About halfway through this post you will probably start thinking: “what this really needs is a video”. You’re probably right, but I don’t have a video camera or the patience to re-record the piece several times until I get it right all the way through. You can pause when you’re typing. And press undo.
Besides, there are plenty of good videos out there that claim to show you the perfect way to iron your shirt. Just watch those, having read this post. No one’s method is quite the same as mine, or is gathered from such a collection of ironing geeks. Plus mine is less a step-by-step guide than a list of tips.
First, spray your shirt all over with a little water. Not too much, just to make it damp. This is not to increase the amount of steam, as some people believe and as is the intention when you spray the shirt during ironing. Rather, spraying it beforehand is intended to soften the cloth. So spray it, fold it in half and roll it up. Then wait five minutes before ironing. Of course, if you are organised enough you can spray down the next-shirt-but-one before you start ironing the next, so each time there is one ready to go.
The second tip is to always maintain tension along the length you are ironing. That’s fairly simple on the back and foreparts, because the cloth will lie flat enough to create its own tension most of the time. It just needs straightening out now and again. But on the collar, sleeve and cuff, it is crucial. On the sleeve, start at a corner like the armpit and pull gently on the opposite corner, here the cuff. Iron along that length and there is no risk of creases on the underside of the shirt. Plus you don’t have to laboriously lay the sleeve out.
Next tip is to iron the collar first and then the yoke. The yoke should come before any other part of the body of the shirt because it is hard to iron without creasing those other parts. Try leaving the yoke until last – you’re guaranteed to end up wrinkling some part of the back or front.
The collar and double cuff are among the hardest to iron because there is excess on the surface (assuming both are unfused). The key is to start at the very edges and ease that fullness into the centre, then repeat from the centre until almost at the edge. It’s pretty instinctive really, but make sure you don’t forget it – that tell-tale wrinkle at the edge of a shirt’s collar is the only ironing error anyone’s likely to spot, until you take your jacket off. I know valets that are obsessive about it.
Final tip: if you want a shirt that looks particularly crisp, iron the seams around the armholes until they are baked. Given the overlap of cloth here, it is very hard to get that surface looking perfect with a normal steam iron. But if you do then the sharpness of the whole shirt is lifted. It’s one thing that often makes a dry-cleaned shirt stand out from one washed at home – far easier to achieve that smoothness with an industrial iron.