Dry cleaning chemicals damage your suit’s natural fibres, so the less often you take it to the cleaners, the longer it will last. To help add years to the lifespan of your formal wear, here’s our guide to how to care for a wool suit.
Inspired by the butlers and batmen of yesteryear, these simple but effective techniques work just as well today as they did during the days of empire.
How to brush your suit
A man who knew how to say “Yes m’Lud”, Stanley Ager was 14 when he entered service in 1922, climbing the rungs of servitude to become Butler to the second and third Lords St. Levan. In 1980, with the help of the toffs for whom he’d slaved, Ager published his succinctly titled, The Butler’s Guide to Clothes Care, Managing the Table, Running the Home & Other Graces.
If there’s one thing Ager knew, it was how to wield a clothes brush which, incidentally, should always be of natural bristle so as not to damage your suit’s wool fibres. According to Ager, before you put your suit away at the end of the day, you must brush it before returning it to its wooden hanger, and as Antonio Centeno of Real Men Real Style says, use “a cloth cover which allows air to still circulate through the suit even when its being stored.”
Never used a clothes brush? Here are some quick tips:
- Lay your suit out flat, lining side down, on a non-slip surface – an unpolished table is ideal.
- Brush against the nap of the cloth in broad sweeping motions to release trapped dust.
- Brush again, with the nap this time, to smooth the fabric.
- Always avoid jabbing or scrubbing motions, and never brush across the nap.
Advice on steaming your suit
You’ll find plenty of self-appointed suit care experts advocating the use of a steamer on your wool suit – but not Stanley Ager. He recommends freshening your ‘whistle and flute’ with a damp brush.
To care for your suit using Ager’s traditional method, dry brush as usual to remove dust. Then, dip the bristles of a second brush in warm water, flick off the excess, and brush again before hanging the garment to dry.
If you do decide to steam your suit to remove wrinkles, hang it on a wood hanger, and go carefully. Avoid steaming the front panels of the suit jacket because the canvas lining could distort, spoiling the shape of your suit. The best way to avoid creases is to rotate your suits, giving each one ample time to “relax” on the hanger before wearing it again.
Pressing your suit trousers? It’s better to steam them and keep your iron for the newspaper. But if you do need to press, keep the temperature low and never apply the iron directly to the fabric or you’ll ruin the nap, giving it an unappealing shine.
How to remove stains
Dribbled gravy down your front? Spilled wine? Grass stains? There’s life in the old dog yet. If you get marks on your suit, your first recourse is to Stanley’s beloved clothes brush which you should apply with short brisk strokes to the affected area. Again, avoid scrubbing or jabbing.
If that doesn’t do the trick, try applying warm water with a damp cloth, dabbing rather than rubbing. For ink or grass stains, try applying rubbing alcohol. Blood or wine – go for a paste of cold water and salt or baking soda. Test it on a small sample area first to make sure it doesn’t bleach the fabric, then apply to the stain, leaving for 10 to 15 minutes before brushing it off.
Oil stains require the assistance of a dry cleaner. So do any marks you can’t remove without scouring – it’s far better to admit defeat than to ruin the nap of your suit.
How to care for tweed
Back in the day, country houses came equipped with a “brushing room.” This sparsely furnished room in the servants’ quarters was dominated by a brushing table and shelves full of the cleaning paraphernalia of an age of cheap elbow grease – dry cleaning was a rarity.
To the coarser tweed fabrics favoured by the hunting, shooting and fishing set, Stanley Ager applied a “dandy” brush of long straw bristles to remove dried mud before freshening garments using a damp clothes brush.
Today’s tweed mixes require more careful handling – treat them as you would your other wool suits. For 100% tweed fabric, use a stiff bristle brush and apply it in the manner of Stanley Ager.
Top tips to help you care for a wool suit
- Brush your wool suit before you put it away
- Use a natural bristle brush to protect delicate fibres
- Brush against the nap to release dust, then brush with the nap to smooth it
- Never brush across the nap
- Freshen your suit by brushing it with a damp clothes brush
- Rotate your suits to give them a chance to rest on the hanger – hangers should always be made of wood.
- Make sure your suit covers are breathable
- Remove marks from your suit with your clothes brush, a damp cloth, or a paste made from salt or baking soda and water
- Test stain removal products on a small area first
- Avoid scrubbing, scouring, or jabbing at your suit because you’ll damage the fibres
- Never iron fabric directly because it damages the nap, making it look shiny
- Use a stiff bristle brush for coarse traditional tweed
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