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How Often Should I — And Joaquin Phoenix — Clean My Only Suit?

Oscar nominee Phoenix is wearing the same tux throughout award season. Which raises the question, what does that thing smell like?

The only thing certain about this year’s Oscars is what Joaquin Phoenix will wear when he picks up his inevitable trophy. In an effort to “reduce waste,” Phoenix, who received a Best Lead Actor Oscar nomination for Joker, is wearing the same tuxedo throughout award season.

He’s worn the Stella McCartney garment at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards, and he presumably will again at the Screen Actors Guild and Academy Awards. Hopefully he’s dry-cleaning his suit, because wearing a full tux once a week can leave a stench nearly as distasteful as another year of #OscarsSoWhite.

Which made me wonder: How often should I be dry-cleaning my own suit, which gets a few spins through holiday parties, weddings and other events per year? And what happens if I let a little sweat sit on it for a while before its cleaning?

For Phoenix, the answer is something like every two months. “Every eight to 10 times of wear, I would think about cleaning it,” Jerry Pozniak, managing director for luxury dry cleaner Jeeves New York, tells MEL.

Gone are the Mad Men days in which wearing a suit to work was expected. A 2018 British study found only one in 10 employees now wears a suit to work. In many industries, men can show up in business casual and even Tevas, and no one bats an eye. Still, there are few tips to learn before pulling out that perfectly fitting, well-priced holiday-party suit in May — only to realize cologne has oxidized on the collar and mothballs line the jacket.

Dry-Clean Before the Closet

Just because the power suit is fading fast doesn’t mean you can slack on the rack. If you’re not Phoenix and wear a suit to only a few weddings every summer, clean it twice a year or whenever it’s stained.

More importantly, put it away clean each season. “Always put your clothes away clean. I can’t emphasize [this] enough. Even wool suits,” Pozniak says.

Wool suits attract moths. “Months love to find the food, perspiration and cologne that’s left,” he says. In the winter, moths will burrow into the fibers of a wool suit, which eventually could lead to holes. If those months aren’t paying rent to live in your closet, don’t let them in. Clean your suit at the end of March before putting it away for nine months.

The same rule goes for light-colored summer suits made of linen. Any Champagne or clear stains that go unnoticed in August may show up months later. “Kind of like when you bite into an apple and leave it on the counter, your suit will oxidize all of a sudden,” Pozniak says. “Poof, you have all these brown stains.”

If you do have stains, address them immediately. The longer you wait to treat a stain or bring it to a dry cleaner, the more likely it will become permanent.

Make Sure the Cleaner Meets Your Standards

Great, you’ve found a dry cleaner and taken care of your suit. Now, how do you determine if you have a good dry cleaner? Check your suit’s lapels. “For 99 percent of suits on the market, the lapels should be rolled and the creases should be even,” Pozniak says.

The roll is the curve of the lapel from the collar down to the top button. A rolled lapel should not be pressed flat against the jacket of a lapel with a hard crease. It should be a slight curve. If your dry cleaner is flattening the lapels like the fold of an envelope, try another cleaning company.

Also, check for steam impressions. If you open the inside of a suit jacket and see the outline of a steamer or a discolored circle, that’s a sign your dry cleaner is rushing through your suit.

It Might Just Need to Be Steamed

Part of the reason Phoenix doesn’t need to clean his suit more than every two months is that — hopefully — he’s not actually soiling it. “If it’s in your closet, your closet’s a disaster and it’s all wrinkled but not dirty, just get it pressed at a reputable dry cleaner,” Pozniak says.

So go buy a personal hand steamer like the Conair Turbo and de-wrinkle at home. Just make sure you hang up the suit properly afterward so it doesn’t wrinkle again.

Don’t Forget the Buttons

The Pussycat Dolls once said, “I’m tellin’ you, loosen up my buttons, babe.” Uh-huh, you need to be telling your dry cleaner the same thing.

On a high-end suit, buttons are often made of horn, bone or shell. They’re fragile and hard to replace if broken or discolored during a cleaning. So ask your dry cleaner to remove those buttons before they get to work and sew them back on later.

No matter how cool you think you are traveling on an airplane in your fancy business suit, a true style savant remembers to take care of their buttons. Pozniak says, “If you’re wearing a suit and it has a bunch of odd buttons on it — it could be a great suit, but you’re going to look cheap.”