Q And Answer: Wrinkle-Free Shirts?

July 5, 2010

Q and Answer: Wrinkle-Free Shirts?

Dan in Baghdad writes: What is your thought on wrinkle free shirts?  Personally I’m not a big fan:  First, they’re never quite wrinkle free.  They look okay, but still need a little work after washing to make them look crisp.  And many are not really meant to be ironed either–for example one such shirt I purchased from Land’s End, which is 55% cotton and 45% polyester, looks slightly burned/melted after I ironed it.

Wrinkle-free shirts always look worse than natural cotton shirts.  Do not buy them.

There are two kinds of non-iron shirt.  One is as you describe above: a blend of polyester and cotton.  The only time polyester (or almost any petroleum-based fiber) should be in your wardrobe is if you’re buying high-tech “wicking” gym clothes.  Polyester has the super power of making things look cheap and ugly.
The second form of non-iron shirt is all cotton, but impregnated with a chemical bath that makes it resist wrinkling.  This chemical treatment makes the shirt breathe poorly, look weirdly shiny, and feel slick and unpleasant.  It also washes out of the shirt after a few dozen go-rounds with the laundry.  This style of non-iron is marginally better than the the other one, but there’s really no reason not to just jettison the weird chemicals all together.  Maybe if you travel a lot in places where there are no irons in hotels(?), and need one shirt for emergency looking nice duty.  Maybe.

The reality is that for casual wear, most all-cotton oxford shirts look fine without ironing as long as they’re hung dry or at least removed promptly from the drier.  The heavy, textural weave of cotton oxford is resistant to wrinkling on its own – the worst you can expect is rumpling, which I for one find kind of charming.  It’ll basically end up looking like the one above.  I wouldn’t wear a rumpled oxford with a suit, but if I was planning to wear a suit, I’d just iron a proper dress shirt.

If you iron once a week, it will not take you more than the length of one re-run of Seinfeld.  I know, because I do my ironing while watching Seinfeld.  Usually on Sunday afternoons.  Pull your shirts out of the drier while they’re still a bit damp and go to town.  It should be easy going.