Dress Code: The Proper Care And Feeding Of Garments, Part 1


We’ve been asked to address exactly how to take care of all these clothes once you’ve laid out the money. And it seemed logical, paper-doll-style, to start with your skivvies. So, herewith: bras, panties and everything in between.

How Do I Preserve Its Shape?

  • When you buy a new bra, always start by wearing it on the outermost hook and work your way in as the elastic begins to stretch. This will extend its life.
  • Don’t wear a bra two days running if you can help it; let it “rest” for a day and regain its elasticity.

How Do I Store It?

  • Try to remember to fasten the hooks so they don’t damage anything else in the drawer.
  • If at all possible, keep your bras folded rather than thrown together, where they can tangle and tear.

How Do I Wash It?

  • We all know we should hand-wash our “intimates,” and however pressed you are for time, do try to do this with your best or most delicate pieces — it really does extend their life.
  • To hand-wash, buy some detergent especially designed for delicates — Woolite will work (although it’s still not best for some newer and delicate materials), or, in a pinch, shampoo. We like Forever New and Ivory Snow. Shaved Ivory works, too. Now, Fill a sink with cold water and add a capful of detergent. Unhook your bras and submerge; let them soak for about 5-10 minutes. Then, gently rub and agitate them with your hands to clean the fabric. Some people recommend a second rinse here, which is probably a good idea; I just rinse each bra under cold running water. (I often do all my bras in the tub, by the way.)
  • Alternatively, buy a quart jar and put the bras, detergent and water in that: shake it gently, and you’ll be making a super-gentle little spin cycle. Rinse as usual.
  • Blot bras dry. Don’t wring out bras; it can damage their shape.
  • Push any foam cups into shape, and dry flat or on a line if at all possible. (NB: the shower curtain pole works too, although the dripping makes a mess.) Try to dry away from the radiator, because the really hot ones can actually damage delicate fabrics.
  • If you must use the washing machine, be sure to get a mesh “Delicates” bag — although an old pillowcase, knotted at the top, works too. In this case you want to be sure to clasp the bras so they don’t tangle. Use a delicates cycle and a delicate wash. And, please, air -dry. (Although a gentle cycle, in the lingerie bag, is better than just throwing them in at high heat.) Nothing wears out bras like a stint in the dryer.


  • Ironing (in case you’re one of those obsessive ironers)
  • Bleach

When is it past its expiration date?

  • You’ll know. Although these steps should extend a bra’s life, at a certain point it just dies on you. When the elastic is stretched, when you’re on the final hook, when/if a hook is so mangled it can’t close and — of course — when you’re being poked with wires, it’s time to move on.
  • What to do with an old bra?
  • Remember: if a bra’s not fit for you to wear any more, no one else should have it either; skip the Salvation Army bag. However, if there’s still life in it, consider donating to this organization, which donates gently used bras to women all over the world. Or, you know, frame it.

If they’re delicate, proceed as above! If they’re machine-washable, well, you know the drill. But let’s just say it: what about period stains? Well!

ASAP, give those knickers a rinse. Cold water’s good — hot water will set the stain. Now, you have a couple of options. If you happen to have a bunch of peroxide handy, soak it in that, with water, for a couple of minutes before, obviously, rinsing well. This works the best, but for those of us without quite so comprehensive a medicine chest, Shout is great too. Don’t have that? Soak overnight in water and a little detergent. And don’t dry until they’re pretty clean — again, heat sets a stain.

Vintage Lingerie:
While most delicates can be given the above bra treatment, vintage pieces have a whole other set of issues. The fabrics are different and age can make them delicate. So, try this:

  • Remove any buckles or trimming that’s, well, removable — especially if there are metal components, this could cause stains.
  • Put the lingerie in your sink or large jar with lukewarm water, some of your gentle cleanser/shampoo/shaved soap and — here’s the difference — about half a cup of water-softener, like Borax.
  • Swish around gently or shake in your jar. Remember, don’t rub wet silk, and rayon becomes more fragile when wet.
  • Any dryer warnings go double here: gently blot the pieces dry and hang or flat-dry them.

Stockings and Tights
Socks you can probably figure out, but there are indeed things that can extend the life of a pair of good tights. And if you go in for fancy, vintagey stockings, you’re going to want to care for them.

  • Store them in a place without snags. If you can line a drawer with tissue, great; otherwise try rolling them up in a box or other spot where there are no sharp edges to catch and pull.
  • Avoid walking around in your stocking feet!
  • Yup, hand-washing is the name of the game. You can even get a special detergent, although I’ve used shaved Ivory and shampoo with perfectly good results. But those of you wearing silk and seams may want to invest in the real deal.
  • If they’re vintage, proceed as for vintage lingerie; also, be sure to wash frequently, as sweat does a number on old silk.

A Note on Dry-Cleaning
Some people dry-clean all these items. I think it’s harsher than hand-washing, but if you’ve got a piece whose care instructions specify, and you’re nervous, by all means go for it!

Got any tricks or tips on protecting your unmentionable investments? Creative storage solutions? Brilliant cleansers? Spill!

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.

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