Do you have moth munched holes in your sweater — or stained handbags that can't be removed? Well it's time to bring those damaged items out of your closet and into rehab. Jennifer Sucov of Real Simple magazine shares helpful tips on how to repair your favorite items, and go over what we should toss out:
Repair to the Closet
We all have skeletons like these in our closets: a wine-stained blouse, a mangled sweater, a slashed handbag. They linger there in the dark for weeks, months, sometimes even years. The good news is that many of your old loved ones can be resurrected and worn again. The trick is knowing when it's worth the time, cost, and effort to revive them. Here, clothing-care experts, leather specialists, and shoe shamans weigh in to help you determine when particular wardrobe items—from snagged sweaters to stained totes—can be restored to good health and when you should resign yourself to giving them a proper burial.
Can you save your...Skirt with a slack elastic waist?
• If the elastic runs within a hemmed fabric casing, the fix is a cinch. It can be tightened or replaced by a seamstress for $20 or less.
• If the elastic band was created using elasticized thread, which is visible on the underside and tends to give out more easily, the time and the expense of replacing it may not be worthwhile. Fixing this kind of elastic waistband runs $45 on average and usually requires a special machine (though in some instances, a seamstress may be able to repair it by hand). "Even with more expensive clothing, it's typical that the elastic doesn't always have the same life expectancy of the garment itself," says Joseph Hallak Jr., owner of Hallak Cleaners and president of the National Cleaners Association, in New York City.
Either way, compare the original cost of the clothing with the cost of the repair to see which option makes the most sense.
ODDS OF REVIVAL: 50-50.
• A small hole in a sweater can be fixed, but you should deal with it immediately, says Jane Rising, manager of training at the International Fabricare Institute, in Laurel, Maryland. A tailor or a dry cleaner can take care of a tiny opening, especially if it's along a seam. (Be sure to bring the extra thread that came with the sweater, if you have it.)
• A large hole—the size of a pencil eraser or bigger—must be rewoven by a tailor, which can get pricey ($35 to $100 a hole).
• A pull in a sweater, meanwhile, is usually a snap to mend. Just thread the offending yarn through the eye of a needle, then push it through to the inside of the sweater.
ODDS OF REVIVAL: Very high.
Stained handbag or tote?
• With canvas totes, you can remove light dirt stains at home by rubbing the soiled area with a dry gum eraser. But don't spot-clean; it will leave a water ring. Heavier stains on fabric bags require professional hand cleaning by a handbag expert (as opposed to a dry cleaner, whose machinery can cause more harm than good). A handbag cleaner can remove some marks, including oil and lipstick, but ink is almost impossible to get out, says Chris Moore, owner of New York City's Artbag, which specializes in repairs and cleaning.
• With vinyl bags, washing with soap and water should do the trick.
• With suede and leather bags, take them to be cleaned by a handbag expert. It's worth noting that suede bags are more expensive to clean than leather ones because they take twice as long to recondition. Fees can run from $60 to $125 for leather and $100 to $175 for suede and fabric.
ODDS OF REVIVAL: Good.
Tip: Remove pills that crop up on knits with the prickly side of a piece of Velcro.
White shirt that has discolored underarms?
• Machine-washable cotton shirts are easier to fix than others because they can be bleached and washed in warm water, says Steve Boorstein, a former dry cleaner and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Shopping and Caring for Clothing (Boutique Books, $20). Presoak the armpit stains for about an hour with a laundry detergent, then wash in the warmest water safe for the fabric. A nonchlorine bleach or a slow-acting bleach, such as a 3 percent peroxide solution, may help. But don't set your heart on it: Sweat marks have staying power.
• Silk or acetate shirts should be cared for by a dry cleaner. These fabrics are harder to clean because the alcohols in deodorants actually burn the fibers, altering their color.
Regardless of the type of fabric, the longer a stain remains, the more difficult it will be to remove.
ODDS OF REVIVAL: Pretty low.
Once-white T-shirt that got mixed in with a load of brights?
• If the dye was red, "you should handle the situation with a strong drink or a sedative," says Boorstein. Reddish dyes are very difficult to remove. But for blue or black, try these strategies:
• If the dye was blue or black, rewash the affected garment in hot water (but do not put it in the dryer, since the heat will set the altered color). You can also attempt to save it yourself with an at-home color stripper, such as Rit Dye Fabric Treatment Color Remover ($2.50, www.ritdye.com). If all else fails, try your luck with a chlorine bleach to return the garment to its original white.
ODDS OF REVIVAL: A long shot in most cases.
Stretched-out and shapeless V-neck?
• Acrylic and rayon sweaters are a difficult proposition. These fibers stretch easily and usually can't be returned to fighting form, especially if they have been tumble dried at high temperature.
