The words “wardrobe malfunction” existed long before 2004, but they became embedded in our vocabularies after Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s right breast (complete with a sun-shaped nipple shield) during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. Her public relations team chalked it up to a “wardrobe malfunction” and from that moment on the term became iconic.
When it comes to everyday wardrobe mishaps, the stakes are a lot less horrifying than the potential of having 100 million people simultaneously catch a glimpse of your boob. From deodorant marks on a black top (read: sweatsuit) to a pilling on your favourite cozy cashmere sweater, these are the real-world style snafus that can happen to anybody, at any time.
There’s just no avoiding the annoyances that come with wearing certain clothes—we’re looking at you, suede shoes. But most clothing mishaps can be remedied. We spoke to stylists who have done everything from working with celebrity clients to styling the wardrobes on TV, advertising and editorial productions, to get their insider advice on how to prevent (and fix) some of the most common and ire-inducing wardrobe irritations.
The problem: Stained suede
“If the suede is lightly worn and just needs a light clean up, use a good ol’ suede brush,” says Jo Jin, a wardrobe stylist for TV, movies and commercial sets, as well as editorial fashion shoots. If you have tough stains on your suede Chelsea boots, like salt, food, or red wine, you’ll need more than a brush. “Use a cloth, and white vinegar or rubbing alcohol, and lightly rub it the area affected. The vinegar and rubbing alcohol won’t stain but be sure to pour the agent on to a cloth instead of pouring it directly on the suede. Once dry, brush it to blend the area back in with the rest,” says Jin.
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The problem: Pilling and fuzz on knit sweaters
Cashmere, merino and angora are high-maintenance materials—but they feel so good! The hard truth is, one of your favourite knit sweaters will eventually pill. “You can try a sweater stone or other manual lint and fuzz remover on more delicate knits. For my heavier wool sweaters, I have a small electric sweater shaver that I just run over the linty area lightly,” says Truc Nguyen, a writer, wardrobe stylist and co-founder of Editors Inc. If you don’t want to buy a new gadget, there’s something you have at home that will do the trick: a razor. “Run the razor lightly over the pilled or fuzzy areas and work in small sections,” says Ingrie Williams, a fashion stylist and co-founder of The T-Zone. Don’t have a razor handy? Use tape. “You can either wrap the tape around your hand and press down on the garment or you can strip it as if you’re waxing your sweater,” says Talia Brown Thall, a celebrity stylist and personal shopper. 10/10 would rather DIY wax a sweater than my own legs.
The problem: Foundation stains on your collar
It’s happened to all of us. While rushing to jump on your first Zoom call of the morning, freshly laid tinted moisturizer smears on your crisp white shirt. Don’t give up on that blouse, says Jillian Vieira, a writer and fashion stylist with Plutino Group. But she does warn to act fast. “Grab some dish soap (it’s good at lifting oily stains) and apply a small amount directly to the stain. Then place it under a steady (not gushing!) stream of warm (not hot!) water.” Next, Vieira says you can use your fingernail to “scratch” the makeup stain away. “Basically, you’re lifting the particles away from the material. It’ll take some time, so patience really is virtuous here, but I swear it works. Same goes for lipstick smears—I once had a model get full kiss marks on a white blouse and this trick, well, did the trick,” says Vieira.
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The problem: Deodorant marks on black clothing
Deodorant stains are among the most common wardrobe mishaps. Depending on the material of the garment and depth of the stain, the best way to remove glaring white streaks can differ. But baking soda is a remarkable cleaning agent for a variety of applications—and materials. “Lay down the piece of clothing flat, shake a layer of baking soda around the mark. Once lightly covered, pour some white vinegar on it to watch a chemical reaction where the vinegar and baking soda triggers and lifts the stain up,” says Jin. “Go over it with an old toothbrush or use your fingernails to scratch off the debris—and voila!” Another trick, that sounds strange but works, is to rub a nylon stocking onto the stained area. Gently rub the deodorant stain using firm, circular motions and the stain transfers to the stocking.
The problem: Loose buttons
Yes, even the buttons on that pyjama or loungewear set you may or may not wear to work from home some days. “Buttons these days are not sewn on as tightly as they use to be,” says Brown Thall. If one of your buttons goes rouge and you don’t have a needle and thread on hand, there’s a hack for making sure you don’t lose the button. “If you’re on a restaurant patio, try to see if you can come by a twist tie. Strip the paper from it, run it through both holes of the button and through one of the unused buttonholes, twist and fold downward. Quick and easy,” says Brown Thall.
The problem: Shoes that are too tight
Maybe you bought the wrong size online or maybe your feet are swollen, either way, having shoes that are a smidge too tight can be painful—and wasteful. Vieira says you’ve got two fixes: one’s hot and one’s cold. “If you’re going hot, take a hair dryer and aim it a few inches away at the thinner spots on the shoes (the semicircle around the toe.) It’ll loosen up the material,” says Vieira. The second option is great for people looking to do a quick shoe change. If they’re feeling tighter than usual, it’s probably because your feet are swollen. “Try making your feet a little cooler—it’ll give you some extra room that you could use.” You can bring down the swelling by running them under (or soaking) in cold water.
The problem: Creases and wrinkles with no iron in sight
Need to remove wrinkles—fast—without an iron? You can toss one wrinkled item into the dryer (set to medium) and throw in a few damp dryer sheets. The downside of this method is it takes about 15 minutes. If you’re even shorter on time, “Try hanging up your garment and placing it on the other side of the shower curtain while you shower, it works wonders,” says Brown Thall. Another great way to remove wrinkles without an iron: the ever-useful hair dryer! “Mist the garment with water before applying the heat from the hair dryer, it increases the steaming effect,” says Williams.
Read this next: Fleece Sweaters That Are As Cute As They Are Functional
The problem: Static cling
If your dryer sheet didn’t do the trick and your slip dress is being a stage five clinger, add moisture. “Dampen hands slightly with water and then run them along the staticky areas,” says Williams. Another unconventional but effective fix is hairspray, says Jin.
The problem: A fallen hem
A fallen hem is a hassle. If you don’t have enough time to sew your hem, or don’t want it to take roots on your Take to the Dry Cleaner Chair (you know you have one), take another sip of coffee and don’t panic. “The best thing to do is to use some strong double-sided tape or hem tape and press the hem in place,” says Nguyen. She warns that it’s only a temporary fix, and that tape needs to be removed before you wash your clothes. If you don’t have double-sided tape handy, you can use safety pins, says Williams. “Regardless of fabric weight, you want the bar of the pin, and any puckering it could cause, to be hidden so use the pinpoint to gather just a few loops of fabric from the inside folded part of the hem. Think of grazing the fabric for a light hold rather than clamping through it.”
The problem: Plunging neckline
It takes more to avoid a wardrobe malfunction with a plunging neckline than a hope and a prayer. “To pull off a plunging neckline on a dress or top that’s made out of thin material—like silk or taffeta—Topstick tape is what most red-carpet stylists will use to hold the garment in place on your skin,” says Nguyen. When it comes to heavier materials, such as a tuxedo blazer or denim top for those special social bubble gatherings or at-home date nights, she recommends nipple covers or specialty bras that will stay hidden.