How to Wear White Pants and Jeans without Being a Stain Magnet

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Wardrobe Oxygen: How to Wear White Pants and Jeans and not be a Stain Magnet

I love white pants, and own several pairs of white jeans. Each time I wear them someone asks me how I do it without looking like a slob. It’s a good question, I am the Queen of Klutz. I’m known to trip on my own shadow, and can never drink a cup of coffee without spilling at least a dribble on my shirt. Yet I can not only wear white pants and jeans, but wear them a second time without bleaching them to death in between. My tips for white pants and jeans success:

Carry Stain Remover

My go-to is a Tide-to-Go pen. Small enough to fit into a pencil loop in a work tote or slip next to my lipsticks in my makeup bag, I have one in my office pencil cup, one in my purse, one in my kitchen junk drawer, and usually a couple other ones floating around in various bags and drawers around the house. Use it liberally and if it doesn’t all go away, wait an hour and reapply.

Wash Hands Often

I drink a lot of water when at work. Each time I refill my bottle I wash my hands. Each time I visit the restroom I wash my hands. When I put my lunch in the microwave I wash my hands. After eating I wash my hands. After highlighting invoices or budgets I wash my hands. Most stains come from unconsciously rubbing hands on legs when stressed, sweaty, or smoothing your clothes.

Use a Cloth Napkin

Paper napkins are a joke unless you’re wiping away a tab of guac from the corner of your mouth. When you pack your lunch for work throw in a cloth napkin or a hand towel. Keep one in your bag and drop it on your lap when dining at a paper napkin establishment. A cloth napkin will absorb most spills while paper will not only float off your lap but let a drip soak right through. Which is more awkward, being the person with a cloth napkin at Chipotle, or being the person with a salsa stain on her thigh?  Not only will you be protecting your pants, you'll be protecting the earth!

Steer Clear of Newspapers

I love grabbing the free daily paper and enjoying it on the subway ride to work, but any time I’m wearing white I’ll end up wearing the newsprint. Even if you’re careful, it will get on your hands which may touch your trousers. Stick to your novel or be even safer with an e-reader on white jeans days.

Spot Clean When Possible

Too much laundering and too much bleach will destroy your white jeans or pants before the season is over. Spot clean any issues as soon as you are home, use enough water to rinse away any cleaning products, and let air dry. I swear by this homemade stain removal concoction of Dawn and hydrogen peroxide; I use it on everything from white linen or denim to ivory tropical wool and silk blends.

Consider The Rest of your Ensemble

Other fabrics can transfer onto white. The biggest culprits are rinse-colored denim, suede and nubuck handbags and boots, and unlined leather. While double denim is hot right now, it’s not the best choice to pair your dark denim jacket with your white jeans. A piece that is weathered, stonewashed, vintage, or lined will be a safer bet.

Buy Machine Washable

If you’re worried about spots, do not even consider white clothing that requires special care. If you spot treat (the spot remover I mentioned I also use as a pretreater), there’s no need for hot water and bleach for white garments. I usually do a hot water/bleach wash at the beginning of each season but otherwise stick to pretreating, cold water and line drying of my white pants and jeans. Even I won’t dare to get away with dry clean only white pants!

Do What You Always Do

Do you wear khaki? Gray? Beige?  Lighter colored denim? How do you get away without looking like a mess in those? Stains happen, it’s a fact of life. Last week I wore white jeans to the office and when I took them off that evening I noticed that I had splattered foundation on one thigh that morning. I walked around for ten hours with tan dots all over my right leg and NO ONE NOTICED.  White pants and jeans can seem terrifying, but are quite versatile, stylish, and wearable even if you're a stain magnet.  White is no longer reserved for the months between Memorial and Labor Days, so now's the time to get brave and consider a pair of white jeans for your wardrobe!

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  1. I’ve embraced some smart white pants and shorts this summer–they make everything look so crisp and fresh in hot weather! I have a 15-month-old and have managed to make it work by immediately blotting/wetting spills, spot treating once home, and just ignoring the small stuff because as you said, NO ONE NOTICES! I’ve told my husband this several times–or that no one will notice his post-coffee-spill blotted pants after a few minutes of drying, but I don’t think he quite believes me yet. 🙂
    Great idea with the cloth napkin–we use them at home and you’re right, they’re much better at absorbing. Any tips for how to keep them from getting food on the other things in your bag when they’ve really done their job but you still need to get them home from work/the restaurant?
    Leah from http://thriftshopchic.com

  2. I used to never buy white pants. In addition to worrying about how dirty I would get them, I also thought they made me look “fat.” Good grief, I’m glad I got past both of these issues & finally got some. Now I think of them as a good neutral base & enjoy wearing them. I have gotten lucky (knock on wood) & not gotten them too messy, but I also started carrying the Tide-To-Go pen, just in case…

  3. These are all great suggestions, but I’ll add my favorite trick that I learned while my daughter was still in baby clothes. Spray the front of your white jeans and shorts with a fabric protector like Scotchguard after ironing them. It will prevent almost any stain from soaking in, and keeps them wearable much longer after each washing. I do this around the pockets and down the front to the knees and it makes a huge difference.

    By the way, thanks again for giving me “permission” to wear my white jeans out of season last winter! I now have three pair (two full length, one cropped) and I am having fun figuring out new ways to wear them.

  4. I want to pin your not so secret stain remover (husband is a dreadful spiller) and I seem to always wind up with tomato sauce when I’m wearing white but can’t get pin this article or the secret stain blog post. Please help! Thanks … She who has several pair of white pants / jeans

      1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Hidden stains that sneak through the dryer come out and mock me to my face. I now have a new weapon……..

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