How to Look After Your Suits

Many people look after their suits badly. This may seem obvious. After all men hang their suits on pegs, leave them on the floor after a day’s wear and occasionally bundle them into bags. For the most expensive piece of clothing a man owns, it is generally not treated well. But the biggest mistake he makes is dry cleaning his suits too often.

The chemicals in the dry cleaning process damage natural fibres of wool or cotton, thinning and weakening them. Over time the material at stress points such as the crotch and elbows will wear down. Dry cleaning is still the most effective, indeed really the only effective way to get dirt out of these materials. But often the suits simply aren’t dirty.

Any dirt that does accumulate during a day’s wear can easily be brushed off in the evening. Simply hang up your jacket and trousers and brush them a few times with a soft-bristled brush. This removes the specks of dirt before they can get ground into the material through wearing or pressing.

Suits brushed this way after use should only need to be dry-cleaned twice a year. Some enthusiasts recommend only dry cleaning your suit before it is stored away for the season – so once a year – but this rather suggests that they own more suits than the average man, meaning few uses of the suit each week, and only wear a suit for six months of the year, again suggesting less use.

Dry cleaning twice a year should be sufficient for a suit worn once or twice a week. If you wear a suit more often than that, its lifetime is going to be considerably shortened anyway.

Hang your suit up every night and always leave it for a day before wearing again, to let it recover and drape out its wrinkles naturally. Heavier materials and linen should be left for at least two days.

Many recommend steaming your suit in the morning to remove any last wrinkles. This is often impractical, but it is worth doing occasionally. Buy a portable steamer, or use the steam setting on your iron to puff steam into the material while it is hanging up (make sure it is on a low heat as well). You will sometimes see staff in shops doing this to suits on display, to make them appear crisp and fresh.

If the crease on your trousers also softens over a few weeks, this can be steamed back in with an iron, but again make sure it is on a low heat.

That’s pretty much all you need to do. Store the suits with plenty of space between them in a closet, preferably in cloth suit bags to keep moths away (the brushing out of dirt should also make the material less attractive to the little bleeders). And if you are the kind of man that stores seasonal suits away for six months, make sure they are clean and wrinkle-free before you do so.

How to Salvage Your Clothes

This is advice that was given to me on when you can save clothes that are ripped, stained or holed, and what to do about it.

The situation:
A sweater with a hole in it
Can it be salvaged? The more unravelled the fabric and the finer the knit, the more difficult it is to mend without being too obvious.
What to do: Find a seamstress who can reattach the loose knitted ends. Whatever you do, don’t wear a sweater with a hole in it if you plan on saving it.

The situation: A sock with a hole in it
Can it be salvaged? No point. The same goes for t-shirts.
What to do: Buy a new one and move on.

The situation: A small, clean cut through a suit
Can it be salvaged? Yes, provided it’s a cut rather than a rip and that the weave does not have a complicated pattern.
What to do: The services of a good reweaver, also known as an invisible mender. Trouble is, invisible menders are very hard to spot. Alice Zotta at 2 West 45th St (Room 1701) is recommended in New York.

The situation: A suit jacket with bubbly lapels
Can it be saved? No. The bubbles happen when a cheap suit – the kind that has a fused construction, made with glue rather than stitched – is caught in the rain. The glue dissolves. To tell if your jacket is fused or canvassed, pinch the material around a buttonhole with both hands, one on the inside and one on the outside. See if there is any material floating between the outside and inside when you separate them.
What to do: Buy a more expensive suit.

The situation: Salt-stained shoes
Can they be saved? Yes, provided they aren’t also dried out (see below).
What to do: Take a 50-50 solution of water and vinegar and wipe it sparingly over the shoes. Wipe off the excess. Once the salt stains have disappeared, treat your shoes to a loving, liberal repolish at the cobblers.

The situation: Shoes whose leather has become cracked by too-rapid drying after a downpour. Or, indeed, a lack of shoe cream for a good few years.
Can they be saved? Sorry. Consider this a cautionary tale. Leather is organic, and if you dry it out too quickly, it’ll go stiff and the fibers will break at the stress points.
What to do: Next time, wipe down your wet shoes and then dry them slowly, away from direct heat. Put newspaper inside to absorb the moisture.

Reader Question: Tips on the Go

Nick, London: Do you have any practical tips for dealing with stains on clothing and other practical tips?

Sure. First, some practical tips to deal with problems if you are on the road and not within reach of a good haberdasher.

Situation: Unshined shoes.
What to do: First, try rubbing them lightly with a cloth or towel. Much of what appears to be a dullness in the leather is often accumulated dust. In fact, this should generally be done every morning before putting on your shoes. The old rubbing-the-toes-on-the-back-of-your-trouser-leg trick also works, though it doesn’t deal with much other than the toes.

If you’re desperate, eat a banana. Then use the banana peel to give a temporary shine to your shoes. It’s not ideal, but it won’t damage the leather, being natural. Avoid any “quick shine” products as they normally contain silicone, which is effectively giving your shoes a plastic coating.

Popped a shirt button
What to do: Use a safety pin. What do you mean you don’t carry a safety pin? Well find one and use it to fasten the shirt, making sure that both ends of the pin lie flat against the shirt.

