My Valet

JeevesLaysItOut
(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.

whitesartinspired

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.)

Manchester Suit Valet
(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?

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14 Responses to My Valet

  1. DD says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. I always hang my pants by the cuffs. Since most of my shirts are linen, they wrinkle terribly, of course. Do the thinner linen shirts wrinkle as much, I wonder? Usually, I check for spots, then hang them briefly under a shower spray and most of the wrinkles hang out. Do you suppose the chlorine in the water hurts them by doing this often? I don’t wash them with soap but maybe after every third wearing, as long as they’ve been aired out and ….well…don’t smell.

  2. Hi DD, thinner linen wrinkles even more and faster, too. I doubt the cholrine is doing too much damage. You can always handwash them: soak them overnight in a ziplock baggie with a good mild detergent, scrub the collars and cuffs with Borax soap first, rinse and iron. But it’s a chore. Whilst traveling, Fabreeze is my friend.

  3. greg wingfield says:

    Chris-
    The late Pearly Gates here in Richmond told me 12 years ago the best place to have shirts laundered was the village laundry off Three Chopt near Ukrops.
    Since I started using them, they have never lost or damaged any of my mtm Creery shirts. They do a good job with drycleaning too, although I do not get suits or sportscoats done very often for the reasons you noted.
    Not sure where Mr. L.Wood would suggest for laundering, but do follow his lead by using Georges Tailors for repair work in the west end.
    Overall, great clothes care suggestions today.
    I enjoy your blog! Keep up the high standards.
    ghw

  4. Thank you and welcome Mr. Wingfield! (Marvelous linen suit on the cover of “Metro Business.” You wear it very well.) That’s actually the cleaners I use… .

    I didn’t know that Mr. Pearly Gates had passed through them. My friend Doc Scantlin had his formal shirts done at Creery and swore by him. I’ve only had a few done, but the cuffs were very off and I couldn’t get the buttons I wanted. Still for a first attempt not bad. Georges Tailors will be getting a visit from me soon, I think.

  5. Parthenope says:

    I have similar longings. I’ve never wished for a cook or a butler, but oh for a lady’s maid to look after my clothes, do my hair and travel with me. And of course we should bring back porters at stations and airports, so we could travel with several cases, maybe even a trunk, and, best of all, a hat box !

  6. You dry clean your wool sweaters? I am not a fan of that at all. I hand wash all of mine, then roll them in a towel and step all over them to get the water out. Then i lay them out on another towel and block them to get them back to their correct shape. The next day, I turn them over and reblock them. I usually leave the ceiling fan on to get air circulating. I use a chunk of my delish I Coloniali soap to wash them, and never Woolite, per my knitting instructor.

  7. I used to think a personal valet would be very nice indeed. Of course, we often have a romantic idea about P. G. Woodhouse’s Jeeves and Wooster lifestyle. But have you ever seen Dirk Bogarde’s film “The Servant”? After I saw this film, I’m glad to say that I don’t have a valet. Apparently, there is still a demand for butlers these days. You can do the butler courses in London. I’d often like to have a space of my own at home. When you have a valet, you have to put up with sharing your house with your valet. Even when you have a bath, he would knock on the door and ask, “What would you like for your supper this evening, sir?” You won’t have a moment of peace on your own. Recommend reading: Peter Mayle – Acquired Taste (there is a chapter on valets, servants and butlers in this book).

  8. Good to know P-D, I’ve been happy with the Dryel thingy. As I do a number of them at once, I don’t seem to find room to lay them out. And when I do, they become the dog’s bed for the afternoon…

    ASD, I’ve got little book! And with two small toddlers, I’m getting very used to the lack of privacy.

    Parthenope, you said it.

  9. I just wrote a similar post about how to care and clean men’s clothing in response to all of my client’s questions recently. There must be something in the air! Great job; as always Mr E.

    I must comment about OxyClean. It’s my favorite remedy by far for pesky stains. When I inherited my grandmothers antique (ancient really!) Irish linens and lace, they had been stored in an open laundry basket in my father’s antique basement for a few too many decades. Rodents made a nice home in them and the stains were unbearable. Out of desperation, I soaked them in OxyClean for a few days and then washed them on gentle. They came out near perfect and I literally cried with joy! Now, they are almost too pretty to use! While they aren’t a valet, they do bring me great joy. Thank you for the reminder.

    All the Best,

    Lisa

  10. Brent says:

    The only addition I would make is Bac-Out. Available at natural/health food stores (and probably on line), Bac-Out is a liquid selection of enzymes designed to remove stains while leaving colors intact and fibers undamaged. I put some in a wee bottle that dispenses one drop at a time and carry it with me. Although Oxyclean is more effective, not everything can be soaked in it (like ties, for one), and the portability of Bac-Out makes it invaluable.

    I, too, have had excellent results with Oxyclean. It’s removed stains that have been through multiple trips through a dryer and stains that are decades old.

  11. Capt. Mike says:

    On the subject of both the valet and dry-cleaning avoidance, Master Butler Rick Fink wrote a piece for the “The Field” on caring for The Gentleman’s quality raiment which includes a few tips to prevent the (perceived) necessity of dry cleaning. The article can be found here:
    http://www.butler-valetschool.co.uk/smellyclothes.html

  12. You are so right: a suit brush is key.

  13. Cap’t, you are an officer and a gentleman. Thanks for the link. C

  14. Penelope Bianchi says:

    the Aesthete is always right. Always. Lisa!

    I have an idea for those lovely treasured and rare linens…….you have rescued!

    Make curtains! Not long curtains! little window curtains…..I will send under separate cover….because I don’t know how to combine!

    Penelope

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