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Stu Bloom on Caring For Bespoke Garments
By: Stu Bloom
The concerns… poor “pressing” and poor “cleaning”
In this White Paper, I’ll discuss some issues relating to cleaning your bespoke garments. The same issues apply – to a (marginally) lesser degree – to made-to-measure garments.
Let’s start with an introduction to the primary differences between a bespoke, made-to-measure and off-the-rack/ready-to-wear garment.
For those of you looking for a short, expert introduction to this subject, a post by Simon Crompton on his Permanent Style blog is one of the best resources I have come across.
With that in mind, let’s move on to the cleaning of a bespoke garment.
When it comes to the cleaning of your bespoke garments, there are two maintenance issues that can negatively impact the look and life of a bespoke garment: poor cleaning and poor pressing.
Will Boehlke (www.asuitablewardrobe.com) commented as follows:
Simon Crompton (www.permanentstyle.com) was even more blunt:
The negative press (excuse the pun) keeps growing in number and intensity.
I understand why many owners of bespoke garments are conflicted when it comes to turning over their bespoke garments to an ordinary, “bang and hang” cleaner.
Familiarity with the quality of the materials used
The owners of bespoke garments are familiar with the quality of the materials that went into their garments:
- Cloth from weavers and cloth merchants such as Barbera, Bill, Dormeuil, Dugdale, Harrisons, Holland & Sherry, Lear Browne & Dunsford, Lesser, Loro Piana, Minnis, Scabal, Vitale Barberis Canonico, Wain Shiell, Zegna and others.
Sven Raphael Schneider at Gentleman’s Gazette has an interesting photo article describing how fabric is made at VBC.
- Bemberg and silk linings that range from muted pastels to outrageous paisleys, florals and geometric prints.
- Distinctive buttons that are natural horn, natural shell and metal, with or without identifying engravings or logos.
Understanding of the construction process employed
The owners of bespoke garments also understand the collaborative process that went into the construction of their bespoke garments:
- taking measurements that account for their physique and the idiosyncrasies of their posture,
- selecting the style details (two or three piece, single or double breasted, style and width of lapels, number of jacket buttons, jacket length, sleeve length, number of rear vents, style and number of pockets, pleated or flat fronts, cuffs or no cuffs, belt loops or no belt loops,
- suspender buttons or no suspender buttons, etc.),
- drafting and cutting a paper pattern by hand,
- cutting the cloth and lining by hand,
- creating (either completely or substantially by hand) a basted garment that will be ripped apart, recut and remade until the shape and drape are perfect,
- attaching the sleeves, pockets, lapels and collar, and
- hand stitching the buttonholes.
The entire process could involve 6 to 10 weeks of time, 60 to 80 hours of skilled labor, 40,000 to 60,000 hand stitches, and 5 to 10 visits to your tailor.
It’s time and labor intensive. So it’s expensive.
Personal knowledge of the damage that can be inflicted
On the other hand, the owners of bespoke garments have personal knowledge of the damage that can be inflicted on their garments by ordinary, “bang and hang” cleaners.
They know that these cleaners often say one thing and then do something completely different….
- They say they pre-spot every garment, but they just load all garments into a dry cleaning machine (Pre-spotting is targeted stain removal by a skilled technician prior to cleaning).
- They say they clean your garments in an odorless, fabric-gentle, dermatologically-friendly dry cleaning fluid, but they still use fabric aggressive, dye stripping, toxic solvents like perchloroethylene (aka perc), synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal.
- They say they purify their dry cleaning solvent after every load, but they only do so a few times a week (if your’e lucky).
- They say they dry clean your cottons and linens as you requested or as specified by the care label, but they wet clean or wash them and toss them in a dryer.
- They say they operate their dry clean machines with zero moisture, zero sizing and zero fragrance, but they add or inject moisture, sizing and fragrance into their dry cleaning solvent.
- They say they gently hand iron your garments, but they just steam them out on a steam-blowing machine (a “topper” for pants and a “suzie” for other garments) and/or machine press them at a rate of 20 to 40 per hour per presser.
- They say they offer alterations, but they have no skilled tailor or alterationist on premises.
- They say they employ a skilled tailor or alterationist to make all necessary repairs, but they often assign the task to the first available customer service representative with some free time on their hands.
