In a new self-help book for men, How to Get Things Really Flat: A Man’s Guide to Ironing, Dusting and Other Household Arts, a British lawyer turned novelist confesses that, especially after the births of their sons, he and his wife were “rowing” more and more frequently over housework. “Or the arguments wouldn’t be about housework to begin with, but they’d soon get there,” writes Andrew Martin. His wife would sound off on how she’d done all the shopping, laundry, ironing, cooking, etc. For a man, you’ve lost the argument right there, says Martin, “however reasonable the point you might have been trying to make in the first place.” Guilt and a lack of bargaining power motivated him to tell his wife he’d take on the ironing. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If anything I go to the pub more now than I used to, guilt-free and often leaving a pile of freshly if not particularly well-pressed clothes in my wake.”
First, ironing isn’t that difficult, he reassures men. It’s time-consuming, yes, but the good thing is you can do other things at the same time, like watch DVDs or listen to the radio. “I iron,” Martin tells readers, “with my wineglass some distance away on the mantelpiece.” He allows himself sips at intervals of three shirts.
In a section called “Do I need to bother about the controls on the iron?” he writes that the rule is “try to read the ironing instructions before ironing the garment.” Check the care label inside the garment, he advises. “If you’re not supposed to iron the thing at all, then the little iron is crossed out.” (As for women’s cashmere sweaters, “Do not touch them; do not even go near them.”) The number of dots inside the little iron indicates how hot the iron should be. “If you iron certain man-made fibres too hot, they might start smoking and melting.” Under “Worst thing that can happen,” Martin warns bits of melted fibre may accumulate on the plate of the iron, which may then transfer to your best white shirt. Tip: “As a test at the start of a session, always iron something you don’t care about—something that is not yours, in other words.”
Woollen garments ironed at too high a temperature become shiny “and a shiny patch on a good woollen suit indicates a man in decline,” he writes. “You might consider ironing woollens through a thin piece of muslin, slightly dampened.” Manufacturers tend to play it safe by instructing you to use a cooler setting than strictly necessary, he says. “Or so I like to think because it is unquestionably more fun—and quicker—to iron hot.”
One of Martin’s female friends, “Helena,” inspected Martin’s shirts and then advised him to get one of those bottles used to spray houseplants. “Spray the shirt for a few seconds. Don’t soak it,” she told him. “Then roll it up like a scroll and leave it for a few minutes so the moisture goes to all the parts of the shirt. Do that with all the shirts before you start ironing,” she said, adding “you should be stretching the fabric all the time you go.”
Do the collars and cuffs first, followed by the sleeves, working out from the shoulders, says Martin. Next, do the yoke of the shirt, on the edge of the board. “The yoke is that bit [on the inside of the shirt] between the collar and the horizontal seam running three inches below it. Do the back of the shirt last, because that’s the bit most likely to come unironed. You can then fold it and iron in the creases, but I wouldn’t bother trying if I were you.” When Martin told Helena he’d noticed that the proper way to fold a shirt—“pulling the sleeves behind as if it’s being arrested by a policeman”—is also the most difficult, Helena told him it was just as good to hang the shirt on a wooden hanger.
Spray starch transformed Martin’s ironing experience. “The iron seemed to roll over a veneer, and there was an indestructible look to the flatness of the shirt when I’d finished. In fact, the shirt looked professionally ironed from as close to as about five feet.”
In Martin’s search for other “prominent men associated with ironing,” he found hardly any except for Robert Plant, the former lead singer of Led Zeppelin, who apparently requested an ironing board in his dressing room at the band’s reunion gig in London because “ironing got him in the mood.” “All the members of Led Zeppelin looked well pressed on stage. They evidently knew that the more crumpled a man’s face, the smoother his clothes must be,” writes Martin, adding, “At the age of 45, I’ve squared up to the truth that one common denominator applies whenever I’m complimented on my appearance: my shirt has been properly ironed.”