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Why You Can’t “Live Rich” in Drip-Dry Clothes

“Happiness seems to require a modicum of external prosperity.” – Aristotle (“Nicomachean Ethics”)

Elaine St. James, “America’s simplicity expert,” recommends getting rid of clothes that need to be dry-cleaned and replacing them with drip-dry.

St. James says, “Obviously, there are a number of occupations with dress codes requiring clothes that must be regularly dry-cleaned. If you are an investment banker, you have to have your three-piece suits. Fortunately, most of us no longer need to be slaves to the Dress for Success code. From now on, at least until the Revolution, the code should be Dress for Comfort and Convenience, which means, for the most part, wash-and-wear cottons and natural fabrics.”

This is just the sort of thinking that is destroying the world.

First, it’s wrong. Most clothes made out of natural fabrics — wools, silks, and linens — are meant to be dry-cleaned. The only way to avoid dry-cleaning them is with hand washing, line drying, and a “gentle iron.” Cotton, too, needs ironing. How is that simple?

And what chore in life is more odious than doing laundry anyway? Photocopying? Maybe. But if so, only by a narrow margin.

St. James’ advice is bad for the environment, too. The only fabrics that tumble-dry wrinkle-free are synthetics and synthetically treated cotton — and more environment-poisoning chemicals are used to manufacture them than you’d probably use in a lifetime of dry-cleaning.

But the worst thing about this advice is how taking it would make you look and feel. People who are committed to dressing in the way St. James suggests look like slobs, and that is not a good way to look.

If you want to live simply but richly, it’s very easy to do so. Buy a limited number of beautiful clothes that can be either dry-cleaned or professionally laundered. Make this the foundation of your working wardrobe. Dress better, not worse, than everyone else. Make sure your shoes are polished, your socks are straight, and everything else is comme il faut.

If your wardrobe is limited, you won’t have to spend an hour each morning figuring out what to wear. You can look at the 10 or 12 beautiful, perfectly fitted, great-feeling items on the rack and choose the combination that meets your special mood that day. These few minutes you spend every day choosing your outfit should provide you with the same rich pleasure that choosing your wine does before each evening’s meal. It’s a wonderful feeling — a serene, luxurious little adventure.

When you get to work (or wherever you’re going), you will feel good because you know you look good — and you will know too that your look conveys a sense of dignity, style, and self-discipline to others. You will still be exactly the person you are in your underclothing, just a bit wealthier — both outside and inside.

Of course, you will want to take good care of your elegant clothes in order to maximize the number of years you’ll be able to wear them and minimize the amount of money you’ll need to spend on dry-cleaning.

If, after everything I’ve just said, you’re still not convinced that your life will be simpler and richer with a dry-clean/laundry wardrobe than it would be with drip-dry, let me remind you of the realities.

1. The drip-dry scenario: The tub of dirty drip-dry stuff is starting to smell. You finally find the time to haul it downstairs and stuff it in the washing machine. You notice that you’ve run out of detergent, so you rush to the nearest convenience store and get some. Then you sit around the house trying to keep yourself busy while the wash gets done.

When the buzzer finally sounds, you toss the soggy mess, wetting your shirt, into the dryer. The box of fabric softener is empty, but you decide not to take another trip to the store (you are not even sure they sell the stuff) and resign yourself to wearing scratchy, clingy clothes. Again, you are trapped in the house while waiting for the dryer to finish. (The last thing you want to do is leave your clothes in there too long and allow them to turn into a gnarled, wrinkled disaster.)

When the second buzzer goes off, you spend 25 minutes shaking and folding. You notice that a few buttons have come loose, but you have no time to sew the damn things on.

You accept your fate: wearing limp, slightly cheap-looking, loose-buttoned outfits that tell the world “I am part of the Comfort Revolution!”

2. The dry-clean/laundry scenario:

Every Monday morning, on the way to work, you toss your laundry bag onto the back seat of your car and take an extra 10 minutes to drop it off at Franco’s.

You don’t have to tell Franco to check for loose or missing buttons. He will check for you automatically. You don’t have to tell him how you like your shirt collars. He knows. He offers you a cup of espresso, brewed the way his father brewed it in Milan, and you chat for a moment about local politics.

As you leave, he hands you the items you brought in the week before — your freshly laundered underwear and socks folded exactly the way you like them . . . your shirts and slacks, impeccably clean, on padded hangers. You can’t wait to get everything back to your cedar-scented closet and select the outfit you’re going to wear on Tuesday.