How to win the war on wrinkled clothes

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By Christopher Elliott

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more frivolous travel topic than wrinkled clothes. But I’m willing to bet that the longer you spend on the road, the less you’re laughing.

Jonathan Breeze doesn’t think wrinkles are funny. “I’ve traveled for years, using a variety of different materials that purport to be wrinkle-free,” says Breeze, the CEO of an insurance website. “I have yet to see anything that rolls out of the case looking ready-to-wear.”

New products and fabrics — here just in time for the summer travel season — challenge the assumption that to travel is to wear wrinkled clothes. If they don’t work, I have a few tips that can get even the toughest wrinkles out of shirts, dresses and jackets.

Here’s one from Breeze: As soon as he checks in, he turns the shower on the hottest setting and hangs his clothes, turning the bathroom “into a sauna.” Within 20 minutes, all the wrinkles from his dress shirts and pants have vanished.

Plastic prevents friction

Keeping wrinkles out means taking preventive steps, says Jacobi Dolphin, a personal wardrobe organizer and stylist. “For all garments that need to be hung, wrap them in plastic,” she advises. “The best plastic to use are dry cleaning bags. Friction causes wrinkles, and plastic prevents friction.”

Dan Miller, the CEO of Mulberrys Garment Care, pays attention to the seams when he packs his shirts. Fold along the seam lines and you’ll prevent wrinkles. “Also, use cardboard for stability, to ensure that your garments hold their shape while traveling,” he says. You can use the cardboard from your shirts that have been dry-cleaned.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you need an iron. There are new solutions that can help. Consider Collar Perfect ($34.95; collarperfect.com), a travel-sized iron that specializes in quick touch-ups but can be used on an entire garment, if necessary. It’s the size of a cellphone. (Related: How to travel light — really light.)

Another solution is the new Rowenta Steam ‘N Press ($29.99), a multifunctional garment care tool that offers a variable steam option that lets you control the amount of steam based on the fabric, as well as a steam trigger for longer bursts.

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Let’s face it. You don’t want to shrink-wrap your clothes, and you don’t want to iron.

Is there a way out? Yes

  • Eddie Bauer (eddiebauer.com) offers several products made with its wrinkle-free ComfortCloth cotton/spandex fabric. Its Comfort Waist Casual Performance Chino Pants ($65) promise you’ll “say goodbye” to your iron. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
  • Orvis (orvis.com) has All Transit Pants ($98) that are lightweight and breathable, moisture-wicking and quick-drying. Any wrinkles that might appear during packing quickly disappeared when I tried them.
  • Mountain Khakis (mountainkhakis.com) can provide a wrinkle-free experience for the outdoorsy types. Its new Passport shirt ($85) is buttery soft and wrinkle-free, thanks to its unique polyester blend.
  • Bluffworks (bluffworks.com) makes travel-specific blazers that refuse to wrinkle. Its Gramercy jacket ($295) is comfortable, breathable, machine-washable and has a few nice touches for the jet set, such as 10 built-in pockets.
  • Unbound (unboundmerino.com), a new clothing brand that uses wrinkle-resistant Merino wool, creates travel clothes that that can be worn for weeks at a time without needing a wash. A Merino T-shirt will set you back $65.

When it comes to wrinkles, I used to be a skeptic like Breeze. I’m slowly becoming a convert. I say “slowly” because some of these materials keep more than the wrinkles out. I recently bought two no-wrinkle shirts made with a nylon-like fabric. Unfortunatley, I couldn’t stop sweating in them. (Here’s everything that you need to know before planning your next trip.)

Oh well. Give a little, take a little.

Three tips for keeping out the wrinkles

  • Roll, don’t fold. It doesn’t just save space, it can prevent wrinkles. Michelle Weller, a travel agent with Travel Leaders in Houston, says that for maximum effectiveness, you have to pack the right attire. “I buy clothes that don’t wrinkle and roll them up,” she says. Wrinkles don’t have a chance.
  • Spray ’em out. Wrinkle-release sprays such as Downy’s Wrinkle Releaser ($1.54) can fix travel-related wrinkles in a pinch. “It works by coating your clothes with a relaxing lubricant that relaxes the fibers, making it easy to smooth it out without an iron,” explains Peter Nguyen, a personal stylist.
  • Don’t overpack — or underpack. “Wrinkling is caused when the bag is underpacked or overstuffed, so add or remove items until you have the perfect amount of items to keep the items in place while traveling,” advises Tori Toth, author of the book Feel at Home: Home Staging Secrets for a Quick and Easy Sell. When she packs, she groups similar items together and arranges them according to the date or time she needs them, to avoid rummaging, which is a leading cause of — you guessed it — wrinkles.

Leaving something at home is the number one mistake holiday travelers make. And it’s not just essential items, such as passports, wallets or undies, but also essential skills that could help you travel smarter.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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