- They say they soak your laundered shirts in a gentle dry cleaning fluid (to dissolve oil-based stains) and then in a water-based solution (to eliminate water-based stains), but they scrub your collars and cuffs with hard-bristled brushes and “collar/cuff solution” in an attempt to get them reasonably clean.
- They say they gently wet clean your shirts in cold or cool water, but they wash your shirts in hot water in an attempt to dissolve the oil-based stains.
- They say they use a gentle detergent, but they use harsh, caustic, industrial grade detergents in an attempt to eliminate the oil and water-based stains.
- They say they use no bleaches, but they add fabric-destroying bleaches in an attempt to get your whites as white as possible.
- They say they use a premium, natural wheat starch, but they starch your shirts with cheap synthetic glue that adheres to your shirt’s fibers like multiple coats of paint.
- They say they hand iron your shirts, but they machine press them at a rate of 40 to 50 per hour per presser (which leaves your shirts with puckered seams, wrinkled collars, cuffs, underarms, sleeve pleats, sleeve plackets and front plackets, and wrinkled cuff/sleeve and sleeve/body joins).
- They say they crease the sleeves of your laundered shirts for that “professional look”, but they crease them solely to cover up the evidence of machine pressing.
- They say they conduct detailed inspections of every garment prior to packaging, but they do a cursory look over (if your’e lucky).
- They say they package your garments using premium packaging materials, but they stuff them in a bag and use materials that sometimes “look pretty” but aren’t technically aligned with and supportive of your garments over the short and long term.
- They say that they charge a price that reflects the quality they deliver, but they still charge relatively low prices (contrary to what ordinary cleaners say, no cleaner can consistently deliver a true quality product at a low price and still remain in business).
- They say they take the time to do the job right, but they routinely offer same and next day service or 3 day pickup and delivery service (contrary to what ordinary cleaners say, true quality cleaning is incompatible with speed).
Given these facts, why would anyone entrust their bespoke garments to a cleaner?
Even if it’s only for a sponge and press during the season?
Or for a clean and press at the end of the season or as needed?
The answer is that most don’t. They’re petrified. And when they do, they approach the entire experience with extreme trepidation.
Unfortunately, not everyone is fortunate to live near their tailor, particularly one who offers a lifetime sponge and press service (a rare offering today).
And there’s only so much that can be achieved at home with a hand-held steamer, an open-faced iron, or a steam filled bathroom (excuse me for a moment, but my head is about to explode at the very thought of these reckless options!).
There’s a better alternative…
There has to be a better alternative.
And there is…
A true quality cleaner will offer 2 services for bespoke garments:
- A sponge and hand press service during the season.
During the course of a season, your bespoke garments may need nothing more than an occasional sponge and press.
A clean and hand press service at the end of the season or as needed.
At the end of a season (or in the event of a major mishap), your bespoke garments should be cleaned and hand pressed.
The process – in a nutshell
To fully understand the difference between these two offerings, let’s consider the process we follow at RAVE FabriCARE as a yardstick….
As regards a sponge and press, we:
- Lightly vacuum each bespoke garment with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter vacuum to remove dust and soil.
- Gently “flush” out the water-based stains with a light jet of steam and immediately dry the area with a light jet of compressed air.
- Hand clean all oil based stains using siloxane, our fabric gentle, non-dye stripping, non-toxic dry cleaning fluid.
- Hand press. Inside and out. By hand. Not by machine.
Which means that…
- There’s no cleaning in fabric aggressive, dye stripping, toxic dry cleaning solvents such as perchlorethylene, synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal.
- There’s no tumbling in a dry cleaning machine.
- There’s no pressing by machine.
As regards a clean and press, we:
- Soak in siloxane dry cleaning fluid for about 5 to 7 minutes. Soaking means no tumbling for 40 to 50 minutes in a dry cleaning machine. Siloxane means a crystal clear, odorless, dermatologically friendly, chemically inert (non-dye stripping) dry cleaning fluid that’s so gentle you can (legally) wash your face and hands in it.
- Extract the dry cleaning fluid for about a minute.
- Dry for about 2 minutes (this step does involve tumbling but your bespoke garments are individually contained within special net bags and the tumbling action (measured in RPMs) is reduced to the minimum).
