THE problem of laundry, which has long vexed the traveler, is now solved, so I am told. The up-to-date tourist launders his own shirts, underwear, pajamas, and socks. It’s as simple as that. If he will soak his suit overnight in a bucket, not only will its grease spots disappear but also its wrinkles, and the suit will be restored to a fitting-room freshness. I have no idea of what takes out the wrinkles and leaves, at the same time, the crease in the trousers, but I gather that the wonderful new materials — trylon, bakron, porlon, nutron, and such — have thought it all out for themselves.
On the point of embarking for a few weeks in England, I have just acquired an outfit in these new fabrics. My friends tell me it would be madness to set out with anything else. “ You wash out the shirt, hang it up, and when it’s dry it’s all ready to wear,” one man assures me. “I’m wearing one myself, but you couldn’t tell it from a regular shirt.”
I look at his shirt. It’s a white shirt, I judge, but it does seem to have gone off somewhat towards the gray. It really doesn’t look altogether clean. The collar is puckered along its edges and fits very loosely indeed.
“They say a few drops of bluing are a good idea,” the man goes on. “Some people tell you to use a bleach, too, but that’s all bosh. With these kylon shirts — be sure to get kylon, incidentally, and no bakron or porlon — all you do is wash them out, rinse them, and hang them up to dry.”
“No ironing at all?” I ask, looking again at his collar.
“Absolutely not,” he replies. “No ironing. No need of it. I even wear it as an evening shirt with a dinner jacket.”
“ You do?”
“Sure. It makes a perfectly good evening shirt.”
“What about micron?”
“Too clammy. Matter of fact, all these things are a little clammy. That’s why they dry so fast. No absorption. They dry in no time at all.”
From this and other conversations along identical lines, I find that my travels as a self-launderer will call for a few special arrangements. First of all, I shall need a good serviceable fitted case for my bluing, bleach, clothespins, and line — nothing ostentatious, none of your gold-stoppered crystal stuff — just a leather roll. Pigskin is good, or pin seal, but whether such a case has been developed for the male traveler remains to be seen. The clothespin outfits for women are a little too frilly and usually, I believe, include a tiny bungalow apron of gay waterproof material.
I shall also need a bucket for the suit, and this might reasonably be one of the dark plastic jobs ordinarilyused for ice cubes. A galvanized tenquart pail would be too conspicuous, it seems to me, and that sort of thing gets a terrific battering and denting.
Ironing I shall not attempt. No matter how many puckers appear in the collars of the micron shirts, I know that a touch of the iron, in my hands, would multiply them and add, at the same time, several pleats and creases where no pleat was ever intended to be. I am not gifted with the iron. Besides, these shirts are said to liquefy, or perhaps to vanish in a wisp of steam, if touched with an iron hot enough to do any good.
But what of my quarters? An active laundry operation calls for a workroom with a floor drain, and although something of this sort might be found on shipboard, one doubts that the British inns and hotels — which have not yet got around to acknowledging the electric razor (or indeed in some cases the electric light) — are piped for the run-off from the tourist trade.
Neither do I expect to find a community laundromat—what the purists in the country term the “helpy selfy” facility; yet some means must be devised for protecting the darts game in the Bull & Bottle from the drippings of my microns overhead. Old newspapers, laid generously on the floor? Bath towels? A few yards of oilcloth?
It does not follow, either, that my rooms will have the right knobs and hooks for rigging a clothesline. Wouldn’t a folding rack be helpful? The luggage space that I save by taking only two of everything would give me plenty of room for a fairly complete lot of laundry equipment.
My suits are more of a problem. They have no vest, and to prevent necktie flap I now need one of those costume jewelry scimitars that seem to perforate the tie but in fact do no such thing. The two-button coats are aggressively square in the shoulders, the blue too blue, and the gray, with its unearthly sheen, too gray. It makes me feel like an opal with a plunging neckline. I can only hope that a few good soakings in the bucket will tone them down somewhat. Sooner or later, I suppose, they will wear out, anyway, but meanwhile as a traveler in a strange land I must keep up appearances.
For perhaps an hour each evening, therefore, however jaded by the wonders of the day, I shall be busy at basin and bucket, scrubbing out the wine stains, the dash of treacle or bread-sauce, or the honest grime of the British atmosphere. Soap, scrub, rinse, and rinse again, and hang out the night’s wash, to drip by moonlight into twentieth-century dryness.
Were not, I wonder, the detachable celluloid collars and cuffs, the dickey, of yesteryear a better idea? The answer is no. It is true that all a man had to do was wipe them with a damp cloth, but their drawbacks were severe. Wearing them, the dandy who leaned carelessly over a Welsbach mantle or lingered too near an open fire simply blew up. And on a sunny day the glare from the collar was almost more than the eye could tolerate.