Thursday, 8 November 2018

Caring for your winter coats

Our coats have a tough life. Out in all weathers, protecting us from the elements for six months of the year, then all but abandoned for the spring and summer until temperatures start to fall again. Coats are often one of our more expensive clothing purchases, and we want them to last for as long as possible, but we wear them every day during cold weather, so they are subject to more wear and tear than a lot of our clothes. If you’re worried that your favourite coat looks a little drab, here’s my guide to caring for your winter outerwear. 

Follow the care instructions...
Winter coats are designed to protect us from the elements, but sometimes they need protecting from the elements themselves. Leather shoes need polishing and waterproofing to keep the leather supple and our feet dry, and some winter coats need the same treatment. Barbour wax jackets are designed to last for years (they can be sent back to the factory for repairs) but they do need re-waxing to keep them waterproof. If you’re organised enough to remember in August, you can send your coat back to be re-waxed professionally, or you can buy a jar of their garment wax and do it yourself. It’s not a particularly messy process but it does take time; spending over an hour of gently massaging softened wax into garment seams sounds a bit odd but it’s well worth the time; my coat is fully weather-proof again.

...but don’t expect miracles from dry cleaning
If your coat is marked or stained, dry cleaning can work wonders. It isn’t always the best at removing odours though, and synthetic lining fabrics can retain odours too, meaning that your coat might not smell so fresh after a couple of warm journeys on public transport. You can clean a coat lining more effectively yourself, using a damp sponge on the lining. 

Try a cool wash
A lot of synthetic or cotton coats are designed to be machine-washed at a cool temperature. My green jacket was starting to show signs of wear; a 30 minute, 30 degree wash meant it lost none of its characterful wear patterns but is now a lot cleaner! If you can, put a synthetic coat inside a guppy bag, or in the wash with a Cora ball, to connect microfibres that could contribute to plastic pollution in our water supply.

Store your clothes sensibly
While few, if any, of us will have a perfect clothes storage system in our homes, we can keep our coats looking better for longer by hanging them on hangers, especially when we’re not wearing them every day. Hanging your coat directly on a hook, especially if it doesn’t have a hanging loop, can leave weird lumps and bumps in the neckline or shoulders of your coat, as the weight of the garment causes the fabric to distort around the hook. Using a hanger and fastening your coats up when you’re not wearing them means they will take up less space on a wall-mounted coat rack or row of hooks.

Mend before you wear?
I have a secret to share. The bound edge of the pocket in this coat came loose years ago and I never mended it, I just fastened it with some safety pins and tried to remember not to put small things in there. I’ve kind of got used to this temporary fix (even though it would take me less than five minutes to sew it back together) so I wanted to share this “confession” as a sort of permission for anyone who worries that their mending or sewing might not be up to scratch,  or that their clothes have to be pristine or they can’t be worn. Let’s face it, there are parts of all of us that are just held together with safety pins, but somehow we’re making it work every day. 

This brings me to the thing I wanted to share along with the tips: my thoughts on the value judgements we place on the way things look. I’m wearing my old, much-loved coats proudly because I don’t think there is anything bad about wearing clothes that look worn (we pay extra for someone to sandpaper our jeans, for goodness sake!), and that it’s not always necessary or practical for something to look pristine. Most of us have things we need to prioritise over tending to our clothes, but at the same time garment care is a useful skill that can save us money in the long run. If it helps, reframe this as a subversive and radical act instead of another chore you ought to be doing. Fast fashion relies on customer dissatisfaction with clothes that age or wear badly, so you can stop the cycle of consumption by loving your imperfect but oh-so-wearable clothes.