Situation: Spilled wine on yourself
What to do: Using a dry white napkin, soak up as much liquid as possible from the surface before it’s absorbed, then dab on cold water so the stain stays damp and doesn’t set. Never rub. If the stain is on a suit or tie, ask someone to recommend a good dry cleaner and go immediately. If it is on a shirt, put straight in the wash.

Your zipper is stuck
What to do: Check to make sure no fabric is caught; if it is, try pulling the zipper up and then down again. Finally, rub the tip of a graphite pencil along the zipper. Graphite powder is a great dry lubricant.

Situation: Static cling
What to do: Find a wire hanger in a nearby coat closet and rub it along the clingy area; the metal will remove the charge.

And one more non-clothing tip…

Situation: Bad breath in the middle of a party
What to do: Find a glass of water and a lemon. Squeeze as much of the lemon into the water as you can. Either drink it or, if you’re hidden away in a corner somewhere, gargle it.
Next week, some general maintenance tips for your suits…

Anyone Know a Good Cobbler?

I was having a set of keys cut in a local cobbler yesterday and couldn’t take my eyes off the guy resoling shoes. He banged in the nails on the new shoe with abandon, filed off the edges of the leather while barely looking at it and then threw (yes, threw) the completed shoe onto the shelf above him.

It landed on a mound of similarly maltreated shoes, a few ladies’ heels sticking out from between a dozen black brogues. It looked like a mound of stricken corpses. You could almost hear the pain inflicted by his whining machinery.

These high-street cobblers barely deserve the name. (They certainly are nothing close to cordwainers – the old English term for makers of shoes.) But then what should you expect from someone who is equally adept at cutting keys, dry cleaning and resoling?

But there aren’t many other options. If you want a good pair of shoes resoling or reconstructing, your only choice is a high-street butcher or the original manufacturer. And the latter is likely to be prohibitively expensive – possibly involving the shipping of the shoes to France or Italy (it’s even worse for US readers, who might have to send them to Northampton as well).

This service is undoubtedly worth it if you want the shoes reconstructing, with new welts and linings etc. But it’s a little excessive just for a new sole.

I asked Steven Taffel of Leffot in New York for advice on this but without any luck. Apparently the problem is similar in the US – nothing in the middle ground.

Steven suggested I try Dean Girling (of Gaziano & Girling) to ask his advice. Dean’s best suggestion was to send them to his team, one of whom would be happy to reconstruct a shoe. This is useful and more local, but doesn’t really solve the problem.

“The problem is there just aren’t any high-quality cobblers out there any more,” said Dean. “My father still does a lot of that work but he’s in his sixties now and has more work than he can handle. It seems there isn’t the volume of retail demand for high-quality work.”

So this is a request for recommendations from the readership. There must be some good cobblers out there that I can feel confident giving my JM Westons to for a new heel. It doesn’t matter where you live, any recommendations would be gladly received.

[I also need to find somewhere that sells tongue pads that you stick to the bottom of the shoe’s tongue – it helps tighten the top of the shoe when the leather has expanded over time.]

The Shape of Your Feet

Different types of shoe will fit you better than others. This has nothing to do with the material or the design. It is the last.

You will occasionally hear people, deep in sartorial conversation, say something along the lines of: “Well, you see I’ve never found anything to quite fit my feet ever since Edward Green discontinued the 202 last.”

They are referring to the shape of the sole of the shoe, how pointed, chiselled or rounded it is at the toe, how wide through the ball of your foot and how tapered at the waist. This is the last. At a basic level, it is the footprint the shoes make, and it is the most important thing to fitting you well.

[By the way, do not panic EG fans, the 202 is live and well! It was just an example. Think of the summer sales and calm down.]

Now, I have no idea what last suits me in Edward Green, John Lobb, or any other shoemaker for that matter. But over time, largely through chatting to friendly staff in shoe shops, I have discovered a few things about my feet.

I have very wide feet across the ball of my foot. I know this because, whenever I put on a shoe that is too slim or too pointy, I have to try it in a bigger size to avoid pinching down either side of my toes.

However, I also have a relatively high in-step and narrow bridge across the top of my foot. I know this because when I try this pointy shoe in a bigger size, I cannot do the laces up tight enough. My heel slips at the back, which is never a good sign.

The lovely co-owner of Hardrige shoes, just off Bond Street, taught me this, during a long consultation. (I recommend Hardrige for custom made shoes. For around £250, 20% on top of the ready-to-wear price, you can customise the lining, piping and colour of the leather itself.

Now I know this about my feet, it doesn’t mean I know which last to pick. But I do know that a chiselled toe fits me best, something that can be wide yet still elegantly slim at the toe. I know that I need to be able to tighten the shoe effectively, often to extremes. An oxford shoe (one piece of leather split into a V where the laces are, rather than two pieces tightened from either side – a derby) needs to start with quite a lot of space remaining in its V. Even when the leather has expanded and the V narrowed, it must tighten well. A monk-front shoes also works well in this regard, as an extra hole can often enable it to be tightened further.

It also means that if I ever walk into John Lobb to pick a pair of shoes, I’ll be able to give a fairly good description of the last I want, if not the number.

Go find an accommodating sales person. I recommend glancing through shop windows and finding one that looks a little bored.