Q:I have found that cotton sweaters are one of the most important elements of my wardrobe. I wear them year-round. Do you have any suggestions for how to care for them?
A: We live in a comfort-controlled world, so cotton sweaters are logical year-round. And during this transitional season when the weather is changing from lion to lamb, cotton sweaters add just the right warmth and insulation. Warm in spring and cool in summer, cotton is comfortable to wear against the skin, with a T-shirt, layered over a shirt, or under a jacket.
About the care of cotton sweaters: First rule, never hang them; always store folded in a drawer or on a shelf. Cotton is washable (use cool water), but should not be totally dried in a dryer. Many cotton sweaters require "blocking," a process involving partial drying plus just the right amount of stretching on a flat surface to retain the original shape. Men may find this process too mysterious, preferring the more expensive, but always safe, dry-cleaning. It saves having to hand down one's freshly laundered favorite sweater.
If cotton sweaters become loose at the cuffs or around the bottom borders, here's an effective interim treatment: Dampen slightly with water just the stretched-out areas and put the sweater into the dryer for about 10 minutes. The too-large sections will bounce back into shape but the undampened portions will not shrink.
Cotton sweaters introduce welcome color to a drab winter wardrobe.
Q: I have a valuable and virtually irreplaceable necktie. It has th vice-presidential seal hand painted on it. Unfortunately, over the years I have spilt food on it and now it requires cleaning.
All the dry cleaners I've tried fear that the hand-painted seal will be damaged and will not accept responsibility for my tie. Please suggest a solution to my problem.
A: I cannot tell you which "solution" will work for your tie. Most cleaning solutions would indeed eliminate the paint as well as the stains. A specialized dry cleaner, however, may be able to help.
Yours is a triple-threat problem. One is the difficulty in cleaning any tie. Many neighborhood cleaners are not equipped to clean a necktie well. They can remove spots and soil but, after pressing, ridges from the lining show through. The tie is clean, but marred.
The second problem has to do with the age of the stains. Perhaps the first stain was inconspicuous, and you continued to wear your tie. Then as subsequent spots occurred, your confidence in your tie's impressive appearance faded, while the stains did not. Herein lies much of the problem. Old stains never die, they just become set.
The third problem is in cleaning anything hand-painted. Most chemical cleaning products would be disastrous to the tie's seal.
"Is the tie cleanable?" can be answered by one company that goes to great lengths to accomplish the impossible. That's their business. Unlike other dry cleaners, they open up most of the ties they clean so pressing does not leave indentations. Your tie is likely to come back, if not like new, at least wearable. More important, if it is past saving, they would not clean it and ruin it. No doubt, there must be other companies that have this level of expertise, and open up a tie when cleaning it, but this is the only one that I have discovered.
Nowadays, when ties have zoomed in price from the unappreciable to the unimaginable, the cost of cleaning a tie ($4.50) becomes negligible. Your painted tie would cost a bit more. The address: Tiecrafters, 116 E. 27th St., New York, N.Y. 10016. (212) 867-7676. FAX (212) 725-4714.
Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, Today in Style, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Ms. Fenton welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally.
Ms. Fenton, the author of "Dress for Excellence" (Rawson Associates, $19.95), conducts wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies around the country.