True Quality CleaningStraight talk about caring for fine garments & household textiles from an expert who calls it like it is. In plain English.

Caring for bespoke garments (part one)

Bespoke #1 AskAndyThere are two maintenance issues that can negatively impact the look and life of a bespoke garment: poor pressing and poor cleaning and pressing. And it's a service available at over 26,000 cleaners in the USA.

Will Boehlke commented as follows:

 "My own inadequate attempts at tailored clothing maintenance have over time reduced themselves to the trouser press and my Jiffy steamer. That is because I have received too many dry cleaned suits that went away as a three roll top and returned as a three roll two, or, just as often, the reverse."

Simon Crompton  was even more blunt:

 "A high-street dry cleaner will stick your suit in a large drum, soak it with chemicals that spread the dirt around more than they get rid of it, and then put it on a big industrial press which will stamp it flat, ruining any curve in the shoulders, chest canvas or lapels. The chemicals wear away the cloth, shortening its life. The press forces a three-dimensional object to become 2D."

Ask Andy recently featured a discussion thread on drycleaning titled "America Versus The Dry Cleaners" and Style Forum echoed that critique with a discussion thread on shirt laundry titled "Laundering Charvet Shirts."

The negative press 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 cleaner.

On the one hand, they're 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 (LB&D), Lesser, Loro Piana, Minnis, Scabal, Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC), Wain Shiell, Zegna and others. Bemberg and silk linings that range from muted pastels to outrageous graphic prints and florals.  Distinctive buttons that are natural horn, natural shell and metal, with or without identifying engravings or logos.

And they understand the collaborative process that went into the construction of their bespoke garments: taking measurements that account for their physique and the idiosyncracies 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.

On the other hand, owners of bespoke garments have personal knowledge of the damage that can be inflicted on their garments by ordinary cleaners. And 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 drycleaning machine and maybe post-spot them. (Pre-spotting is targeted stain removal by a skilled technician prior to cleaning the garment in a drycleaning machine).
  • 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) or synthetic petroleum.
  • They say they purify their drycleaning solvent after every load, but they only do so a few times a week.
  • They say they dryclean your cottons and linens as you requested or as specified by the care label, but they wetclean or wash them and toss them in a drier.
  • They say they operate their dryclean machines with zero moisture, zero fragrance and zero sizing, but they inject moisture, fragrance and sizing into their drycleaning solvent.
  • They say they gently hand-iron your garments, but they machine press them at a rate of 20 to 40 per hour per presser.
  • They say they employ a  skilled tailor or seamstress 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 drycleaning 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 wetclean your shirts in cool or warm water, but they wash your shirts in hot water in an attempt to dissolve the oil-based stains.
  • They say they use a gentle enzyme detergent, but they use harsh, caustic, industrial grade detergents in an attempt to eliminate the water-based stains.
  • They say they use no bleach, but that they add fabric-destroying bleach in an attempt to get your whites really white.
  • 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) in an attempt to save a few pennies per shirt.
  • 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 conduct detailed inspections of every garment prior to packaging, but they do a cursory look over.
  • They say they package your garments individually and use the finest packaging materials, but they stuff them in a bag and use materials that "look pretty" but aren't technically aligned with and supportive of your garments over the short and long term.
  • They say they charge a price that reflects the quality they deliver, but they still charge relatively low prices.
  • They say they take the time to do the job right (3 to 5 days in most cases), but they routinely offer same and next day service or 3 day pickup and delivery service.

Given these facts, why would anyone entrust their bespoke garments to a cleaner? Even if it's only for an occasional "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 the trepidation of a teenager on his first date.

Unfortunately, not everyone is fortunate to live near their tailor, particularly one who offers a lifetime sponge and press service. And there's only so much that can be achieved with a hand-held steamer or a hot iron, or by hanging garments in a steam filled bathroom - problematic endeavors at best.

But there is an alternative available.

RAVE FabriCARE offers two services for bespoke garments:

  • A sponge and press service during the season.
  • A clean and press service at the end of the season or as needed.

During the course of a season, your bespoke garments may need nothing more than an occasional sponge and press. At the end of the season (or in the event of a major mishap), you may elect to both clean and press your bespoke garments.

Here's the key point: we sponge and press bespoke garments and clean and press bespoke garments ENTIRELY BY HAND. There's no cleaning in fabric aggressive, dye stripping drycleaning solvents such as perchloroethylene and synthetic petroleum. There's no tumbling in a drycleaning machine or dryer. And there's no pressing by machine.

In tomorrow's blog, I'll address - in more detail - the steps associated with each of these two processes.

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