- Remove and hang dry.
- Hand press. Inside and out. By hand. Not by machine.
Which means that…
- There’s minimal cleaning in a fabric gentle, non-dye stripping, non-toxic dry cleaning fluid.
- There’s minimal tumbling in a dry cleaning machine.
- There’s no pressing by machine.
At RAVE FabriCARE, we only clean in siloxane dry cleaning fluid. It’s dermatologically-friendly and fabric gentle. It leaves your garments odorless and soft as butter. And because it’s unregulated at federal, state and local level, we can hang dry your bespoke garments without putting those garments through the tumbling action of a 30 to 40 minute dry cycle.
By contrast, cleaners who clean in perchlorethylene, synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal are prohibited by regulation from drying garments outside of their dry cleaning machines. In other words, the entire cleaning, extract and drying cycle must take place inside a sealed dry cleaning machine, typically a 40 to 50 minute tumbling process.
Here’s a summary of the steps associated with each of these two processes:
The process steps — in more detail
Here’s a brief summary of each of these process steps:
Examining the garment
Every bespoke garment is carefully examined and photographed, paying particular attention to the
- shape and drape, including the curvature of the shoulders, chest, sleeves and collar, and the roll of the lapels (three button; three button that rolls to two, often called a three-roll-two; three button that rolls to two and a half, often called a three roll two and a half; two button, etc.)
- presence of water-based stains, such as perspiration, soda, juice, wine, beer, and similar water- based contaminants
- presence of oil-based stains, such as food oils (butter, salad dressing, steak sauce, etc.), body oil, creams, lotions, and similar oil-based contaminants
- visible defects, including shine; seam, flap and button impressions, moire-like press pad impressions; double creases; puckered seams (often called burst seams); wrinkled linings; and other other “crimes of fashion”.
Removing the dust and soil
All bespoke garments accumulate some dust and soil merely by virtue of the fact that they’ve been worn. This accumulation takes place even if they’ve been gently brushed after each wearing. This step is designed to remove that dust and soil.
For a sponge and hand press during the season, we lightly vacuum each bespoke garment with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter vacuum equipped with a variable speed adaptor set on the lowest setting.
This vacuum is the very same model favored by museum textile curators to remove dust and soil from garments and textiles in their collection that cannot be dry cleaned or wet cleaned due to their construction, age, condition or fragility.
For a clean and hand press at the end of the season or as needed, the soils and dust will be removed during the dry cleaning process (see “Removing the oil-based stains” below).
Removing the water-based stains
About 90% of all visible stains a dry cleaner encounters are water-based stains: perspiration, soda, juice, wine, beer, etc.
To remove water-based stains, we gently “flush” the affected area with a light jet of steam and immediately dry the area with a light jet of compressed air.
Even if you were to take your regular “dry clean only” garments to an ordinary cleaner, all water-based stains need to be removed in this manner. Before they ever see the inside of that cleaner’s dry cleaning machine.
Because dry cleaning solvents and fluids only emulsify oil-based stains. They don’t – and can’t – remove all water-based stains.
Fact is, you can dry clean a garment with water-based stains as many times as you wish. More often than not, the stains won’t “move” with dry cleaning alone.
Unless, of course, the dry cleaner adds or injects moisture into their dry cleaning solvent, a common practice amongst ordinary cleaners. And, in my opinion, an absolutely reckless undertaking, approaching dry cleaning malpractice.
Because excessive moisture shrinks wools and bleeds water soluble dyes.
Removing the oil-based stains
About 10% of all visible stains a dry cleaner encounters are oil-based stains: butter, salad dressing, steak sauce, body oils, creams and lotions.
Oil-based stains need to be emulsified by a dry cleaning solvent or fluid in order to be removed. One of the most important functions of dry cleaning fluid is to emulsify oils and fats.
An ordinary cleaner will typically load your garments into a dry cleaning machine, add a dry cleaning solvent or fluid (such as perchloroethylene aka perc, synthetic petroleum, formaldehyde dibutyl acetal or siloxane), add moisture (if they clean in perc), sizing and fragrance, tumble the garments for 10 to 15 minutes, extract and then dry for 30 to 45 minutes.
That’s “dry cleaning” at it’s most basic.
