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July 9, 2013

Care and Maintenance: Linen


Linen is possibly the quintessential summer material and is actually a pretty amazing fiber. It is incredibly durable, naturally resistant to dirt, stains, and moths, doesn’t easily pill, doesn’t stretch out, and absorbs a crazy amount of moisture without feeling damp. With proper care and maintenance, your linen clothes will last you a long time.

By nature, linen is a more casual fabric. Despite (or maybe because of) all of the benefits I listed, linen is incredibly prone to wrinkling. If you are looking for crisp all day long, you might want to take a pass, but the wrinkles are what give linen its character. Embracing them gives you the added bonus of making your linen clothing essentially wash and wear (unless it’s a suit, but we’ll get to that).

As with all fabrics, the first step to taking care of your linen pieces is to pay attention to the care instructions. Linen itself is machine washable (and actually gets softer with washing), but the construction of the garment may make it dry clean only, so be sure to check the label. You can also choose to hand wash your linen as an alternative to machine washing. If you take this route, you should treat it like a sweater or other wool garment. Avoid kneading or wringing the piece, pat with a clean towel and hang to dry. Another thing to remember is that, while linen holds up well to high temperatures, it should not be put in the dryer if you can help it.

One thing to be mindful of is that, despite its strength, the fibers will break if they are repeatedly folded and ironed along the same line so be careful when pressing your pants and shirts. If you need that perfect crease, iron on a lower heat setting with a press cloth to minimize the potential damage. It’s also important to note that the slubs that give linen its characteristic texture are actually defects. The more slubs, the lower quality the thread used to weave the fabric. High quality linen will have a consistent and uniform appearance, similar to cotton.

If you have a linen suit, you should treat it like any other suit and have it dry cleaned. The pants may be washable, but having the entire suit cleaned together will help ensure that the pieces wear evenly. I know a lot of people who advocate breaking up your suit and wearing them as separates, but personally, I’m not a fan for the same reason you should clean the pieces together. It will inevitably cause one piece to wear out quicker and then you are left with half a suit. Trousers and sport jackets exist for a reason, so consider keeping your suit for its intended purpose. Okay, enough of that tangent and back to the issue at hand.

Linen holds up incredibly well to abuse, so it takes some work to get it dirty to the point that it needs more than a brushing off. If you do get a stain, Oxiclean would be my first choice. Mix some in water, soak the stain, rinse and let dry. If that doesn’t work, you can always take it to be dry cleaned (unless the care label explicitly states not to), but keep in mind that dry cleaning will weaken the fibers more than laundering will.

When it comes to storing your linen, you want to give it as much breathing room as possible. Since it is going to wrinkle in your closet no matter what, the best you can do is minimize the wrinkles. The tighter your closet is packed, the more your clothes will wrinkle regardless of whether they are linen or not. The fewer wrinkles the pieces get while stored, the less you will have to iron them when you are ready to wear them. Not only will it save you some time, but it will also extend the life of your linen. A lot of the time, light wrinkles can be steamed out instead of ironing. If you don’t happen to have a hand steamer, you can hang the piece in the bathroom when you take a hot shower, which will be almost as good.

Despite being a seasonal fabric, investing in well-made (and well-tailored) linen pieces will help keep you cool and stylish in even the warmest of climates. Whether it’s a suit or a pair of shorts, if you treat them properly, your linen clothing can last you for years. Do you have any tricks for cleaning or storing your linen?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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