(I weep with joy whenever I see the scene in “Jeeves and Wooster.”)
I think I’ve written before about my fondest Christmas wish. From the time I was 16, whenever my parents would ask what I might like for Christmas, I had one answer: “A gentleman’s gentleman. A valet, please.”
This led, of course, to many gag gifts. I have a shoe horn/lint brush (from last year!) with a butler figure as the handle. There is the cast pink concrete menu pig with chalkboard menu. And this, one of two wooden suit valets. As close as I shall get, I imagine.
I bring up my valet in response to a reader’s recent question about the lengths to which I go to preserve my wardrobe.
Actually the body of his email read:
Are you big on dry cleaning? Do you dry clean all your pieces? How often do you dry clean?
What kind of things do you invest in for the longevity of your wardrobe. From special hangers, to suit covers, to shoe racks.. etc..
Dry cleaning, my bête noire.
“Hi Chris,” said my tailor as he rang the cell. “Quick question. Where are you sending your best garments to be cleaned?”
“Hey Larry! Pitchford’s…”
“They’ve been closed for three years.”
“Yeah… I dunno. New York?”
Dry cleaning scares me when it comes to my good suits and jackets. Lapels come back… belly up … actually without any life at all, pressed flat and limp. Buttons are cracked. Spots on white linen are untreatable. It wasn’t always so. I remember my shoulders and sleeves being stuffed with tissue paper, buttons covered in foil, lapels being hand pressed or steamed and brushed, French (double) cuffs were pressed and turned back without a crease… .
These days I send out my everyday shirts. Often I wash and iron my MTM shirts myself, or take them to the laundromat where I can have them washed and hand ironed for about USD$4.00 each. Never do I ask for starch at the cleaners, although the shirts are washed in batches with shirts that have been heavily starched, so I inherit an unhealthy dose. My shirts hang on hangers. If you get them folded, ask for a long fold so the crease is below the belt line.
Suits are rarely cleaned. After wear, I brush them and hang them on my valet for several days to let them air out. Small spots are sponged out and then the fabric is brushed. I have a steamer, but am too nervous to use it even though I used to back my Britches retail days. (Steaming can shrink the stitching and cause puckering around seams if you’re not careful.) Back in the closet, my best suits hang on serious suit hangers with shaped and sized shoulders by The Hanger Project, as Mr. Allision has made a superior product (a reason that he is an advertiser on this site.)
If I were to switch out my wardrobe seasonally, I would store the cleaned, out-of-season garment in a garment bag, preferably made of breathable canvas.
There are a number of places from which you may buy a valet. They run anywhere from USD$60 – $400, depending on the wood used and style. Here’s a favourite that I found surfing the web (I have not dealt with this company and so cannot vouch for their service or product.)
(The Manchester Suit Valet from BedBathStore.com I like that it has a seat on which to perch whilst putting on your shoes. And, in terms of sartorial worship, it does remind me of a prie-dieu.)
Others come with a knob at the top on which to hang your hat, should you not have a marble bust handy. Hats, like suits, are brushed before and after wearing with a hat brush.
If you invest in only one piece of kit for your wardrobe during the recession, make it a good suit brush. Kent is a reliable maker of all sorts and carries several suit brushes. I inherited my brush from my father. It has a zippered leather handle on the back in which to store collar bones, cufflinks and the like for travel. It’s on its last legs; but it is probably sixty years old. In terms of cost per use, it’s free by now and has saved hundreds in dry cleaning bills.
My shoes are on shoe trees and in bags or boxes on shelves, for the most part. They get polished about every third or fourth wearing. Ties hang on tie racks; knits are rolled in the silk square drawer.
Odd trousers are hanging on hangers folded in half. I’m trying to reconfigure my closet to let me hang them by the cuffs. At the moment, after I have worn a pair of odd trousers, I hang them from a cuff hanger at the far side of the pull up bar for two days. There is still plenty of room to do pull ups. I will also slowly replace my trouser hangers with the felted version from The Hanger Project. They really don’t leave those creases at the knee, which always annoy me.
Sweaters are drycleaned more often than not, although I have used a home drycleaning kit (Dryel) with some degree of success. If they need it, I use a sweater stone to depill them. That’s rare and only on the older ones.
Other than that, for stains on cotton and linen, I highly recommend OxyClean. It really works wonders. Have I missed anything?