Most men don’t care for their clothes very well. Simple maintenance hacks like ironing, steaming, shoe polishing, or even doing one’s own laundry (effectively, let alone at all) are endangered skills for many men. And basic sewing repairs to a seam or button are absolutely out of the question.

Other than the satisfaction that comes with being self-sufficient, my other incentive for learning and deploying these tricks is to save money. The more you can do on your own, the less you need to spend elsewhere.

One of the biggest expenses with garment care is dry cleaning. If you’ve got a serious stain on a delicate “dry clean only” garment, there’s no way around that. But when it comes to normal maintenance, savvy experts in tailored clothing would tell you that you should have your suits dry cleaned very infrequently. Dry cleaning – however “green” or “eco” it claims to be – involves chemicals and processes that can shorten the life of a garment or even damage it. It seems counterintuitive, but frequent dry cleaning can be bad for your clothes. I typically have my suits and jackets dry cleaned once each year. In the interest of regular maintenance of suits, jackets and pants, a clothes brush is an invaluable money-saving and garment-saving tool.

A good clothes brush is made of ethically sourced natural bristles, typically boar’s hair, which has the texture of a gentle hairbrush. The better brushes are made with a solid wood handle/base that can come with an extended handle or not. They’re also available in handy travel sizes.

When brushing your clothes, the key is to take it easy, using light and swift strokes. Brush against the fabric’s nap to remove dust and dirt, then brush along the fabric’s nap to restore the finish. It’s a good idea to be mindful of the fabric you’re brushing, too. Regular, everyday worsted wools are pretty sturdy and can take firm brushing, while cashmeres and formalwear should be treated with a lighter touch. (And do NOT brush the satin lapels on a tux.) Make sure the finishing strokes are even and smooth to avoid a patchy appearance of the fabric under certain light.

In addition to removing dust and dirt, clothes brushes are great for removing pet hair and lint, saving you even more money and waste on lint roller refills. Another added benefit over lint rollers is that the clothes brush won’t leave any traces of adhesive or tacky residue on the fabric.

Clothes brushes can also freshen up a garment and remove minor stains. By simply dipping the brush in a little water, then flicking off the excess, gentle strokes with the damp bristles can remove a stain pretty effectively. A bird dropped a little gift on the shoulder of one of my jackets recently. After a few swift strokes with a dampened brush, all evidence of the avian deposit was removed.

Ideally, brushing should be done on a sturdy waist-high table with a clean and dry surface, enabling you to brush a whole jacket or pair of trousers comfortably. The operative word is “sturdy,” since a bed can prove a bit soft. But if the bed is the best you can do, so be it. Brushing a garment while it’s on a proper hanger is fine, too, provided you hold the garment high enough to get the whole thing.

For regular maintenance and care of a suit or jacket, a little brushing is good before you put it on and especially after you take it off to get rid of any grit or lint you may have picked up by the end of the day or evening. And always give a suit a good going-over if it hasn’t been worn in a while.

Taking good care of your suits gives you a greater return on your investment. A clothes brush not only makes your suit look better, it’s also an invaluable (and simple) tool that extends the life of the garment and enables you to save money by avoiding expensive, unnecessary and potentially destructive dry cleaning.

Here is a terrific video from Simon Crompton of Permanent Style on caring for your suit with a clothes brush…

PRO TIPS:

  • Always unfold the cuffs of cuffed trousers when brushing, because dirt can really collect in there. Fold the cuffs back into place after you’re done.
  • Invest in good hangers for your suits that preserve the shoulder shape and enable the pants to hang well and keep their creases.

BONUS:
You can also use a clothes brush on upholstered furniture, bedding, blankets, etc. Win win!

10 Comments

  1. Christopher R Fortunato Reply

    Very nice tutorial, George. Even someone who was taught this could use a refresher from time to time. I think you should do a post about hand laundry such as washing wool or cashmere sweaters and such. I can help you there. In addition to the brushing, I have found using Fuller Brush’s Upholstery Cleaner a very good product and it doesn’t stain or make things run. Stains came out without having to resort to dry cleaning. Do you ever use Dryel or Woolite sheets in place of dry cleaning? I find they freshen up the garment that does not really need cleaning.

  2. Leila Zogby Reply

    Your post brought back a lovely childhood memory of my godfather, a Dapper Dan to be sure. When he returned home at the end of the day, he always brushed off his suit jacket, coat and hat and carefully put them away. If I was lucky, I got to use the brush, too! He would explain the importance of taking care of your clothes so it lasts and looks good longer, just as you explained. Thank you, George, for bringing back this fond memory.

  3. Kevin Kirkpatrick Reply

    Thanks for these tips, George. I have a question about steaming versus ironing for my suit, most especially the trousers. By the end of the day, the wrinkles on the backside of my trousers in the knees are rather prominent. I use a proper hanger each evening to see if the weight of the trousers will “pull” the wrinkles out. Works a bit, but not enough. Does a steamer do a good job on these kinds of wrinkles? Or do I use an iron with some kind of protective cloth between the iron and the fabric of the trousers ….? What do you recommend? Thanks, George!

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