Congratulations! You have a brand new suit, it fits perfectly, and you look fantastic in it! But now…how to look after it?
Whether it’s your first suit ever and it cost $300, or it’s a custom garment that cost over $3,000, you should be looking after your investment. That’s right–“investment.” A good suit, and great clothes in general, project a deliberate image to the world. So, to present yourself in the best light, you need to make sure you correctly care for your suit. Two main reasons for this stand out:
- So you look as good as possible
- So it lasts as long as possible
There are two main suit-care areas: storage and cleaning. I’ll cover each below in detail, and don’t worry, neither are overly-expensive in time or money!
Personally, I have a fair collection of custom-made suits that have considerable monetary value, and a large collection of vintage sports coats that weren’t super expensive but have huge value to me. I follow the top 5 steps below to protect my own clothing investment, so I can enjoy many years of optimal use…
Top 5 Suit Care Steps
- Use good coat-hangers
- Have ample closet space, and garment bags
- Cedar blocks and shavings
- DON’T DRY CLEAN (well, not often), instead brush (post-wearing) and steam (pre-wearing, if needed)
- Air after use for 24-48 hours
So it’s that simple. Get the gritty details below.
1 – Coat Hangers
We all have them, but do you have the right ones for your size? The correct size will protect the shoulders, and allow the jacket to drape correctly while hanging, keeping a better shape.
I’m a bigger guy and I have relatively broad shoulders, so I use the 22″ (standard is roughly 18″) wide black hangers shown above. These are not only wide, they are also thick…. Growing up I used to have shoulder “nipples” on my t-shirts and polos from using wire hangers my parents provided (shame on them). This has left me scared and particularly sensitive to getting well-proportioned hangers for my clothes.
From the middle picture above, I use the largest black hanger at the top. I’d recommend the middle one for most “average” size men, and not advise the use of the slim & small hanger on the bottom. A Final note on hangers: I do not believe there is any benefit to wood hangers, excluding the use of untreated cedar ones (see below).
2 – Ample Closet Space & Garment Bags
Unfortunately, your suit jackets now need more storage space, because they’re on the chunky coat hangers I just recommended. Good separation allows the garment to drape correctly during storage. If their packed too closely, your garments can wrinkle.
Further, it’s “advised” to store all suits and jackets in garment bags to protect from dust, moths, etc… For me personally, I store all my suits this way, and my off-season sports coats too. But I don’t do this with my in-season sports coats, for two reasons 1) when getting ready, I like to see my options and this makes it easier and faster to put an outfit together 2) I just like to look at them, plain and simple!
3 – Cedar Blocks & Shavings
I recently wrote an article on the benefits of cedar. In short, the use of cedar has three main benefits:
- Acts as a natural moth repellant (did you know each moth lays over 100 eggs, and those buggers can feast on your clothes like nobody’s business!)
- Will assist to absorb any residual moisture
- Smells great!
Note: if you have a moth problem, cedar alone won’t cure it. It would be best to have all your clothes cleaned or frozen for a few days. Both techniques expose clothes to extreme temperatures, killing the larvae. After that, vacuum regularly and get moth traps. I have a few of these from “Cleaner Today” in the apartment as a precautionary measure.
4 – Correct Suit Cleaning Practices (no excessive dry cleaning)
Dry Cleaning should really be called “Dry Killing” for suits. Although it has it’s place if you have a nasty stain, you shouldn’t really need to get a suit dry-cleaned more than twice a year, even if you wear it 1-2 time per week.
This is because the chemicals are damaging to natural fabric fibers (i.e. cotton, wool, etc…), reducing the overall appearance of quality and the longevity of your garment. Further, one should not wear a suit more than once (at most twice) per week, because the fibers need time to rest between wearings.
Horse Hair Brush
Prevention is better than cure, and that’s true with suit cleaning. After each use, a quick 60 second brush-down of your suit jacket and trousers is all that’s needed to remove the majority of dirt and dust particles. Use a soft bristled brush, so as not to damage the fibers. The large 10″ long horse hair brush above was only $18.
A further bonus of brushing is to make your suit a less attractive meal for moths….never a bad thing!
Garment Steamer or Iron
A quick steam in the morning is optimal, but that 5 minutes is usually precious in the wee hours (go ahead if you can…). So practically, a steam is good for special occasions and / or to get any wrinkles out of fabric.
I use the above “Rowanta Ultrasteam” it only cost $30, kicks off pretty much unlimited steam, and I’ve seen it work wonders on some less-than-optimally shipped vintage sports coats I bought online. If you don’t have access to a steamer i.e. your traveling, hanging your suit in the bathroom while taking a hot shower will help relax the fabric’s fibers, dropping out wrinkles.
Steaming can also be good to get out certain kinds of stains, ones that are particle-based. If, however, you have an oil-based stain, try putting some talcum powder on it to draw it out. If both of those fail, you may have to ship your garment off to the dry cleaners (it may be worth checking if it can be wet-washed, to avoid the dry chemical bath).
5 – Air After Use 24 – 48
After wearing a suit all day, it’s going to have picked up dirt (that’s easily removed by brushing) and moisture from your body and the air’s humidity. To remove this moisture, and to let the fibers relax after use, let the suit hang for 24 hours (48 if it’s a heavier winter fabric). I use these hooks on my wardrobe doors; they only cost $1 for two!
This airing is all that’s needed to get the suit back into it’s optimal drape. Now you’re ready to put it back in the lineup for a future sartorial installment!
BONUS TIP – For Extra Suit Life, Start Seeing Double…
If you’re going custom or, getting off-the-rack “suit separates,” it may be worth getting an additional pair of trousers. Pants wear much faster than jackets, and this is especially true in cooler climes where slush and salt are plentiful. These often damage trouser bottoms, even if you have the correct length trouser. As trousers are usually a fraction of a jacket’s cost, it makes economic sense to do so.
Note: I make this recommendation in particular for the cornerstones of your wardrobe, most likely the blue and grey suit. These will likely be the colors you wear the most, both in a professional setting and out socially, depending on your sartorial flare….
Caveat To Note: If you’re getting a more eccentric suit that you’ll wear less often, it may be best to invest in a waistcoat (vest) instead, to give you the three piece option. However, the exception I make to this rule is ordering two different trouser styles i.e. one pair with no belt loops for suspenders and another more regular one that will accommodate a belt. Needless to say, if money is no object, do it all. You’ll add great variety and longevity to your suit, because the jacket is both the most expensive piece and the longest lasting (if cared for using the aforementioned five steps).
Suit Care Tips Final Thoughts
It may seem like a lot of money & effort to go though these steps, but it’s really not. Most of the things I’ve mentioned are a one-time cost to buy (the coat hangers for example), and the others are a small amount of time (like 60 seconds) to brush your jacket after use.
One part of becoming a gentleman is developing your own style and having appreciation for the provenance of clothing, so take the time to protect your image (and wallet) by looking after your clothes correctly. It will pay dividends….
As always let me know your thoughts, and additional tips you may have for your suit / garment care.