September 2009 | Welcome back to Ask our Butler.
In this month’s musings…to poplin, or not to poplin: that is the question for Perfect Ironing!


Smooth poplin shirts look marvelous when they are freshly laundered, with a crisp, sharp snappy finish and are incredibly comfortable.

In the bad old days when it was time to launder and iron his Lordship’s poplin shirts, I would rather have removed burrs from his riding britches. BUT…one day I made a remarkable discovery whilst ironing and watching Niles giving CC a run for her money on “The Nanny”. (I wish I had half the snappy comeback as Niles …though I doubt I’d be employed for long!)

A Butler’s guide to perfectly ironed shirts…

First, use de-mineralised or distilled water in your steam iron. This keeps your iron from mineral build up’s and other nastiness inside the water tank which can create mess on his Lordship’s fine dark clothes, or worse…rust stains on his crisp white smooth poplin shirts! A workman insists on good quality tools, a butler the same. Use a high quality iron and ironing board to make your task easier.

Next, turn the shirt inside out. Iron the collar first. Continue to the yoke and then the cuffs – please, NO creases in buttoned cuffs. Next iron the front panel, the back, and other front panel. When ironing pleats on shirts, please don’t crease them down the entire length of the back – they are comfort folds, not a design feature. Iron the sleeves and then flip the entire shirt back out the proper way. To finish the sleeves, use a sleeve board or carefully rotate the sleeve on the ironing board to finish them without creases – though if his Lordship wants a creased sleeve, by all means let him have it!

Finally, for an ultra crisp shirt (and if you have time) turn down the heat on the iron and press the presentation side of the shirt as well. Voila!

Now, my discovery for perfectly ironed poplin shirts: the secret is dampness! (oh for a Niles zinger here)

Bring in shirts still damp from the line, or use the spray feature on your iron or a simple plastic bottle to liberally ‘spritz’ the shirt with de-mineralised water. Use the above ironing method and let the weight of your iron do the hard work for you (no wimpy lightweight travel irons please). Don’t go too slowly as you might scorch the shirt. Take it from me…drying a shirt completely before ironing makes your task much more difficult.

By using this process your poplin shirts will come out crisp and beautifully pressed every time, and hold their shape nicely throughout the day. Since my discovery of dampness, the poplin shirt has become one of my all time favourites for comfort, and wearability. Poplin…it’s not just to be admired on the (wooden) hanger any longer!

So there you have it, a Butlers guide to perfectly ironed shirts for timeless, elegant style.

Yours in gracious service,

Mark Johnson
The Butler

P.S. To starch, or not to starch: that is another question.  If you like your shirts starched I suggest the old fashioned method. Mix dry starch according to the directions and allow the shirt (or shirts) to soak. Gently blot the shirt on a soft absorbent towel to remove excess moisture and then iron away! Don’t use a spray bottle with water as this defeats the purpose of starch, and it soaks into your ironing board cover, starching things that are not to be starched!

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