When my husband took clothes-shopping into his own hands last weekend, I was forced to ask myself: how much is a get-out-of-ironing card worth? Forty-five dollars? Because that’s how much more he paid for a Brooks Brothers non-iron shirt than I pay for a regular dress shirt.
Let me explain how this happened. We usually go shopping together, and when I say together, I mean the whole family takes a field trip to TJ Maxx or Marshall’s. There are kids hanging out of shopping carts, hiding under racks of viscose blouses, rolling around the floor of the lingerie section, and sometimes, there are kids plied with toys to make it worth their while (now you know who is really in control around here).
We can usually find nice dress shirts for about $20 a piece in these kinds of stores. However, now that we have a toddler with a penchant for knocking merchandise off shelves with a velocity that only increases when he is told not to, we try to whip in and out of stores as fast as a greased skateboard.
So this is why hubby was forced to go to Nordstrom Rack on his own, and how he returned with an armload of no-iron shirts (and some work pants) and a bill for almost $500. Believe me, I was touched that he was thinking of me when building his wardrobe. I do all the ironing in the house (although my 10-year-old sometimes chips in because she thinks it’s fun), so the shirts were just as much a gift to me as they were to his closet.
However, it is difficult to find a true iron-less shirt unless you spend a lot of money. And I would not have allowed myself to spend $65 for a shirt, even if it did shorten my Sunday chore list. Scoring brand-name dress shirts for $1 to $2 at thrift stores is more my style, and the huge savings make up for the fact that the oxfords have to be ironed the old-fashioned way.
So let’s go through some of the reasons why and why not to buy wrinkle-free dress shirts.
1. The Obvious: They Save Labor
As my new accountant says: it’s either your time or your money. Spending on high-quality non-iron shirts, like Brooks Brothers or Charles Tyrwhitt, did pay off in the labor department. Most wrinkle-free shirts we’ve had in the past either have to be ironed anyway (what’s the point?) or they look cheap and polyestery.
I was shocked, however, to see how crisp and smooth these luxury-brand shirts looked when I pulled them out of the dryer. It was kind-of weird: there was virtually no sign they had been through the wringer. Yes, I admit that on some of the shirts (not all) there is a very subtle waviness in the fabric. But my wrinkle-tolerance threshold is pretty low, and they definitely passed my muster.
So by spending more on the shirts, we saved time and gained quality.
2. They Stay Wrinkle-Less All Day Long
Even though the shirts cost an arm and a leg (Brooks Brothers full-price retail is as high as $80, while Charles Tyrwhitt can go for as low as $39), they have so far lived up to their crease-free promise. Another plus of higher-quality no-iron shirts is that they are still crisp at the end of the day.
For certain jobs, looking pulled-together is important. Shabby chic is unfortunately no longer the in-look, and while a 5 ‘o’clock shadow might be acceptable, a wrinkly shirt looks sloppy. And since we are talking about economics, I might as well say that something as simple as appearance can lead to more sales or a better salary.
3. They Could be Cost-Effective, Depending on Your Lifestyle
But what if $65 per shirt was actually a good deal too?
It takes me about five minutes to iron a shirt. I do it for free, but if I paid someone $20 per hour to iron, he or she would probably do a better job and take longer. Let’s say, 10 minutes per shirt, which is about $3 per shirt. If we take shirts to the dry cleaner for ironing, it costs about $2 per shirt (plus the hassle of dropping off and picking up and the waste of hangers and other packaging).
So the extra cost of a high-end wrinkle-free shirt would pay itself off in three to five months, if it gets washed and worn once a week. Since shirts go about two to three years before getting frayed at the collar, I think it’s a winning proposition.
If you iron your own shirts, the savings is less quantifiable. If it frees up time to make money or save money in other ways, it might even make economic sense. Or if you’re like me, and just want to use the extra time to flop on the couch and watch your kids play, or take an evening walk to the park, then maybe it’s just a quality-of-life decision that you decide to make.
However, They’re Not 100% Natural
In Slate’s hilarious but disparaging post on no-iron shirts, writer Daniel Akst rails on the new-fangled fabric for being stiff, scratchy, hot, and made with the same chemical as plywood: formaldehyde. But many commenters on that article disagree (at least on the feel of the fabric) pointing out that Brooks Brothers’ no-iron shirts are both soft and breathable. I would agree: the cotton feels like a freshly ironed and starched shirt, and my husband says they don’t feel any different to wear than any of his regular shirts.
However, chemical processes were used to make the cotton molecules line up like that. According to another other edu-taining article on no-iron shirts in Scientific American called The Wrinkle in No-Iron Shirts, the federal government says that the quantities of formaldehyde are not great enough to cause anything more than a mild allergic reaction (in some people in rare cases). Whether you want to believe that and go for the convenience is a personal decision.
We do a lot of things in our household in the name of saving time and money that are of questionable healthiness, including using microwave ovens, drinking tap water, eating non-organic foods, and occasionally driving over the speed limit. So even though the truth about the wrinkle-free technology gives me pause, it’s not screaming “Danger!” loud enough to make me stop.
The Bottom Line
Given that you are OK with the way the fabric is manufactured, no-iron shirts are worth extra money if:
2. You normally have your shirts professionally pressed. You’ll probably pay off the extra expense of the no-iron shirt in three to five months and then you’ll start seeing real money (and time) savings.
3. You detest ironing. If it would make you happier to skip a couple of dinners out so you could invest in good wrinkle-free technology, then I say go for it.
So now I’m curious. Do you iron shirts? If you outsource this chore, how did you get to that point?