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How to Fold Your Shirts (the Right Way)

Have you ever wondered how stores get their clothes folded so neatly? Here's how.

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I have an extensive career in retail. The retail floor is where I cut my teeth, doing countless fit-and-feels, brushing up on reams of product knowledge and styling clients from head to toe. I oscillated between big-box department stores and boutiques, learning the ins and outs of the business. Among the many lessons I learned, and there are many, the one which I’m most grateful for is also one of the most mundane: How to fold a shirt.

It’s no argument that knowing how to count a till, order supplies or just treat people (customer service) are more useful. Maybe it’s a pet peeve of mine after years of conditioning myself to straighten and finger space. Or perhaps I find it therapeutic — but, it’s probably mutually inclusive. Knowing the proper way to fold a shirt is valuable, whether it’s for your closet or to merchandise your brick-and-mortar store. It keeps both drawers and shelves orderly and easily accessible.

Why You Should Fold Your Shirts

It’s visually easier on the eye. That mound of clothes that’s languishing in your chair? A problem. That may sound like parental nagging, but the research backs it up. We identify with our homes, and when our space is messy, cluttered and cramped, it can lead to a diminished state of well-being, difficulty processing thoughts and even poorer eating habits. This is where a good folding technique can help.

Unbeknownst to me, this method is very similar to Marie Kondo’s famous filing method of folding clothes. Step by step, it’s the same thing, except for two differences. The first is the use of a folding board. If you’ve ever wondered how retail stores get their clothes to look so neat, it’s because they’re using a folding board. A folding board not only helps guide where the garment should be folded, but also keeps every garment consistently sized. Without it, straightening and lining up stacks can be difficult. There are plenty of contraptions with various panels and hinges to help guide you through the folding process, but what most retail stores actually use is just a simple rigid rectangle. Often, it’s just a clipboard. But, you don’t even really need to buy a folding board or clipboard. A piece of cardboard cut into a 9-inch by 12-inch rectangle will work just fine.

While this method is nice if you like to see your clothes on a table or shelf, most of us likely keep our clothes in drawers if they’re not a hanger. That’s the second difference between this method and Kondo’s. Kondo goes one step further and folds her clothes an additional time so that the clothes can actually stand up. This allows the clothes to be filed into a drawer and be easily seen all at once without having to dig through stacks to find the right garment.

How to Fold Your Shirt

Step #1

Lay your shirt on a flat surface, face down. Spread the fabric so that it’s taught, without wrinkles.

Step #2

Place your folding board/clipboard onto the shirt with the short side of the clipboard centered at the top of the shirt. I find it helpful to meet the top corners of the clipboard with the shoulders of the shirt. But, it’s also helpful to have the top line of the clipboard line up with the collar of the shirt. This way, the corners of the clipboard stick out above the shirt at the end, making it easier to remove.

Step #3

With one hand holding down the folding board in place, use your other hand to grab one of the sleeves at the cuff. Pull it toward the center of the folding board and make sure it is flat, but not stretched tight.

Step #4

Repeat with the other side.

Step #5

If your shirt sleeves are long, simply fold the shoulder at a 45-degree angle such that the sleeves point downward.

Step #6

Make sure the sides of the shirt are flush with the sides of the folding board and are straight. Grab the bottom of the shirt and pull it toward the top of the shirt. Depending on the length of the shirt, it may end up shorter than the folding board or extend beyond the folding board considerably. If this is the case, just adjust the fold to accommodate.

Step #7

Remove the folding board and, once more, take the bottom of the shirt and fold it up to the top of the shirt.

Voila! You (should) have a neatly folded shirt. Don’t be surprised if you need to zhuzh the shirt during or even after the process to make it straight. It takes some practice to figure it out and you’ll quickly see how different fabrics behave. Try it now on a few of your shirts, and when all is done, you’ll have done some spring cleaning without actually getting rid of anything.

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