Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Issue of Dry Cleaning

UPDATE DECEMBER 2012: Unfortunately, we have made the difficult decision to stop dry cleaning our garments. We now use in-house cleaning methods for most items sold at Couture Allure. Please read this important update to our dry cleaning policy.


I was speaking with a fellow vintage dealer recently and she asked me, "Why do you dry clean everything before you sell it?". My unspoken response was, "Why don't you?"

In the interest of full disclosure, back when I sold on eBay, I didn't dry clean vintage garments before selling them. But knowing what I do now, I wish I had. When I started my website, I began sending just about everything to my dry cleaner before selling. I am lucky enough to have a professional cleaner who knows how to work with vintage, and who takes great care with the garments I entrust to him. Even so, it amazes me how much hidden damage dry cleaning will bring to light, which is why I think you should only spend your hard earned dollars on a garment that has already been cleaned before you purchase it. Personally, I feel that if there is going to be a problem that gets exposed with dry cleaning, I want it to be my problem, not yours.

This 1950s silk dress is a great example. Early deodorants were not as effective as today's products, and antiperspirants did not come into common use until the 1960s. As a result, unless the original owner used dress shields or had her garment dry cleaned before storing, the fabric at the underarms of a vintage garment is sometimes fragile. The silk of this dress looked fine when I gave it to the dry cleaner, but it didn't stand up to gentle cleaning and came back looking like this. Damage from fabric that is weakened at the shoulders will also show up during dry cleaning.

Be wary of a wool garment that hasn't been cleaned. When moths chew on wool, they leave behind a residue that will often hold the fabric together until it is cleaned away. This dress had one tiny moth nip at the shoulder when I sent it off to be cleaned. It came back with a lot more holes, including this cluster at the front waist that was invisible when I purchased the dress.

This 1960s cotton dress was vivid black and white when I sent it to the cleaners. Unfortunately, the fabric was not colorfast and the black faded to gray with lots of white specks when cleaned.

None of these issues was readily apparent before the garments were cleaned. And can you imagine how disappointed you, as a customer, would be if your dress had come back from your dry cleaner damaged like that, before you even had a chance to wear it?

Dry cleaning will expose weakened thread, which means the seams will need to be resewn. There are some odors, from moth balls, cedar closets, or cigarette smoke, that are so deeply embedded into the fibers, dry cleaning will not help. These odors may need an ozone treatment before a garment is suitable to sell. And if you have allergies, you should be wary of an uncleaned garment which harbors decades of dust, as well as other nasty stuff you don't want to know about.

Freshly dry cleaned garments waiting to be listed at Couture Allure.

Many sellers claim that they have "dry cleaned" a garment at home before selling it to you. This probably means they have sprayed the garment with Febreze, which just puts a layer of scent on top of the dirt, or they have put the garment through a Dryel cycle in their clothes dryer, which has just baked the years of dust and dirt into the fabric. Neither of these methods brings you a clean garment. Learn to read between the lines before buying. And don't trust that old standby, "Has spots that will come out with cleaning." Really? I can tell you with certainty that yellowed underarm stains, lipstick smears, and scattered brown spots called "foxing" will not come out of fine fabrics that need to be dry cleaned. Also be wary of a seller who claims they wash everything before selling. Hand or machine washing will ruin fabrics like taffeta, satin, and rayon crepe that must be professionally cleaned.

Freshly dry cleaned garments waiting to be listed at Couture Allure

If you're shopping at a vintage website, and the seller does not state that their garments have been dry cleaned before being offered for sale, email the site owner and ask if that dress you love has been cleaned, and if so, how. If the site owner tells you it has not, consider whether you want to take a chance. And ask if the site owner will stand behind their product if the garment comes back from your dry cleaner damaged.


Think about it. Why would anyone spend $300 on a dress that still has traces of someone else's white deodorant at the underarms? Ewwwwwww.

16 comments:

MC said...

This is why Couture Allure is my favorite vintage shop! I am always so puzzled by sellers on Etsy and elsewhere who sell dirty items noting "needs a good cleaning." If that's the case, why don't you as the seller clean it before selling it, not only to make sure it will actually come clean, but also for the reputation of your shop? Wouldn't you rather sell something in the best possible condition? Unfortunately the answer is sometimes "no."

Personally, I won't buy anything that doesn't come to me clean and ready to wear, like your items do. :)

Melissa

Peter said...

Very interesting! Thanks for posting.

Alicia said...

Thank you for the VERY informative post - it just goes to show that there's always something new for me to learn about vintage. I had no idea that dry cleaning could expose hidden flaws!

Do you have any tips on how to find a reputable cleaner? I recently moved, leaving my most trusted and honest cleaner behind... I'm so scared to bring my vintage treasures to someone new and unknown!

puddin said...

Speaking of cleaning, when I was very young, my mother would take things to be cleaned to a self dry cleaners, and use a product called "renuzit." Then she would bring them home, hang them on the clothesline to air. (The product had a pungent odor.) Evidently, mom was very cautious of not putting anything away that the moths could attack, but wow, that awful smell!!

K.Line said...

This is a GREAT post. First, it shows us how much you care about your business (and vintage). Secondly, it gives me very useful info about the kinds of things that can happen. I'll be more wary of buying vintage at thrift shops from now on...

Original Mischief said...

Yay for you! As a lover of vintage, I get very disappointed when I see sellers either not sufficiently cleaning their items before sale or cleaning them in a most inappropriate way. That includes vintage fabric. Thanks for a great post. Monique xx

fabulous finds said...

great post...i think that it reveals the owners true respect of their shop & reputation when they take the time to make sure the garment they are sending out is cleaned and ready to go...

Christa Weil said...

Great post, merci!

Tart Deco said...

Good point. Just one question- how do you deal with the extra cost of dry cleaning the item? Do you add it to the sale price or write it off as a business expense?

Nancy said...

very informative. Thanks!

Gladys said...

I know about this first hand! I bought a lovely wool coat on ebay. It came to be smelling of wet horse. It was horrible. I took it to my dry cleaner who processed it and when I got it back it was in tatters. He was very apologetic. I spent $140 on something that I couldn't even make rags out of.

Louise said...

Another thing to mention is that sometimes clothes have moth eggs on them. I have nightmares sometimes about buying a vintage item that is infested and having the rest of my closet ruined as well.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

Thanks, everyone! I'm hoping to do a follow up post for you next week about how to find a good dry cleaner for vintage.

Rachel said...

i do agree that its nice to receive an item that has been dry cleaned, but for me as a seller it significantly increases the price. for a dress that i buy at $30 and turn around to sell for $50-60, a $12 dry cleaning will reduce the profit by a lot. i'd worry if i passed along the cost of the cleaning to the customer that the item won't sell.

jing said...

It's nice to have a professional cleaner with you to make sure that the garments are cleaned well before selling it to the customers.

Roxy Logan said...

Hi,
Thanks for another helpful blog post. I just came across some beautiful designer 1950's dresses and coats (mostly silks) with some foxing from beetles and/or water. Can even a cleaner get these out? I'm nervous about entrusting them to a cleaner, but I agree that items should be cleaned before sale, esp. with these stains.
Thanks
Roxy

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