforementioned kneadable eraser from above will detach dirt and even fresh ink stains (especially from suede).

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