For a sponge and hand press during the season, your bespoke garments never see the inside of our dry cleaning machines. We hand clean all oil based stains using siloxane, our fabric gentle, non-dye stripping dry cleaning fluid.
Because siloxane is extremely gentle on your fine garments. So gentle it’s been used for decades as a base product in shampoos, antiperspirants, deodorants and moisturizing creams.
This means you probably drip siloxane into your eyes every time you shampoo your hair and you spray or roll it onto the most sensitive parts of your skin every time you apply an antiperspirant or deodorant. You even digest siloxane when you eat McDonald’s french fries (but that’s a story for another day).
For a clean and hand press at the end of a season or as needed, we soak your bespoke garments in siloxane dry cleaning fluid for about 5 to 7 minutes.
Soaking means no tumbling for 40 to 50 minutes in a dry cleaning machine. Siloxane means crystal clear, odorless, dermatologically friendly, chemically inert (non-dye stripping) dry cleaning fluid that’s so gentle you can wash your hands and face in it.
Then we extract the dry cleaning fluid for about 1 minute and dry for about 2 minutes (this step does involve tumbling but your bespoke garments are individually contained within special net bags and the tumbling action — measured in RPMs — is reduced to a minimum).
Finally, we remove and hang dry.
At RAVE FabriCARE, we can hang dry your bespoke garments without putting those garments through the tumbling action of a 30 minute dry cycle because our siloxane dry cleaning fluid is unregulated at the federal, state and local level.
By contrast, cleaners who clean in perchlorethylene (Dowper), synthetic petroleum (DF 2000 or EcoSolv) or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal (K4 or Solvon) are prohibited by regulation from drying garments outside of their dry cleaning machines.
In other words, the entire cleaning, extract and drying cycle must take place inside a sealed dry cleaning machine, typically a 40 to 50 minute tumbling process.
By the way, you should always clean your fine wool garments – bespoke and non-bespoke – prior to storing for the summer. A proper professional cleaning is the only way to protect your wools from potential damage by moth larvae (time to say goodbye to those moth balls, herbal sachets, tupperware- style boxes and cedar rings, blocks, chests and closets).
Cleaning your fine fall and winter garments prior to storage during the spring and summer months is integral to maintaining your wardrobe. The more you learn about this topic, the easier it’ll be to make informed short- and long-term storage decisions.
Hand pressing the garment
Ordinary cleaners love their presses.
Because pressing is where cleaners can achieve the greatest productivity. At ordinary cleaners, your garments are banged out on a press at a furious rate. Typically, 30 to 40 pants per hour per presser; 20 to 30 non-pant garments per hour per presser.
Here’s the problem: poor pressing can damage a garment – even on it’s first pressing – by subjecting that garment to way too much pressure, with way too much steam, for way too long, at way too high a temperature. Especially when it comes to fine wools, silks and other non-cotton and non-linen fabrics.
And the results?
- Seam, flap and button impressions
- Moire-like press pad impressions
- Double creases
- Puckered seams (often called burst or blown seams)
- Wrinkled linings
- Other “crimes of fashion”.
At RAVE FabriCARE, we delicately finish all your garments. The old fashioned way. By hand. Using a hand iron. Both inside and out. No matter how long it might take. Paying particular attention to the curvature of the shoulders, chest, sleeves and collar, and to the roll of the lapels.
Pressing, as practiced by ordinary cleaners, is such a poor descriptor of the art of finishing. Of course, a skilled finisher must know how to apply pressure to achieve a smooth finish on a linen or cotton. But a smooth, soft, hand finish, that minimizes the possibility of shine, seam, flap or button impressions, and puckered seams, best defines the finest professional finishing.
If you’re looking for validation of this point of view, just broach the subject of “pressing by a dry cleaner” with any bespoke tailor and watch their blood pressure rise. And make sure you bring along a portable defibrillator. Your tailor may need it.
Inspecting the garment
Ever get the feeling that your cleaner doesn’t inspect your garments carefully?
I’ve got news for you. You’re probably right. Very few cleaners thoroughly inspect every garment. From top to bottom. From inside to outside.
You see, careful, thorough inspection takes a full-time commitment. And, if the cleaner has any quality standards, an uncompromising position on every aspect of the process. Including stain removal, cleaning, finishing and repairs (buttons, clasps, seams, hems, zippers, etc.).
