January 30, 2013

Care and Maintenance: Wool Outerwear


I have already covered a lot of the general care guidelines for wool, but there are some outerwear-specific tips that are worth mentioning. Wool is an incredibly durable fiber and, with proper care, a well-made wool coat will easily last you for years.

When most people think of taking care of their coats it usually pertains to off-season storage, but proper treatment during the season is just as important to the life of your garment especially when the weather keeps bouncing all over the place like it has been in NYC this month. Wool outerwear is usually a very dense weave to help keep water out, which is good but can also make the piece heavy. That is why it is important to hang your coat on a sturdy hanger between wears instead of just using a coat hook. The weight of the wool can, over time, misshape the garment if it isn’t evenly distributed. You (hopefully) have a nice cedar coat hanger for off-season storage, so make use of it year round and keep your coat in tip-top shape.

If you happen to get some dirt or a spill on your coat, make sure to treat it quickly. For dirt, use a suede brush or a lint brush to get it clean again. If it is a liquid of some kind, take an absorbent cloth and apply pressure. You want to dab not rub the spot. Rubbing will not only spread the liquid, but it will also push it deeper into the fabric thus making it harder to remove. If after this you notice a stain, take the garment to your dry cleaner. Knowing what caused the stain will help them remove it more efficiently. The less time it has had to set, the easier it will be to remove, so time is a factor with stains. Whatever you do, don’t apply heat. Not only will heat shrink the wool, but it will also set the stain making it difficult to get out.

There is nothing worse than pulling out your favorite coat and finding moth holes in it, but mothballs are a thing of the past. Not only are they toxic, they smell horrid and that smell is often hard to get out of clothes (particularly wool). There are many natural moth repellants out there. Lavender, mint, and a rosemary/thyme/clove/ginseng combo are all popular folk remedies but the scents don’t quite do it for me. Lavender can be a bit feminine at times. My cat goes insane at the smell of mint, so that one is out for my own sanity. And the rosemary mixture can be a bit strong, especially after 8 months in a garment bag.

For my money, cedar not only is easiest to procure but it lends a subtle woodsy smell that I like. You can buy cedar blocks, sachets, chips, balls, and hangers at nearly any place that sells closet supplies. The variety allows you to easily find the right type of cedar for your application. For wool outerwear, I like to combine a nice cedar hangar for each piece with a few cedar blocks in the closet. With my favorite pieces, particularly the longer overcoats, I will throw a couple cedar balls in the pockets or bottom of the garment bag for good measure. Cedar will lose its scent over time, so either give it a light sanding or add a few drops of cedar oil to bring back the repellency.

I have discussed this before, but I think it is worth mentioning again. Many people will say that you should dry clean your coat at the beginning and end of the season, but this seems like flawed logic to me. If you make it a habit to properly put your clothes into storage right after they have been cleaned, then they will be clean when you take them out at the start of the next season. To send them to the dry cleaner again only degrades the fibers more quickly and shortens the life of the garment.

Part of proper storage is using a garment bag. This will help keep the dust and dirt that accumulates over months in a closet off of your coat and keep any bugs out. Plastic bags can seal in moisture and allow mold and mildew to develop. Instead, opt for a cloth garment bag that still allows the piece to breathe.

If you pull your outerwear out for the season and you find it massively wrinkled, take it into the bathroom while you take a hot shower (or just close the door and run the hot water). This is one instance where the weight of the fabric works in its favor, as the steam will help the wrinkles hang themselves out, no pressing needed.

Wool outerwear is one of the priciest investment pieces a man can buy, so it only makes sense to take good care of it. With the right tools and a little awareness, you can keep your coat looking like new for years to come.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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