Martha shares her secrets.
Photography: Jonny Valiant1 of 7
Building and maintaining a wardrobe takes time and effort, and clothing is a major investment for all of us. I am a very careful shopper, and I try to buy well-made clothing that is stylish but classic—clothing that will be wearable for a long time. I think I have developed and practice methods that will help keep my wardrobe beautiful without massive cleaning bills. (Dry cleaning and professional laundry bills can certainly impair one’s clothing budget, and overcleaning is not good for fabrics or for the longevity of your clothing!)
I am often at public appearances, and I need well-pressed, properly fitting clothing that looks appropriate for the occasion. I do not have a fulltime stylist or wardrobe mistress, so I am very particular about home care for my clothing. Careful washing for cottons, linens, and even wool and cashmere sweaters is essential. Drying clothes on a rack, towel, or clothesline instead of throwing everything in the dryer will keep fabrics from aging prematurely. Spot cleaning small stains or smudges on clothes will lessen trips to the dry cleaner. And steaming suits, dresses, and slacks, after wearing, will keep them ready for a trip, a meeting, or a dinner date. What’s more, if your clothes are maintained in a careful way, you can dress, pack, or change much more quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. I am most pleased that I have kept fine clothes looking almost unworn for years. And it is such a good feeling when I put on something from seven or 10 years ago and get compliments like, “When did you get that fabulous jacket? And where?” I love being able to say, “Oh, years ago!”
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Establish a great clotheskeeping routine and see how a little extra care can go a long way toward helping your wardrobe stay in excellent condition.
Use a steamer to refresh your clothes and release wrinkles. The steam plumps up fibers rather than flattening them, so it’s gentler than ironing. (To remove tough wrinkles or get a crisp crease, you still need to iron.) It’s also faster, can be used on virtually any fabric, and will limit trips to the dry cleaner, which is particularly hard on clothes. Here’s what I do with garments—especially structured ones, like this blazer—at the end of the day:
1. Remove Lint
Use an adhesive roller to pick up any lint or pet hair.
Dab with a barely damp cloth to remove any visible dirt.
Run a steamer along the garment in an up-and-down motion.
Photography: Jonny Valiant4 of 7
Sorting and Prepping
Don’t skip this step—it’s important to wash like things together to prevent damage and get clothes their cleanest. Sorting properly means you can use the best cycle for each particular garment.
Beyond Lights and Darks
Most people sort into these two categories, which is certainly good and necessary. But further sorting is even better. Separate heavy fabrics, like denim (which can be very abrasive), from more delicate ones, and very dirty clothes from lightly soiled pieces. Wash towels and sheets on their own.
Before You Wash
Zip zippers, tie drawstrings, and empty pockets. Treat any stains. If clothes need mending, do it before washing them. If you’re not hand-washing delicates, put them in a mesh bag. And check new items for colorfastness: Dampen a discreet spot, then blot it with a white cloth to see if dye bleeds. If it does, wash the item on its own until color stops running (include an old white sock in the wash to check).
Photography: Jonny Valiant5 of 7
Use the gentlest cycle and coolest temperature that will get your clothes clean. (A short cycle may be fine for most items, though gardening gear or children’s play clothes, for example, may require a prewash or “heavy-duty” cycle.)
Don’t overload the washing machine or add more detergent than the packaging calls for in an effort to get clothes cleaner—it may not rinse out thoroughly. I like Persil detergent, and I wash my white towels and linens in hot water, but everything else is done in warm or cold. Always check stains when clothes come out of the washer; if they’re not gone, treat them and wash again.
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Photography: Jonny Valiant6 of 7
I air-dry almost everything—it’s easier on my clothes and saves energy too. It is especially important for delicate items and those that stretch, such as my yoga clothes, to help them keep their shape. If you do tumble-dry your clothes, do not overload the dryer or overdry the fabrics. Take the clothes out when they are just barely damp, and fold or hang them right away to prevent wrinkles.
Hanging white clothes outside in the sun can help keep them bright. However, dark items are best hung up to dry indoors, to keep the colors from fading.
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Don’t crowd garments in a closet. Clothing needs room; it should be uncompressed, with space for air circulation. That’s why I don’t use those skinny hangers that are reputed to fit two or three times as many garments in a closet. If clothes have been to the dry cleaner, I remove the plastic bags (but I keep a few on hand to slip over clothes when I travel—a great trick for preventing wrinkles in a suitcase).
I try not to hang sweaters (except for my “jacket sweaters,” which I keep on wooden hangers with foam nonslip covers). I never iron them but do steam them as needed. After they’re hand-washed, sweaters are blocked and dried on a flat surface atop a terry-cloth towel. Good wool or cashmere scarves are cared for the same way. Folded on shelves, sweaters and scarves stay fresh and ready to wear.
I am very finicky about how I hang my clothes. Coats need broad wooden hangers to keep shoulders aligned and prevent misshapen garments. Silk blouses, cotton shirts, and vests need smaller but still well-shaped hangers to keep shoulders shapely and bodies of garments unwrinkled. Pants and jeans are best on hangers fitted with clips.