Iron Will

Two hands are better than one, especially when finessing the collar.   

Two hands are better than one, especially when finessing the collar.   

    It’s no coincidence that some thoughts on pressing shirts should be published on a Sunday.  Like shining shoes, or tending to one’s vegetable garden, these labors of love are best tackled by regular appointment.  Speed-pressing a favorite white broadcloth as the grace period for a reservation dwindles will only result in lackluster results and spoiled appetites.  Besides, grace periods are for second aperitifs.

    At the risk of sounding like a middle school phys-ed teacher, properly pressing a shirt requires the correct mental attitude.  Is pressing a chore?  Probably.  But reluctance in the approach will no doubt manifest in a creased placket or neglected collar.  As in cleaning shirts, I again urge creating the correct atmosphere: entertainment, beverages and a surmountable quota.  Moreover, think of pressing as a step toward personal style; flawless collars, tubular cuffs and a yoke with some volume just look better than the flat-pressed pancakes most men unwittingly endure.

    The final and perhaps most important aspect to pressing is equipment.  Three items are mandatory: a sturdy, wide-bodied ironing board with a clean cover; a quality misting bottle; an iron.  The first two are readily available at your usual home-goods stores, although look online if the boards offered are rickety.  Irons deserve an essay of their own, but I will skip straight to the conclusion: buy The Classic Iron from B&D. I’m loathe to recommend anything by name, but this is an exception I can stomach.  I have experimented with them all, from expensive German models to Japanese prototypes; nothing even comes close in a performance/value ratio.

   I considered creating a detailed instruction manual, but abandoned the idea in favor of a more helpful list of vital aspects of technique.  This assumes, of course, a rough understanding of the physics of ironing.  If you really are a novice, though, you hold the thing by the end which isn't hot.  

Work from the largest surface areas to the smallest.  The order in which a shirt is pressed might look like this: back panel, left side seam, left front panel, right side seam, right from panel, yoke, collar, left sleeve, left cuff, right sleeve, right cuff.  Avoid arranging and rearranging the shirt; pressing is about momentum.

Use the misting bottle regularly, but not to the point of saturation.  Shirts are easily ironed when damp, but if wet the iron tends to bite and crease the cloth.  Pay particular attention to dampening the seams.

Pressing is a two handed activity.  One hand holds the iron, the other should be used to put tension on the shirt.  This is especially important as you try and stretch shrunken seams back to size or crease your sleeves.  

Pressing should give dimension to flat cloth.  Use the end of the board to press shape into the shoulders.  Use your free hand to stabilize the shirt as you press volume into the shirt’s yoke.  Running the tip of the iron back and forth inside a cuff creates curve that hugs the wrist.  Cuffs should never be pressed flat.  

Unfused collars need special attention as it is easy to crease the excess cloth.  The best method is to tamp the collar down with the full surface area of the iron rather than running the iron along its length.  This will distribute the  cloth allowance without creasing.  

Give the front panels a touchup after the shirt is on its hangar—it will have rumpled a bit during the process.  This will ensure a clean front when the shirt is needed in a hurry.   


    Few sights inspire pride like a row of freshly laundered and pressed shirts.  No, that’s not quite right.  Considering the alternative, few sights inspire relief.

Pressed and ready for service.

Pressed and ready for service.