Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tricks and Tips for Keeping Clothes and Accessories in Top Shape

I have a bad habit of buying things that are cute, cheap and disposable, bought with the expectation that they'll be falling apart by the end of that season. In this age of discount-designer mania (thank you H&M, Forever 21 and Target), I'm sure I'm not the only one.

This summer, my go-to shoes were a pair of simple, gold and white gladiator-esque sandals, bought at Payless for $14.99. For $14.99, I realized I was buying an essentially disposable shoe, but that's what I needed, as I knew they'd suffer some serious abuse from the city streets, and I was prepared to toss them in August. After two months of hardcore city walking (most days I wore them walking to and from work), the soles were black and the straps were stained. They now looked cheaper than they actually were (an accomplishment). I finally got around to unpacking my bags and organizing my clothes and shoes last week, and just as I was walking to the garage to throw out the shoes, my mom stopped me.

"Why would you throw those out? Let me work on them, I'm sure they'll look great if they were cleaned up."

Now, I normally treat my clothes and accessories gently so they stay looking great for a long time, but I was pretty certain these shoes were a lost cause, and I bought them expecting to only keep them for a couple months. They were constructed from materials with long, unrecognizable names, and I had a feeling that even getting them wet might lead to them falling apart.

Mom pulled out the box of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, which are sponges made out of a foamy material, with the "magic" ability to clean just about everything. I would have never thought to try them on my shoes or purses, but when we got it wet and started scrubbing, the stains came out of my shoes very easily, without soaking the shoe or damaging it in any way. Amazed, I pulled out the rest of my scuffed and dirty purses and shoes (excepting those made of leather, which I wouldn't risk, though I haven't had any problems with non-leather soles).

I wouldn't go as far as to say everything looked as good as new, but it took a few months of visible wear and tear off of my things, and they look a whole lot better. Later this week I'm going to go over all of my fall/winter bags and shoes, which is a great way to get excited about your older accessories, instead of rushing to buy new ones when it's not really necessary. I also learned a good lesson about putting the same amount of effort into taking care of my cheap things, since there's no reason why they shouldn't last more than a season.

So I thought I'd throw out a question to all of you (since you've given such awesome advice in the past)... what are your favorite tricks to keeping your clothes and accessories (high quality or low) looking good?


Teek said...

... I honestly don't think I own any shoes or purses that aren't made of leather, suede, or cloth. Otherwise, I would definitely try this!

Best tip? Learn to sew and find a tailor you trust. Personally, I sew broken seams, buttons, hooks to hold wrap dresses closed, and torn linings. I tailor things like hemming jeans and replacing zippers or unfolding visible hems that I would botch up myself.

Anne said...

I agree with teek about doing a little bit of your own tailoring if you are able. I also just spend a little extra time on my laundry to keep things in better shape, my washer has a handwash setting so a lot of stuff only goes in on that and then a lot of stuff goes on the drying rack to dry instead of in the dryer. That way things like cheap jeans and underwear last much longer.

Kimmi said...

When it comes to shoes, I try to prevent as much damage as possible by spraying them with sealer. It helps the material resist stains and provides some protection against wet weather.

Dana said...

Unfortunately, I'm not so good at keeping my things in good shape. However, my grandpa has worked at a dry cleaners for many years, so his secrets for fighting stains have been passed down. My favorite is when I got a big splotch of blue ink on my favorite white t-shirt. Who knew a good amount of hairspray and rubbing could take that out?!

Angie said...

Great post. I know that in the excitement of buying new things, I sometimes buy new items I absolutely don't need, when all it takes is a few minutes' work on something I already have.

One thing, though, take items like shoes to a pro BEFORE they're totally wrecked. It's easier to bring something back to life if it's not completely dead.

I'm a big fan of those wooden shoe stretchers (better than letting an uncomfy pair collect dust) and something usually labeled "leather lotion" for cleaning.

