Stretching your Wardrobe An A to Z Guide By Karen Harrop

August 29, 1991

F MAY BE FOR FALL and for fashion, but it's also for frustration -- the frustration we feel when we open our closets in early September and are greeted with broken zippers, torn linings and unmanageable stains.

For many of us, our mainstay of outfits that looks good and feels great often occupies less than half of the closet. Wouldn't it be wonderful if by some magic, our clothes would last at least until we tired of them?

We don't have any magic, but we do have an A to Z guide to help you get the most out of your wardrobe and your clothing dollar.

Air out clothing after wearing to prevent damage from perspiration. If you've perspired heavily in certain garments -- especially silk -- be sure to get them cleaned immediately. Perspiration can not only leave permanent stains, but it can also alter the color of a fabric if left untouched.

Bend over, sit down and walk around when trying on new clothes. If you want your new purchases to last, they not only need to look good, but you need to make sure they will move with you, advises Wanda Sieben, Ph.D., assistant professor of Design, Housing and Apparel at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul.

Compare different clothing labels to discover which one works best for you. "A number of clothing lines make a good product and are known for fit and quality," says Nancy Chistolini, vice president of fashion merchandising for Hecht's. "But some lines may fit you better than others."

Dry cleaning can prolong the life of many garments by adding finishes that protect the fabric, so indulge as often as you can afford.

However, keep in mind that not all "clothes need to be dry cleaned every time they're worn, unless they are obviously soiled," says Irvin Miller, owner of Kirsh Cleaners and Tailors in Lutherville. "Some fabrics, such as softer wools, can be aired out and professionally pressed to keep their shape."

Examine prospective purchases carefully. Inspect the button holes, check for loose threads and make sure the sleeves are long enough. All the seams should be flat, and slightly elastic under stress. Lapels and trim should lie flat. Put your hands in the pockets to make sure they are convenient.

Fabric content is an important factor to consider when selecting new clothes. "Fabric is one of the major differences between garments because it is the biggest way to cut costs and maintain a certain price point," says Dr. Sieben.

While natural fibers, such as cotton and wool, have traditionally felt the best, many of the new polyester blends feel just as good and also offer easier care and wrinkle-resistance.

Gabardines, particularly wool, make some of the most durable and easy care clothing. Rayon, on the other hand, is sensitive to water and many dyes applied to it are not colorfast, say the specialists at the International Fabricare Institute in Silver Spring.

Hair spray can be useful for removing stains from washable clothing. Just apply, blot stain until it disappears and wash immediately. However, the alcohol in hair spray (and in perfumes) can ruin fabric color, so test for colorfastness first. Home remedies, even though quite useful, can be risky, so be careful!

Invest in seasonless, classic clothing. "Don't buy for just one season," says Rosario Mielke, a Macy's representative. "Look at your clothes as an investment for all year and then buy a few specific pieces for each season."

Wool crepe is a wise choice, says Nancy Sachs, fashion anpublic relations director for Saks Fifth Avenue. Not only is it lightweight and wrinkle-resistant, she says, but "you can get tremendous mileage out of it and can wear it almost all year."

Jackets are well worth the time and money necessary to find the best. A classic, long jacket in your most flattering color can serve as the cornerstone of your wardrobe, to be worn over last year's slim skirts as well as this year's pleated ones.

Knits are back in favor for this fall and make a good choice for those who travel a lot. The newest ones "are lightweight and more natural looking," says Ms. Chistolini. If you accidentally snag your knit-- which is less likely with today's advanced fabrics-- don't cut the loose snag. Use a needle threader to pull the snag to the underside of the garment.

Labels that outline cleaning and care instructions are crucial. Even if you must cut them out for the sake of comfort, be sure to save them for later reference. Nearly every professional we interviewed mentioned these as an invaluable resource for cleaning care.

Manufacturers need to hear from you. "When I buy a garment, I can take responsibility for visually inspecting it, making sure it fits, and that I like the style," says Dr. Sieben. "But, I can't know what will happen after it's washed." If you have a problem with a garment, return it to the store. If they can't help you, Dr. Sieben advises writing to the manufacturer yourself (the store can give you the address). Let them know what happened and request compensation.

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