Steaming fine garments: Steam is evil (when indiscriminately applied)

Chris Despos, an acclaimed bespoke tailor based in Chicago, tells his clients that steam is evil.

What he means is that the indiscriminate application of steam to a beautifully constructed garment can undo tens of hours of labor invested in the construction of the garment.

The internet is awash with articles promoting the “savings” that can be achieved by “pressing” a garment with a hand steamer or by hanging a garment in a steamy bathroom. Typically, these articles offer mythical advise on the use of steam in the home to produce “perfectly pressed” or “freshly pressed” garments.

Perfectly pressed? Freshly pressed?

What utter nonsense!

Yes, we know, you’ve been using a hand steamer and/or hanging garments in a steamy bathroom for years.

You might be comfortable using a hand steamer. You might believe it works.

We don’t think so.

When we see a slacks, trouser, blazer, sport coat or suit jacket that’s been steamed by a hand steamer or steamed in the shower, we don’t see “perfectly pressed” or “freshly pressed”.

What we typically see is a garment that’s so puckered it’s unwearable.

What’s more, the more it’s steamed, the worse it looks.

Before you grab the steamer or turn on the shower...

So next time you reach to grab that hand held steamer or turn on the hot water in the shower, consider these 5 points:

  • Steaming is not pressing.

    You might be able to remove some of the more obvious crotch, elbow or knee wrinkles with steam, but you can’t “press” a garment with steam alone.
  • An important ingredient in the construction of a well-made garment (perhaps as important as the quality of the fabric and the quality of the workmanship) is the shaping and molding of the fabric imparted by the manufacturer or bespoke tailor.

    Much of this shaping and molding is created using a professional hand iron. The indiscriminate application of steam can undo all that shaping and molding and can easily wreck a well-made garment.
  • Proper pressing involves a combination of five elements: the skill of the presser, steam, vacuum (suction), a professional hand iron and specialized, contoured equipment.

    You may have steamer or a hand iron, but you don’t have the skill, vacuum or specialized contoured equipment.
  • Proper pressing involves relaxing the fibers with steam from a hand iron and, as you gently hand iron, extracting all the moisture from the fabric with a vacuum (suction) to create a soft, smooth, even look.

    The application of steam without the use of a vacuum merely results in a puckered mess and what your tailor calls “burst seams”.
  • Garments are not flat. They are comprised of many shapes and curves.

    Your “pressing surface” (a hanging garment) is flat. Trying to press shapes and curves on a flat surface without the aid of a professional hand iron and specialized, contoured equipment is near impossible.

So, before you grab that steamer or turn on the shower, remember that admonition: steam, indiscriminately applied, is evil.