|be smart | October/November 2016
Building, caring & feeding your main wardrobe
by Ginger Johnson
Everyone should know how to procure and take care of their own clothes. It's one of life's most useful skills -- and there's equal opportunity in shopping and cleaning.
What items in your closet do you truly love? Have you had them for a while? Which items did you recently purchase? Which ones did you specifically save money for? Do you have some items you keep around yet never wear? What items could you add to impact the flexibility of your closet? What could you donate or pass on to friends? Here are some suggestions as well as a busted myth to cogitate.
As much as possible, buy the highest quality you can afford. Try to steer clear of inexpensive and poorly made goods. Look at seams and joints and the actual fit as you move around. Well-built clothing can give us years of great service and joy. When poorly-made goods wear out, we buy more. They don't last and are sure to end up in landfill ("throw away" never really goes away). Being thoughtful in our buying and budgeting for clothes encourages us to care about and for the items we add.
When acquiring a new piece, consider the life cycle of the materials and longevity of the fabrics. Common natural clothing fabrics include cotton, flax, wool, ramie, silk, denim, leather, down (feathers) and fur. What kind of care will you need to give it to make it last? Does it require any special cleaning or pressing needs? How often will you wear it?
How about synthetics? Common synthetic fabrics include polyester, ozone, acrylic, nylon, rayon, acetate, spandex, lastex, orlon and Kevlar. Materials like polyester are very different from when they were first introduced to the market, so keep an open mind. With dozens of choices, we need to find what works best for us and how to care for it.
Match items to your lifestyle. Like cool non-sticky fabrics? Choose linen. Do you love a heavy knit sweater? Know which knit suits you best. Are you active and like wicking fabrics to keep you cool? You've got options.
When I shop, I find brands that fit my body and budget and seek them out. Knowing the brands that work for you facilitates solid wardrobe development. I also love shopping thrift stores, where you can find a whole gamut of options!
Ready to bust a laundry myth?
True or False: You must dry clean everything that states "dry clean only".
There's a lot of misinformation stating that we must dry clean certain clothes. Dry cleaning for the vast majority of items is unnecessary. Dry cleaning is intended for fabrics that degrade in water or cannot withstand the rough treatment of a washing machine or dryer. A friend once told me, "I knew one girl in college who thought all bras had to be dry cleaned; I don't even want to imagine what her monthly bill must have been!"
Conventional dry-cleaning also uses a toxic chemical cleanser, tetrachloroethylene (aka PCE), which is a carcinogen. If you choose to dry clean, seek out cleaners who use gentler and more environmentally friendly solvents like liquid silicon.
Modern capabilities allow us to hand and machine-wash virtually all fabrics. Make time on the pre-purchase side to self-educate for greener, more cost effective alternatives. Before dry cleaning, everything was washed by hand anyway. While I don't care to hand wash all my clothes, I do find hand washing certain items relaxing. It's gratifying to know I can do it myself, sans chemicals and extra cost while being kinder to my clothes and the planet.
There are some terrific resources on how to care for your clothes. One of my favorites is Laundry, The Spirit Of Keeping Home, by Monica Nassif. Nassif is the founder of The Caldrea Company, which is dedicated to making "household chores more enjoyable." It's a great guide on how to care for a wide variety of fabrics and materials.
If you use a front-loading washing machine, the movement in the washing is gentler. Ask yourself if you truly really need to machine dry everything. Dryers can be hard on your clothes; air-drying extends the life of your wardrobe. Consider folding drying racks in the winter and an outdoor clothesline for warmer months. I love the smell of line-dried clothes and the sun is a natural sanitizer -- all for free!
Thinking about what we buy is our opportunity to educate ourselves on best care practices and can be a fun pursuit. Take pride in creating a long lasting closet and keeping your wardrobe in good service. Doing so helps us take care of our clothes and the planet simultaneously, one piece at a time.
Ginger Johnson can often be found pairing food & drink, speaking, developing recipes and teaching all sorts of classes to flavor lovers all over. Read more at GingerJohnson.com and WomenEnjoyingBeer.com. She can also be found on Twitter (@gingerjohnson) and Facebook (Ginger Johnson LLC).