Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Dear Muffy: What are alternatives to ironing button down shirts?

A Reader Question:
I’ve noticed that many or all of the button down shirts you and others wear in the photos appear to be unironed. This is not a criticism, but simply an observation. I do know that professional laundering can take a toll on clothing and I wondered if you prefer or recommend more of a wash and wear look rather than always perfectly pressed? Thank you!

Many of our shirts on SWNE, once washed, spend about five minutes in the dryer, and then are hung on a hanger until dry.  This minimizes the shirt's wear, gives them a bit of softness, and results in a look that has always appealed to me for day-to-day. 
Beyond that, for some business or social events, including high-stakes webinars, I will iron the shirts. 
We always keep a few shirts around that either have been professionally done or are new and not yet unwrapped for emergencies.  
And as one might suspect, we are not fans of no-iron shirts. 


  1. Professional laundering is, in general, a risky option for good quality garments. I always dry my shirts naturally as tumble dryers increase wear and tear considerably, especially the collar points and cuffs.

    After drying, ironing generally takes me around two minutes per dress shirt or polo shirt. In my experience, it does not harm them and probably extends their life. It is well worth the effort for a smart appearance and the improved comfort.

  2. I prefer my shirts to have a slightly laundered look, as opposed to being pristinely pressed.

    I wash casual shirts inside out, at 30 degrees, using a non-bio liquid. They are then hung on the line to dry, put on a coat hanger, then hung in the wardrobe.

    For work shirts, I do exactly the same. They'll just get hung in the bathroom, while I shower, before wearing.

    For smart occasion shirts, I do exactly the same. I'll just give them a quick iron over before I'm due to wear them.

    No-iron shirts? Pretty much all shirts are no-iron ;)

  3. another alternative is to wash and dry your shirts then soak a bath towel with water and ring it out then with your shirts throw it the dryer for 10 minutes and wrinkles are steamed out.

  4. Hanging them with only the top button buttoned keeps the top of the front placket straight. Do not button the collar buttons until you put the shirt on.

  5. When I was young, sending your shirts out was a rite of passage. I have zero time, interest, or energy for ironing. Perhaps when I'm on a fixed income I'll feel different.

  6. All of my OCBD shirts are from Brooks Brothers. I tumble dry on low for maybe 10 minutes and, like Dave posted above, hang them with only the top button buttoned until dry. I do iron the collar and cuffs if I'll be wearing with a coat and tie. Otherwise, I preferred the rumpled look.

  7. I don't like non-iron cotton shirts. They don't breathe as well and feel stiff. Like Chris, i run cotton oxfords in the dryer on medium heat for 10-20 minutes, then dry them on hangers the rest of the way. Because that still leaves shirts somewhat wrinkly, i iron them quickly(i'll never be able to make them look perfectly pressed). Get a Rowenta made-in-Germany iron and go light on the steam.


    My wife is still asleep. I’ve exercised (quietly), showered, eaten breakfast. Now comes time for a familiar early morning ritual.

    I take a cotton dress shirt from the closet, a wrinkled cotton dress shirt, shrug it off its hanger, and drape it over the ironing board.

    Some men might smirk at the sight of me preparing to iron. “What? You iron your own shirts? John Wayne never would’ve!”

    Well, call me a pantywaist, but I happen to enjoy it.

    I plug in the iron, check the water level, turn the setting to — what else — cotton. Then pause for a few moments to let it get hot.

    The room where I iron is a barren one. No furniture, just the ironing board. A “room we haven’t figured out what to do with yet,” having just recently bought this house. I suppose one day it will fill up with things, but right now I like it this way. Its spartan aspect seems well suited to the art of ironing.

    I start with the left sleeve, first spritzing on water with a sprayer, then ironing it so flat, it almost looks as if I could pick it up and slice bread with it.

    I turn it over, do the other side, then the cuff. Then on to the other sleeve, while the ironed one dangles just above the dusty wood floor.

    (My wife tells me my technique is all wrong, but then so did my golf coach, my typing teacher, other authority figures. I take a perverse pleasure in doing things my own incorrect way.)

    Now the back yoke, and a couple swipes at the collar. The easy parts. And then I sweep the shirt up off the board and down again, with its back spread out flat before me.

    Sometimes I botch the back pleat, and have to do it two or three times. But no one is watching.

    The ironing board cover bothers me. It’s a cheap one, full of childish flowers in jarring hues. Orange. Chartreuse. Purple. The colors of fast food restaurants. I miss the plain white one my mother used to have, with its humble dignity and burn smudges.

    I press on. (No letters please — bad puns harm no one.) The cotton cloth is soft, sturdy in my fingers, and responsive to the iron. I swear, it enjoys being ironed! Almost seems to purr. It has a wonderful, tightly-woven texture to it, and glistens with the heat of the iron, and the soft light of the room.

    Again I sweep the shirt up off the board, and down again, to do the right front, skating in and out around the buttons, then the left, using plenty of water and going over the stubborn placket again and again, bearing down, until it finally yields and becomes flat, neat. I am finished.

    Now, the final pleasure of slipping into the toasty shirt. Especially keen now, in the February cool of the house. It almost crackles as I button it up, tuck it in.

    The finches in the back room start to peep as first light looks in the windows. Time for me to go. But I leave with a sense of contentment, knowing that whatever large debacles or small frustrations await me, I have at least done one small piece of good work today.

    Roy Earnshaw

    1. I enjoy doing my own ironing, at least up to a point. Having served in the army, things have to be just so, you know. In fact, lots of men learned to iron in the army. John Wayne never served in the army. However, my father was drafted when he was 28. John Wayne was 35 then and already had children.

      I hang all my shirts up to dry after being coming out of the washer rather than putting them in the dryer. I do that to prevent the seams puckering. I also like the fabric to have more body and a little starch is used on some shirts. Mind you, I'm retired now and I need things to do. To me, there are no wash and wear shirts.

      I also frequently wear Pendleton wool shirts. They're washable.

    2. i like doing my own ironing; collar, yoke, front, back, other side of front, sleeves, in that order. not sure why, but i have been doing that way for years.

  9. I appreciate all the comments and tips but I would weigh in by saying there are those times, at least in my life, that a professionally done shirt puts me out in front.

    1. Like most other things, it is a question of what is the best use of your time. I spent my entire career wearing professionally laundered dress shirts, boxed because of limited closet space in an old house. But I still would iron my casual shirts from time to time. My mother taught me how to do it properly. She taught me how to be independent domestically, cooking and ironing and so forth, and my father taught me how to handle tools correctly to make or repair virtually anything. However, I still called a plumber if needed. Just because you can, doesn't mean you must.

      I told you how to properly iron a shirt in a separate comment that didn't seem make it in. I forgot to properly identify myself. Your loss (wink).

  10. I always iron my own husband's shirts go out to the professionals. Since he wears a collared shirt about 2-3 times a month, I expect he's good for the remainder of his life.

  11. I would like to know what type of hanger you use to hang the damp shirt on to dry?


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