The problem is that many ordinary cleaners claim that they inspect each and every garment. They even use the term “hand inspect”, implying that their inspections are careful and thorough.
Yet, these same cleaners typically assign the inspection task to the first available customer service representative with some free time on their hands.
A bigger problem is that the “inspector” is very often also the garment bagger who is also a customer service representative with a little time on her hands. The bagger’s primary focus is on getting your garments into a bag and onto the conveyor or onto the delivery rack, and simply doesn’t have the time to carefully and thoroughly inspect each and every garment. From top to bottom. From inside to outside. And even if they did find something obvious on a garment – a stain or wrinkle on a garment; rippled collar on a blazer or sport coat; a missing or loose button; a hanging or loose hem; a broken zipper; etc. – what would they do?
Return it for re-cleaning, refinishing, replacement or repair?
After all, why bother with a careful, thorough inspection when the entire modus operandi of the ordinary cleaner is geared to getting your garments into a machine, onto a press, and into a bag. ASAP. They’re in by 11:00 and out by 5:00; or picked up on day 1 and delivered on day 3.
At ordinary cleaners, careful, thorough inspections just get in the way of their “production system”.
Packaging the garment
Quality craftsmanship can be quickly destroyed by poor packaging.
You can take it as a given that if your cleaner isn’t focusing on quality packaging, they’re not focusing on quality cleaning, quality finishing and quality inspecting either.
After all, why would they invest in extraordinary cleaning, finishing and inspecting if they knew that all that investment will be quickly destroyed by poor packaging?
At what should you look for?
Packaging materials that are technically aligned with and supportive of your fine garments.
- Coat, sport coat, jacket and blazer hangers
- Clip hangers
Hangers that are molded plastic, straight, with one inch wide rubber backed plastic clips (half inch metal clips leave lasting impressions).
Tissue that is white, soft (provides gentler cushioning), acid free (won’t off-gas acids over time that might yellow your white and cream garments), and non-printed (no possibility of the ink rubbing off or bleeding onto your garment).
Poly that is crystal clear, at least 0.85 mil thick (improved protection for the garment) and extra wide (no possibility of crushing the sides of your garment).
- Coat, sport coat, jacket, blazer, dress and gown storage bags
Storage bags that are made from cotton or polypropylene fibers (allows the garment to breathe) and chemically inert plastic (your garment won’t yellow from off-gassing acids in the plastic).
In recent years, many ordinary cleaners have “upgraded” their packaging – everything from logo-printed tissue paper and tinted poly to wishbone-shaped wood and chrome hangers – in an attempt to convince their customers that the quality of their cleaning has been similarly upgraded.
At RAVE FabriCARE, we believe that excellent packaging can and does enhance and protect garments that have been cleaned and finished to perfection. We also believe that upgraded packaging on ordinary cleaning will be quickly seen for what it is – an attempt to pass off bang and hang cleaning or ordinary cleaning as true quality cleaning.
There’s an old saying in the dry cleaning business that, no matter how you cut it, cafeteria food served on fine china is still just that – cafeteria food.
Or as I like to say: fish and chips in a caviar wrapping.
Here’s the takeaway from this White Paper: Bespoke (and made-to-measure) garments are valuable assets as well as beautiful works of art.
To keep those garments looking, feeling and smelling great and lasting much, much longer, you’ll need to locate a skilled cleaner. And to successfully do that, you’ll need to ask questions. Insist on straight, jargon-free answers. And invest some time assessing the “truthfulness” of those responses.
Your image and your bespoke (and made-to-measure) garments will love you for that.
- 4 types of dry cleaner: Which profile fits your dry cleaner?
- True Quality Cleaning: The difference between a dry cleaner and a fabricare specialist
- True Quality Cleaning: The difference between quality of product and quality of service and conveniences
- The 10 deadly sins of ordinary dry cleaners
- Spot cleaning fine garments: The myths debunked.
- Stain mishaps: 5 do’s and (mostly) dont’s
- Organic dry cleaning: It’s a hoax, a fraud and a scam
- The myth of 3 levels of dry cleaning and shirt laundry quality
- Does your dry cleaner substitute glitz for true quality cleaning?
- How to protect your fine wools against the female moth and her larvae
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