At the end of November, my mum asked me to help her get the nativity scene out of the attic. It was uncharacteristically early for her to set it up, but given the two years we’ve all experienced, I understood her desire for the year to be finished and the holidays to arrive.
And now here we are, deep in a strange festive season, where party invitations are dependent on producing a negative rapid antigen test.
The threat of catching Covid aside, parties can be hazardous places, especially for our clothes. From less-than socially distanced dancefloors to cigarette smoke and spilt drinks – this week we ask some experts how to care for your outfit, once the revelry is over.
Give them some air
No matter how tempting it may be, Chloe Naughton, the program director for Melbourne Fashion festival, says “the worst thing you can do is take off whatever you’re wearing and leave it in a pile on the floor”.
Instead, she suggests hanging it, or laying it flat on a drying rack or table to air it out before putting it away. If you have a steamer, and extraordinary willpower, she suggests giving each piece a light steam first.
When Naughton gets home at the end of the night, the fabric and construction of the garment will determine whether she hangs it up or lays it down, since some things like knits and heavy cottons can be stretched by hanging. A good rule of thumb is to hang up clothes you’d normally hang, and lay clothes you’d normally fold out flat.
This is even more important if your clothes smell like cigarettes. She says be sure to hang them up outside your wardrobe, and not put them anywhere near your clean clothes. “Then take it to the dry cleaners first thing in the morning.” At a pinch, she says, you can also use a fabric freshener spray.
Stop stains on the spot
Naughton says if someone spills wine, the best thing to do is pour sparkling water on it immediately to flush out the stain. She says this helps to “break it down and stops it from embedding into the threads”. But if it’s a delicate fabric, like silk, it should be left alone and taken promptly to the dry cleaners the morning after.
If some oil falls on your shirt or pants, she says it “needs to be washed out then and there, because if the oil soaks in it will stain”.
It may feel weird to walk around in a moist shirt, but if you want it to survive the night, Naughton suggests you “go to the bathroom straight away and use lukewarm water and hand soap” to remove the oil.
For stains that you may not notice until the end of the night, oil, red and brown sauce or wine stains can be softened with a cool soak and then run through a hot wash of at least 60C, says Steve Anderton, a laundry expert from the consultancy group LTC Worldwide. It’s best to do this while the stains are fresh; if marks persist try using a general stain remover. He says to use a premium detergent containing a biological enzyme and an emulsifying agent.
Focus on fabric type
Anderton says garments made from polyester or nylon are highly attracted to fats and oils, including sweat. So if they’ve been stained or worn enthusiastically on the dancefloor, they’ll need to be treated with an emulsifying agent to break this bond. You may need to wash them more than once at 60C – but no higher. Polyester is thermoplastic, and excessive heat can damage it.
Naughton says, “if it’s a really hot summer’s day and I know I’ll be at a party in the sun, I’ll choose to wear a breathable fabric like a linen or a cotton”. She says this is because these fabrics allow her body to breathe and make for a more comfortable experience.
Go to the pros
Naughton recommends taking most garments to the dry cleaners the day after a party, and preferably opt for eco-dry cleaners. Especially prioritise delicate fabrics. She says, “silk needs to be treated by the professionals”. It’s important to remember that silk may appear fine the day after a party, but stains from sweat and deodorant can damage the fabric over time and appear later.
If a New Year’s Day run-about to find an open dry cleaner feels a bit ambitious, rethink wearing a silk jacket or chiffon dress on a night that may get rowdy.