As far as items that say "dry clean" I do a decent amount of hand -washing. It's only if a tag says "dry clean ONLY" that you're running any real risk if you disobey.

Kai Jones said...

I hang up my work clothes when I take them off, even if I'm going to launder them later.

Seal the part of the shoe that meets the sole with waterproofing spray before you wear them the first time. Not the whole upper, just where it meets the sole. And of course, never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row: they need at least 24 hours to air out/dry between wearings (it's amazing how much feet sweat).

Before wearing new clothes:

Tack down any facings that are loose with a few blind stitches per inch. Works especially well on lightweight cotton jackets and blazers.

Immediately resew buttons and dab the thread with clear nail polish. Also check any other sewn decoration (beads? patches?) and resew if necessary.

On most pants and jackets, I don't open the pockets if they're sewn shut. I carry a purse anyway, so why make the pockets look baggy? But on pockets I will use, I tack them to a nearby seam with a loose thread chain so they won't turn inside out.

Check all seams, and resew any that would be embarrassing (like the crotch seam) or hard to fix if they failed while you were wearing the garment.

Anita said...

I love the power of simple shoe polish and a good buffing brush to keep leather shoes and bags looking good for many seasons. A big second to Kimmi's rec to spray sealer on every new shoe; saddlesoap is great for winter boots or any leather item that's really dirty. Using a zip-close mesh bag for tights, bras, panties etc. in the washer (even if it's on a gentle cycle) keeps your items from destroyed by the spin cycle. Woolite and Dryel exist for a reason - they really are easier on your clothes than regular detergent or harsh dry cleaning solvents.

Anne said...

I finally went to somewhere other than VS for some good quality bras and the assistant told me that I should NEVER wash them with Woolite. Anyone know why? I thought Woolite was supposed to be good but this little lady was very adamant.

Lisa said...

Hey Meg,

I love your blog!

For keeping clothes and accessories in top shape, I have a "maintenance kit." It's basically an old chocolate tin with the following items in it:

-all the spare buttons, sequins, and bits of thread that come in little baggies when you buy clothes
-a sweater shaver to shave pills off of clothes
-leather shoe cleaner
-spare safety pins and sewing stuff
-lint brush

This way, if I lose a button or I need to do some quick upkeep for something, I have all of my items ready in one place, and I don't lose spare button replacements in random places.

DeeDee said...

Just a word of warning about the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Here in Canada there was a news program about household products and what chemicals are in them. Apparently, Magic Erasers are absolutely loaded with known carcinogenic chemicals and should be avoided, or at the very least, avoided in households with children. Don't mean to rain on your parade, and I wish I could offer safer alternatives, but I thought it was scary enough to pass on.

Elizabeth said...

How sad is it that I got my favorite maintenance tip from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? I read a quote once from Carson (the blonde ring-leader) where he recommended shoes trees as being "like botox for leather". I tried the cheap version by just stuffing my good shoes with tissue paper when I'm not wearing them or retiring them for a season. He was right-- it really fights those wrinkles the leather gets when it's been worn.

Also: I am such a Payless freak. They've really been upping their game recently! Most of their stuff is still synthetic, but that just makes them insanely easy to clean. Most of the casual shoes I have from them I can just throw in the washing machine-- some of the dress shoes I can actually clean up with Lysol disinfecting wipes. I know, I know I shouldn't be happy about that; but the shoes look great, are cheap, and clean up easy-- I can't help but be in love.

Anonymous said...

If you don't have to use a dryer, use a clothesline or rack! The heat from dryers really age fabric and leads to a shorter life for anything you repeatedly wash and dry. Plus, the dryer is the household appliance that uses the most energy, so you can save on the electric bill!

jeni said...

Magic Erasers are also my favorite thing for fixing any and everything! I've used them on shoes before as well (mostly white running shoes), and I use them to get rid of scuffs on the wall, tile grout, and everything else. I'm not surprised to learn they might not be healthy, since they work so fabulously, and every good thing seems to have a negative. Otherwise, I have terrible luck with keeping my clothes looking new:( If I get any spots on my white clothes in the future, I'm going to try the Magic Eraser. Just use gloves cause they ruin your fingernails!

