Back in the 19th century white shirts, waistcoats and neckcloths were a subtle mark of a man’s wealth because the only way to keep them pristine in the dirt and grime of everyday life was to change them often which entailed a significant laundry bill.
Flash forward to the 21st century and it would seem that the advent of the horseless carriage, clean-burning fuels and economical dry cleaning have made pure white linens a universal norm. Not so. This may be the case for new garments but time and dry cleaning chemicals take their toll in dinginess and yellowing of the fabric. This is particularly noticeable in evening wear because of the stark black-and-white contrast.
I encountered this sartorial peccadillo recently when I purchased a long sought-after Brooks Brothers full-dress waistcoat on eBay. What I expected to be a white vest turned out to be yellowed with age and even though a visit to a renown Toronto dry cleaner improved the colour significantly, it was still noticeably different than the pure white of my matching Brooks Brothers full-dress shirt.
I then recalled that a British reader of the Guide once recommended Dr. Beckmann’s Glowhite to restore aged whites to immaculate condition. I discovered that the product is not available outside the UK but since I am nothing if not persistent I did some research to seek out a possible equivalent sold locally. I purchased a product called White Brite and after soaking the waistcoat in it for the prescribed 20 minutes I was astounded to see the garment had turned snow white. According to the instructions, the next step after soaking would be to machine wash the item but because the waistcoat was dry-clean only I just rinsed it in cold water then later took it to the cleaners. Happily, this variation did not appear to have any effect on the outcome.
I highly recommend the product to ensure your own formal linens are as white as can be.
Note: Pre-soaking is actually optional for machine-washable clothing – you can just add the whitener to the wash if you prefer.
October 8, 2014
Truth be told, there was still some extremely slight yellowing left in the garment after the whitening process. I therefore decided to try again in lieu of spending a fortune on a brand new waistcoat and this time the garment did indeed emerge snow white. I also tossed it into the wash afterwards rather than sending it out for dry cleaning and the garment held up perfectly. In fact, by allowing it to dry by lying flat and touching it up with an iron while still damp it ended up better pressed than when it originally returned from the cleaners.