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Caring for your Suits, Sport Coats and Blazers

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There’s an old song lyric that goes “You couldn’t be keener/You look so fresh from the cleaner.”

In fact, looking fresh from the dry cleaner is not a good thing, since it probably means your jacket looks stiff, the lapel roll has been pressed flat, and you smell like chemicals.

Eco types often point out how environmentally unfriendly dry cleaning is, and we’re here to say it’s not exactly gentle on your favorite suits, blazers and sport coats either. The truth is if you want to clothing to last, you should adopt a home maintenance regimen and dry clean your clothing as infrequently as possible. Here are some reasons why.

The chemicals used in dry cleaning are harsh on clothing fabrics. The more you clean a garment, the more you shorten its life. Dry cleaning can also leave an unpleasant sheen on suits, leave them stiff, rather than molded to your body, and can flatten out a rakish lapel roll.

Unless a jacket has become soiled or stained, you probably only need to clean it once a year, and can keep it fresh with a few simple things you can do at home.

If you have a back yard (or penthouse balcony, for that matter), hang your clothing periodically outside. Fresh air does wonders. If you’re an urban apartment dweller, you can hang your jacket in the bathroom while you take a hot shower and the steam will remove odors and freshen the fabric. A clothes brush is another inexpensive way to remove dirt and contaminants from your jackets.

If you’re a major league clotheshorse, you can invest in a clothing steamer and hardly ever have to visit the dry cleaner again. Figure $50-$250, depending on how serious you want to get. If you live in a climate that requires a seasonal wardrobe, then you’ll need to store your clothing somewhere cool and dry to protect it from hungry moths and dust mites. This is a good time to do your annual cleaning, since you don’t want to put them in storage for six months with stains and odors that can set in. Store your clothing in garment bags, with experts advising muslin or canvas bags rather than plastic for their superior breathing properties.

Finally, lest the dry cleaning industry cry foul, some cleaners are better than others. With a little research, you can probably find one in your area that specializes in chemical-free, environmentally friendly cleaning, and provides a gentle cleaning that goes easy on delicate fabrics.

Finally, trousers are a different story, and you will probably need to have them cleaned throughout the season. They’re less prone to having their construction botched (like a jacket’s lapel roll) and they pick up more dirt since you’re sitting on them. And when trousers come back from the cleaners, they’ve got a tight crease that, like a fresh haircut, makes you look and feel great. Better to be sharp as a tack than fresh from the cleaner.
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