When it comes to hard-to-process clothing, you can hardly beat the runway shows. And with trends moving downmarket faster than ever, most drycleaners can expect some of couture’s worst processing problems in their plants by the end of the holiday season — including fringe, fur and other textures, as well as bold, bright (and bleeding) colors. The following are six styles to watch out for.
Feathered. With fur trims now a staple in department stores, haute couture has taken the next step. Previously only an adornment or an outré accessory, feathers are now moving right into garment construction to provide unusual patterns, wispy fringes and barnyard bustles.
“Feathers look beautiful, but don’t respond well to cleaning,” says Chris Allsbrooks, textile analyst at the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI). Quills can break, and even the slightest excess heat will make them a “mess.” “They should be removed whenever possible,” says Alan Spielvogel, chief garment analyst at the National Cleaners Association (NCA).
Fortunately, not many mass-market garments are following the catwalk craze yet, says “Clothing Doctor” Steve Boorstein. Worry instead about the growing variety and size of sequins and “disco balls”—pendulous fringes of beads that recall Studio 54 and the flappers of the 1920s.
Color Block. The jewel tones of the last few years have given over to brighter, bolder colors in haute couture’s dresses, coats and gowns. Fiery oranges and juicy greens top the list of trendy colors, followed closely by electric-hot pinks and fuchsias.
To create colors this intense, dyers often use fluorescent additives or optical brighteners, Spielvogel says, which are sensitive to perspiration and acids. To ensure colorfastness as well as continued brightness, “test beforehand to make sure the dye is permanent, and what you’re using on it won’t affect it,” he says.
“You have to worry about dye transfer if you have more than one color, and take the time to test all the colors,” Allsbrooks adds. “Some, I would recommend running in a dummy load.”
And since designers often deliver the brightest colors on feminine satins, blends and crêpe de Chine, Boorstein says, many garments will snag easily, feature multiple layers of fabric or balloon sleeves, and ultimately require a delicate press.
Texture. Fashion designers are using every trick in the book to lend clothing additional texture. Runway garments featured complicated, jutting folds, cascading ruffles, fabric “scales,” and puckers to lend a decorative motif to fabrics that might appear less distinctive if flat. And that’s not to mention the jewels, chains and beading that have always given drycleaners headaches and got even chunkier this year.
“You’re going to need puff irons and know how to use them,” Spielvogel says. “The goal is to keep the texture intact,” Allsbrooks adds. “Don’t bring the press head down.”
As for jewels and beads, distinguish between glass and plastic by tapping them on a counter, Boorstein says, and protect against snags and other damage in the cycle on texture-rich items by using net bags. “We studied it in our plant,” he says. “Net bags are the best deterrent to damage, but they do slow drying considerably.”
Hollywood. Hollywood glamour is re-emerging with influences from Katherine Hepburn’s wide-legged pants to Carmen Miranda’s cascading gowns. The waistline is belted high, and this fall’s biggest essential—the skirt suit—has taken on a decidedly slinky, noir silhouette.
The accent on the waist often introduces delicate ribbons and trims, Boorstein says, and on the omnipresent wide-legged pant, “watch for stains on the cuffs. They are very full, which means that the leg and cuff can get into all kinds of trouble with street splash.”
Since the studio-era look is mostly about form, take the routine precautions dictated by garment composition in drycleaning, Allsbrooks says. But by the same token, “people should really get in touch with their skills as finishers,” Spielvogel warns. “There will be a lot of hand work involved.”
New Black. Black is back, but not as a predictable foundation color. Newly postmodernized with ‘tech’ fibers, satins and stamped patterns, and glitzed with beads, sequins and patent leathers, black now offers as much wardrobe variety (and problem potential) as any other color.
Satins can abrade in wear and stain removal, stamped patterns can fall out of natural fibers, and beads and sequins can melt or lose their shine in drycleaning and curl under a hard press. And don’t even mention patent leather—the real thing requires specialized knowledge, and the polyurethane imitation often just peels.
“It’s a little bit of everything—know your fibers and fabrics,” Allsbrooks says. “If you have too much going on, it might be something to just say ‘No’ to.”
And multiple pieces or careless spotting may produce a different black on certain areas or items. “Watch your spotting,” Boorstein says. “A lot of these different shades of black are not too colorfast, and may fade in spots. Keep some cheesecloth and white towels handy before you go too heavy on the wet side.”
Menswear. From the aforementioned wide-legged pant to the tuxedo to riding regalia, men’s clothing is getting re-imagined for the female form. Typically “male” garments such as vests, jackets, jodhpurs, and trenchcoats are offering women elongating elegance and slouchy silhouettes alike.
“There should be nothing new to worry about” with menswear-inspired garments, Allsbrooks says. “Take the basic construction into account when you process a garment, and don’t press it flat.”
Suiting fabrics such as gabardine will usually require hand-finishing, Spielvogel notes, with “the correct bottom steam and vacuum, so you don’t get shine.” And like menswear, Boorstein says, many ensembles feature a tailored exterior combined with a fragile lining of silk or rayon, creating yet another finishing challenge.