• Wool and cotton sweaters can often be blocked. You can try this at home or have a dry cleaner do it: Dampen the garment, lay it out on a flat surface in the shape you want, then press with a towel to remove moisture. (You can also make a too-small sweater larger by stretching it in this way.)
In future, to keep shrinkage or growth at bay, Hallak suggests washing sweaters in a mesh lingerie bag, which minimizes stress and friction on the fabric. And never overdry knits.
ODDS OF REVIVAL: In your favor for natural fabrics, but don't bet on synthetics.
Tip: If the jute on your espadrilles is unraveling, use a dab of Krazy Glue to reattach the errant weaving.
Clothing or handbag whose lining is torn?
• A ripped garment lining, whether it's in a coat or a skirt, can be repaired with the help of a professional. A small tear in a dress interior can usually be fixed for less than $10, but if the entire lining needs an overhaul, replacing it can run at least $75. You might consider removing the lining, but in some cases that can make the garment difficult to wear or alter its structure, says Rising. Always ask a tailor for advice before proceeding with an alteration like this.
• A handbag, says Moore, "should be relined only if it's a cherished or an indispensible item." Replacing the lining could cost $150 or more, depending on the size of the bag, the material, and the complexity of the design.
ODDS OF REVIVAL: A sure but potentially expensive thing.
• Leather shoes are the easiest and least expensive to clean. (Take them to a cobbler; prices start at about $7.) Polish, dirt, and debris need to be removed before the shoes can be hand cleaned and reconditioned.
• Suede shoes are tricky, requiring two to three applications of a cleaning solution, a process that can take up to a week and costs at least $20 at a shoe-repair shop.
• Fabric shoes need to be hand cleaned by a cobbler using a dry-cleaning solution, but this is only about 50 percent effective, says Jim McFarland, a spokesperson for the Shoe Service Institute of America. As a last resort, have the shoes dyed black to cover up the issue (cost: $25 and up). "Don't have too high expectations," says Meghan Cleary, author of The Perfect Fit: What Your Shoes Say About You (Chronicle Books, $13). "You have to be willing to let the shoes go if you don't get the desired results."
ODDS OF REVIVAL: Fair.
Faded black clothing?
• For washables, the only recourse is to dye them. You can try this at home, but it's risky: There's a strong chance the dye will not cover the original color uniformly, says Rising. Also, only washable natural fibers, such as cotton and linen, are receptive to dyes (which means the fabric may take the color, but any nylon thread will not). What's more, dyes tend to rub off on undergarments and leave the inside of the washing machine tinted, which can ruin your next load (so make sure to run a short cycle afterward with old towels to absorb the dye). You could get a dry cleaner to do the dyeing, but it is expensive (from $100 to $500). "It requires time and work to get the job done right," says Hallak. And even then, he cautions, the success rate is less than 75 percent.
• With nonwashables, take them to a dry cleaner to have them dyed professionally, particularly if the clothing is costly, like a gown. But know that it's going to be pricey and that success is iffy.
ODDS OF REVIVAL: Low.
Tip: Most clothes dryers today have drying racks, which can prevent sweaters from getting stretched out.
Stained silk blouse?
• Grease and wax stains should be treated within 48 hours for the best chance of removal, says Rising. In other words, take that thing to the dry cleaner as soon as possible. If the dry cleaner is able to remove the stain but he bleaches the fabric of its color, he may be able to redye the affected area for no additional charge.
• Water-soluble stains, like coffee, soda, and tea, need to be pretreated, so dry cleaners may charge extra. If the silk blouse is a shade of white, you can try soaking the garment in color-safe bleach with a few drops of detergent for 20 to 30 minutes to help ease out the spot, then air-dry. (A colored blouse will bleed as soon as it touches the water.) But this tactic is a gamble: "There may be shrinkage, texture loss, and wrinkling," says Boorstein. "It may very well look like a rag when you're done."
ODDS OF REVIVAL: Fairly high for grease stains; low for water-soluble stains.
The effects of downsizing
Losing weight can change your life, but is altering your wardrobe to fit your new body worth it?The answer is yes...
• ...if you've dropped only one or two sizes. Then the tailoring job will be fairly simple.
• ...if the garments are basic, such as A-line skirts. They typically lack the more detailed seaming, darts, and embellishments of complicated pieces, like pants and jackets.
The answer is no...
• ...if you go down more than two sizes, says Clinton Kelly, host of the Learning Channel's makeover show What Not to Wear. Even with alterations, your old clothing may not fit your new proportions perfectly. Good tailors don't come cheap—and can't guarantee the clothes will fit well—so your best bet is to invest in a wardrobe that suits the new you. This might also be the incentive you need to stick to your new size.
"Why do you ever mend your clothes, unless that, wearing them, you may mend your ways. " — Henry David Thoreau, letter of 1860
Gently worn? For a list of charities and organizations in need of clothes, log on to www.realsimple.com/donatingclothes.