Menswear Care Guide: Cotton Dress Shirts

October 26th, 2015

Classic menswear is more resilient than many consumers realize. A well-tailored garment in a quality fabric can take quite a beating, from my experience, especially if you know how to treat it between rounds. With that said, here is the first article in a series called Menswear Care, to help our readers get the most out of their wardrobe investments.

With our first collection I wanted to make it as streamlined as possible for our clients to create lasting wardrobes that are easy to wear and simple to maintain. For that reason all of our bespoke shirts are made from high-density 100% cotton. This means that you can (and should) launder them in the washing machine. They’re the kind of oxford and broadcloth shirts that break-in beautifully after a few washes.

A lot of guys default to dry cleaning because they think it’s the best way to clean their shirts. However, washing them at home (or at a laundromat) actually delivers a better clean and a fresher result long-term. That’s because the cotton fibers in dress shirts absorb moisture (sweat) and odors over the course of wearing, so dousing them in a good wash will provide a thorough and fiber-level clean. 

I wash my shirts in my apartment’s tiny old washing machine, using the same product (Tide) that my mother’s been using on our clothes since me and my brothers were young farmboys. There’s something nostalgic about it, sure, but it’s also just very easy and very cheap.

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When I was living in NYC I would have my shirts laundered and ironed for $2.50/shirt, mainly because I didn’t have an apartment large enough to comfortably set-up an ironing board. Yea, it was like that.

Now that we’re living in LA we have plenty of space, our own washing machine, and I’ve come to appreciate the precision craft of giving a shirt a perfect press. It also allows me to create the perfect roll when ironing the collar – most laundry shops usually just crease the collar flat, which looks much more square.

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As a gentleman you know that the achilles heel of the dress shirt is the back of the collar. It goes brown after you sweat. Eventually it becomes a yellow stain that cannot be removed. You can pre-treat it every time before you wash it, and try to stay as cool and sweat-free as possible throughout the day, but the curse of the collar stain is inevitable.

The real tragedy is the number of shirts that get thrown out simply because of a stained collar, when the rest of the shirt is perfectly fine. The collar is only about 5% of the fabric of the shirt. That would be like throwing out your new car because you scratched the bumper. There is a better solution. Collars can easily be replaced by a tailor, especially if he has your measurements and additional fabric still in stock… More on that later.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

Photography by Alex Crawford.

This article was brought to you by Tide

  • Christopher

    Dan, long-time reader (took a trip down memory lane and remembered my first plaid suit purchase was after reading your 2010 post on it!), but may I convince you to switch to Nelly’s laundry detergent? It’s much more inexpensive than Tide ($12.99 for 100 loads), and uses only natural-based products. You also use less of the product (about a tablespoon for a full load…yep), and clothes come out smelling super fresh. I switched years ago, and my gym clothes especially smell very fresh. It also is way better for the environment and your washing machine…liquid detergents tend to have a lot of chemicals in them that can cause your machine (and clothes over time) to smell a certain way.

    Just a thought, brother. So glad to have been following your blog since 2009…can’t believe you have your own bespoke line now. Incredible.

  • Dan

    I have yet to try it but have read that a cream of tartar paste works for collar stains.

  • Kyle

    Any suggestions on what to do about pit-stains? Similar sorts of care-routines as with the collar, or?

  • Joseph

    Nice article, but I wish you would have given more information on how to get the perfect press and collar roll. It would be helpful for the readers to see your insider tips. Thanks!

    • Dan Trepanier

      Coming up soon :)

      • Joseph

        Fantastic! I really appreciate the responsiveness to the readers this site has displayed over the course of time. It matters, at least to me.

  • AdamE

    I wash mine at home, the best solution I have found for the collar stain is to take a drop of detergent and use my thumbs to massage it into the collar, it certainly prolongs the duration before I start to see any discolouration (I’ve also heard Dawn dish soap works well, but have yet to try it)… I’ll have to try buttoning up everything, since I’ve typically done the opposite (leaving all buttons open, with the only exception being the collar buttons on button down collar shirts, since I find they tend to get floppy and lose shape if I wash them unbuttoned).

  • Dan F

    Just to note, I recommend avoiding detergents that contain optical brighteners, which a lot of big brand detergents do. They are used to make fibres appear whiter but also transfer to you skin and are terrible for the environment. It even states on the care labels on my uniqlo t shirts and polos to avoid optical brighteners. You can tell if a product contains them as it should be listed on the back. Btw, tide also contains them…

  • Tom

    odd but shampoo tends to kill ring around the collar

    • Tom

      on the collar that is. Do what you want with your hair…free country after all

      • Jeanscuffed

        Any shampoo or a specific kind/brand?

        • Tom

          the cheaper the better…probably the ones that fight oily hair

  • kongmw

    Great write-up! Would love to see an article on ironing shirts etc.

  • Jeanscuffed

    I always find that additional to the collar being stained wear after wear, that another problem I face is after one wash in the washing machine (I ALWAYS air dry afterwards) is the sleeve cuff having a crease down the middle of it. I’ve always washed my shirts with every button on the shirt closed. Dan or anyone else, have you had this problem and is there anyway to cure it and what causes it? Even after I iron out the crease in the cuff, I can still slightly see it’s remnants.

    • TO

      Don’t have an answer to your cuff problem but I never knew about washing with the buttons done up- is this to prevent wrinkling of the placket?

      • Jeanscuffed

        Well I always buttoned every button to keep the shirt together whilst turning in the machine and so the shirt bends as a whole if that makes sense.

  • Miguel

    Hmm! actually this past summer I washed most of my linen and cotton shirts in my house by hand, I tried saving some money that way, let me tell you, it’s like you said, my shirts were washed better by me of course and it felt good but I don’t have a washing machine so they’ll be going back to the Laundry in Winter time unless it’s one of those that says no Laundry or Dry Cleaning.

  • Mark

    Stupid question, but I’ll ask. For those cotton dress shirts: cold, warm, or hot wash? I used to scrub my shirt collars with Octagon soap and do cold washes, but haven’t had the time and now just send to cleaners to wash. Now that I’m contemplating getting back into washing them myself, would warmer temperature water be even more effective without wearing down the shirt?

    • Miguel

      I think you have to look at the label on the shirts, each shirt might be different but if you get them from the same place and the material is the same then you’ll know by reading the label.

  • TO

    The last paragraph reminds me of (from the show I’m finally around to watching, Boardwalk Empire) that back in the early 20th Century how the dress shirt collars were removable and gents would sometimes just change the collar between outfits instead of washing the entire shirt.

    My experience, good or bad, is that I can get away with a machine wash maybe 3-5 times with a white dress shirt until the stain on the collar bothers me, at which point I would choose to dry clean it and the collar would come back fresh. Most other colours/patterns I almost exclusively machine-wash, unless I’m in a pinch for a well pressed dress shirt then I might take it to the cleaners.