Shirts: The Ecstasy

 An ambitious half dozen for the advanced shirt launderer.

An ambitious half dozen for the advanced shirt launderer.

    If part one argued that ignorance and received wisdom were to blame for the routine abuse of shirts, this installation must begin with the following disclaimer: If you can find in your area a cleaner that will carefully launder and hand-press your shirts for a reasonable price, congratulations, you need not read further.  

    For everyone else, shirts are a personal burden.  The good news is tending to them is far less a nuisance than you might expect.  Particularly when a few steps are followed to ensure the atmosphere is correct.  To begin, limit your allotment to four shirts (more and you’ll feel like Oliver Twist).  Whether a football game or a live recording of Art Blakey, entertainment is required.  Lastly, beer is the best beverage for tending to your shirts as it quenches thirst without the threat of permanent stains.  

    One more note before the nuts and bolts.  We seem to have collectively forgotten that shirts are underwear—a garment worn next to the skin in protection of far costlier outer wear.   A suit is expensive, and so a comparatively inexpensive, launder-able barrier is worn.  That these intermediaries can be fashioned from long-staple cotton or burlap-like oxford isn’t terribly important.  What counts is the shirt’s placement on the totem pole—which is to say, a few notches up from your briefs, but several below your favorite suit.  I can’t say why precisely, but once you start thinking of shirts as underwear, dealing with them becomes an agreeable affair.  

 1)  Sort shirts according to color.  The most important separation is whites from any other shirt with even a trace of color.  Group blues together and the any other colors.  

 2)  Remove accessories.  You do not want to spend your time peering into the drum of a washing machine in search of a missing shirt stud.  This includes collar stays (another thing commercial operations neglect to do).  

 3)  Stack shirts unbuttoned and face up.  Align them by their collars and give a few good shakes, permitting arms to dangle freely.  Lay flat next to the sink.

 4)  Run hot water in open sink.  Using a natural bristle spotting brush and a bar of natural soap, gently work a barber’s lather into the collar band, armpits and cuffs of each shirt.  Do not scrub. Wrap each soaped shirt onto itself and put to the side.  

 5) Fill the sink with warm water.  Soak the soaped shirts for an hour, agitating as necessary.  Drain.  

 6)  Launder shirts on the gentlest, coldest setting (usually marked hand wash, cold) using a very gentle, detergent-free laundry soap like Forever New.

 7)  Hang on quality hangers until dry.  Doing so outside will leave your shirts particularly fresh.  


You now have gently cleaned, wrinkled shirts.  Pressing, about which could be written a book, will be covered in the coming days.

 Pig bristles and natural white soap are best for gently working the ring out of your collar.  

Pig bristles and natural white soap are best for gently working the ring out of your collar.