This season's casual must-haves (like wool flannels and cashmere sweats) look so effortless that fashion followers may forget manufacturers' warnings to dry clean only. According to Dan Eisen, the chief garment analyst for the Neighborhood Cleaners Association International, it is possible to save cash by tackling simple spots yourself -- especially on wool, cotton, and synthetics.
First, stock an arsenal of cleaning potions. Try Kmart, where the whole lot will cost less than spot-cleaning one gown; use the leftovers to clean your bathroom. You'll need detergent (16 pounds of Tide is $20.89), white vinegar (32 ounces of Heinz is $1.41), ammonia (16 ounces of Kmart's American Fare is $1.08), and acetone-free nail-polish remover (8 ounces of American Fare is $1.29).
Next, identify the stain. Vegetable-based "tannin" stains (coffee, ketchup, wine) dissolve in a solution of detergent and vinegar. Protein-based stains (blood, eggs, sweat) need detergent and ammonia. And "dry-side" stains (grease, ink, and other non-animal, non-vegetable matter) succumb to non-acetone nail-polish remover.
Before attacking the stain itself, test the fabric by rubbing a hidden section with a rag dipped in cleaner. If the rag absorbs dye, take the item to a pro; if it doesn't, place the garment on a towel and forge ahead. For tannin and protein stains, dampen the garment with water, and dab on solution. Never rub; keep pressing to break up and lift the stain. Dab with water to rinse. (For stains with two or more components, like lasagna or apple pie, apply water between applications of a separate solution for each component. Repeat dabbing and rinsing until the stain is out. For dry-side stains, follow the directions above without water. Finally, avoid leaving a watermark by dabbing the edges of the wet area to blend in with the dry fabric. Steam iron when dry.
Kmart, 770 Broadway, at 8th St. (673-1540), and 1 Penn Plaza (760-1188).
Picks of the Week
Pumpkin Maternity keeps fashionable moms-to-be in the style to which they're accustomed. Usually sold by catalogue only (call 877-936-8935 to order), the collection's now on sale at the showroom, with most summer and winter styles 30 to 50 percent off: Silk evening dress, was $290, now $80; white capri pants, were $64, now $32. 67 E. 3rd St., Room B (674-7476); A.E., M.C., V.; Thurs.-Sat. 10-6; 1/21-1/23.
Jill Stuart's SoHo shop is packed with luxurious renditions of the season's coolest styles, like A-line skirts and funnel-neck tops. Now Stuart's filling it with leftover winter stock and unloading the pile at more than half off: A pony tote bag is $160; a hand-painted organza evening dress is $195; an ankle-length pleated cashmere skirt is $175. Sizes 2 through 10. 100 Greene St. (343-2300); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Sat. 11-7, Sun. noon-6; 1/18-1/31.
Harrison James outfits stylish gents in the traditional English style -- at traditionally high prices. But now winter clothing and accessories are on sale for up to 70 percent off: Suits, were $2,450, now $595; cashmere sweaters, were $695, now $195; cashmere coats, were $3,500, now $995. 5 W. 54th St. (for information, call 718-747-1656); A.E., M.C., V.; Tues.-Sat. 9-6; 1/19-1/23.
Moe Ginsburg is clearing out its eighth-floor men's outlet center at ridiculously low prices: suits and overcoats are $99 each (two for $150); tuxedos and raincoats $69 each (two for $100); and slacks and shoes are all under $20. There's a lot to pick through, but you might find a steal. Sizes 36R-56XL. 162 Fifth Ave., at 21st. St. (242-3482); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Wed, Fri. 9:30-7; Thurs. till 8; Sat.-Sun. till 6; 1/18-1/31.
ALWAYS A DEAL
For an easy alternative to making mix tapes -- and access to much more source material -- log on to EZCD.com, where you pick the songs from a list and receive a custom CD within a week. There's no Top 40 here (songs range from lesser-known Sinatra to indie rock from bands like Spring Heeled Jack), but you can listen to clips when you choose songs, and you may just discover a gem. The price is $4.99 plus 99 cents per song after the first track (shipping is $3). www.EZCD.com; for more information, call 228-CDCD.