How to take care of your suit (and make it last)
When you buy a new suit, that first day you wear it is always memorable. You get compliment after compliment, you feel like a million bucks, and you look like it too. Conversely, another memorable day will be when you first spill some food on your suit or lean up against something grimy and dirty. Fortunately, when you know how to take care of your suit properly, you can not only keep it looking and smelling clean, but you can extend its life for a long time.
Common knowledge suggests that you simply take your suit to the dry cleaner as often as needed, but in reality, this might be doing more bad than good.
At a glance, here’s how to take care of your suit:
- Hang it on a large wooden hanger in your closet
- Rarely dry clean your jacket
- Brush it off now and again
- Use a lint roller
- And steam it to loosen wrinkles (don’t iron)
If you follow the above bullet points, your suit will reward you by looking good for many years to come.
Let’s go into a little more detail.
Use a wide hanger
The reason it’s important to use a wide hanger, is that you want it to support the shoulders. A suit jacket has a carefully formed shoulder comprised of several materials. In fact, I would argue that a large part of the reason you look so good wearing your suit, is because the shoulder fits you well. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to maintain this structure’s shape and contour.
You’ll want to buy a hanger that’s wide enough to reach near the ends of the shoulders inside the coat and wide enough to take up some of the space inside. If you use a thinner hanger, what will eventually happen is that under its own weight, the jacket will show a crease because the hanger isn’t doing a good job of distributing the weight.
What about the material? Well, so long as you’re using a wide hanger, I don’t think the material matters too much, but a wooden hanger will provide the added benefit of pulling moisture out of your jacket after you’ve been wearing it all day. Same rationale behind why we use wooden shoe trees. Plus, I think a wooden hanger just looks better on a fine suit.
And by the way, always make an effort to hang up your jacket when you’re not wearing it. Avoid putting it on the back of your chair at work as this will definitely distort the shoulder padding over time. And when you get home from work, although it may be satisfying to toss your jacket over the couch for the night, in the morning, you’ll be left with a wrinkled suit.
Finally, give your suit a little “room to breath in the closet.” In other words, make enough space such that you have an inch or two on either side of your jacket. This will help you to air it out between wearings and reduce your trips to the dry cleaners.
Steam, but never iron
Your suit will get wrinkled from time to time. After all, it’s just a piece of clothing. But that’s OK. Wrinkles come out.
And the safest way to get those wrinkles out, and I think also the most efficient method, is to use a steamer. Believe it or not, you can get a pretty decent steamer for under $50 these days online or in a big box store. And in addition to relaxing wrinkles, a steamer will also freshen up your suit by removing light odors.
On the topic of ironing your suits, I certainly don’t recommend it. It is possible, however. If you’re careful and use a press cloth, it can be done. You’ll need to be very careful to not press the shoulders or the chest area, as excess heat and pressure can distort the canvas inside. Furthermore, the heat of an iron can damage the woolen fibers to the point that they create a shine after ironing, and not the type of shine that you might want, say, when buying a Super 180’s suit.
Steaming is just going to be a much more gentle method for removing wrinkles. Plus, it’s more fun if you ask me.
And avoid dry cleaning
It’s common knowledge that suits shouldn’t be washed at home, so you should take them to a professional dry cleaner. But here’s the thing, you don’t want to do it too often.
The reason being is that dry cleaning can be a bit of a harsh process for any garment. By definition, dry cleaning is any cleaning process that uses a chemical solvent other than water (that’s right, it’s not really dry!). These solvents will eventually take a toll on the natural fibers in your suit jacket. Furthermore, not all dry cleaners will exercise proper care and may end up harshly pressing your jacket which can sometimes damage the canvas.
So, knowing that it should be rare, when should you take your suit to the dry cleaners?
I recommend the smell test. If your jacket smells a little funky, even after a day of airing it out, then it’s likely time for some intensive care at the cleaners. Or, when visible dirt and grime has built up or if you have an obvious stain. Speaking of stains, it’s a smart move to request that your cleaners only clean the affected area, versus cleaning the entire coat. Not only is this easy on your clothing, but easy on your wallet!
Buy a lint roller (and maybe a brush)
A lint roller can be a wonderful thing. I’ve seen inexpensive varieties at Target and IKEA for under $2.00. Disposable though they are, they do a great job of quickly picking up lint, dog hair, etc. And you’ll find it invaluable if you own a black sweater.
And how about the dust and dirt that a lint roller can’t get to? Since wool is a natural fiber it can trap all sorts of dirt and grime that can, over time, cause damage to the fabric. Dry cleaning will help, but remember, we want to avoid putting our favorite suits through this process. What you can do instead is to purchase a suit brush. You can find a nice one for less than $20.
A quality brush is made of soft horsehair and all you do is give your suit a gentle brush after every other wear or so. Simply hang up your jacket and brush downwards (not across the fibers). Start at the top and work your way down. Better yet, have a friend bush it while you’re wearing it!
But the takeaway is this: between a lint roller and a brush, you’ll be doing your suit a world of good by keeping it clean of lint and visible dirt.
Personally, I always pack my jacket in my carry-on luggage and stow in the overhead compartment when I fly. There are quite a few different opinions out there on how best to fold/pack a suit jacket. Personally, here’s what I’ve found works best: pop the shoulders inside out, fold the jacket in half such that the lapels line up, then softly fold the coat either two or three times. Place on top of your other luggage, and without any excessive compression, you should be OK.
When you arrive at your final destination, the first thing you should do is to take out your suit and hang it up. Fine quality fabrics are likely to return to their normal lengths. You can also hang your suit up in the shower and give it a bit of a steam. And if you really, really, need some help, call up the concierge and have them give it a proper steam treatment. But the thing to remember is that even a badly wrinkled suit will normally come back to life overnight.
For long-term storage
And when packing away your seasonal suits (i.e. that linen summer suit you love so much), it’s a good idea to have it dry cleaned before stowing it at the far corner of your closet. If you live in an area where moths are a problem, you will soon find out that they have a knack for finding little bits of food particles in natural fibers.
Don’t store it in a plastic bag, either. Opt for a breathable garment bag such that air can circulate.
Wrap up: knowing how to take care of your suit
I hope you learned something new reading this article. For many men, a suit is a large purchase and that means that taking care of it is extra important.
If I had to pick one tip that is maybe more important than the others, it would probably be to let your suit jacket air out more frequently. One of the reasons that wool is such a great fabric is that it doesn’t tend to collect odors easily. That’s why simply giving your jacket some time and space to air out can really do wonders. Brush it every so often and you’ll have that suit for a long time to come!
By the way, here’s our guide on how to wash your favorite dress shirts.