Deja Pseu said...

Whenever I buy new shoes with leather soles, I take them to the shoe repair and have rubber half-soles put on. Also, even some fairly expensive shoes often have plastic heels, so I have them replaced with rubber ones. It extends the life of the shoe exponentially.

I also LOVE to polish my shoes, the old fashioned way with a rag, Kiwi polish, and a soft brush to buff to a nice shine.

beth said...

My mom recently told me that to care for patent leather shoes (very big this season) you should use Vaseline! Just rub it in with a soft cloth, and wipe off any excess. I haven't tried it yet, but she has several pairs of patent shoes that still look great, so I'm pretty confident it works.

Anonymous said...

I find it very difficult to find shoes to fit, so every shoe is precious... even the "cheap" ones.

The first thing I do is make sure I have *enough* shoes. In my preferred heel height (mid-heels), I always have two daytime pairs in any given season. I also made sure I had two pairs of daytime flats, but I came to realize that's not necessary as I don't usually wear flats two days in a row. However the tip about alternating shoes is essential.

It may also not be necessary to have two of each kind of evening shoe... ahem... especially not for an introvert like me with zero social life... (The irony is that I don't even like shoes. I'd go barefoot everywhere if I could.)

At a pinch, you could have one style of shoe to get you through the whole year; one-part closed-toe would be just about adequate for Southern England where I live. But like most people I have different ones for each season; don't really want to wear closed toes in the summer, thanks. It may sound dumb to say that the more shoes you have, the longer each pair will last. But having bought enough to make me look like Imelda Marcos *now*, I am expecting that I won't have to buy any more shoes for years to come.

Of course, all this depends on polishing them regularly, using shoe trees where applicable, spraying weatherproofer as needed, getting them reheeled *before* they're worn to a nubbin, and so on. Another tip is to get a thin rubber sole stuck on, whether the shoes appear to need it or not.

As far as clothing goes, if an item is hand-wash-only, I hand-wash it as soon as I take it off. No exceptions. I'm certainly not good at mending, but even my clumsy fingers can save nine stitches if I do any mending as soon as I take off the damaged item - if not sooner. I also take an evening gown to the cleaners the day after I wear it.

Claire said...

I've also been told not to wash bras in Woolite, because it destroys the elasticity of the fabric. Doing some quick googling, Woolite has lanolin in it, which creates a protective coating for wool (sheep produce it naturally to protect their fleece from rain) but I would guess that what's good for wool isn't necessarily good for synthetics. So in short... for sweaters, wool pants, skirts, etc, use Woolite, but avoid it for things like swimsuits, bras, and underwear.

Luxe Gurl said...

Love your blog Meg. How do you find the time to write such interesting tid bits? Love it!

Can't wait to try your Mr. Clean tip!

RVAfashionista said...

I'll second not using Woolite for bras and panties because there is petroleum in it and Tide has the same... So no Tide or Woolite for any super elastic-y things like bras, panties, swimwear, etc. said...

Without question, the one thing I'm diligent about is taking good care of my clothes. The best way to preserve shoes is to stuff the toes with tissue paper after EVERY wearing and store each pair in clear plastic shoe boxes (I like the ones from Container store and they're inexpensive). I do this for ever pair of shoes I own - from the old navy ballet flats to my Tory Burch flats. that way every time you reach for a pair you feel like they just came out of the store and it prevents the aging caused by wrinkled toes and crushed backings. Oh yes, and a sweater shaver - also from container store - nothing kills the look of a sweater faster than pilling.

Anonymous said...

The Magic Erasers are fine to use. I checked this site which lists urban legends and found this there:

I'm glad, too, since I use them all the time!

Anonymous said...

What type of sealer does Kimmi use on her shoes?