So you’ve invested in the perfect tuxedo and perfect formal shirt, debuted them at a wonderful black-tie evening and now it’s time to have them cleaned. You might well assume that your usual dry cleaners are a safe bet if they do a good job with your regular suits and shirts. Not necessarily. Formal attire requires special considerations and if your cleaners aren’t aware of them then your precious garments may be rendered imperfect at best or unwearable at worst.
To find out what’s involved in the proper cleaning of formal wear I met with Rinaldo DeMichele, manager of Del Monte Custom Cleaners in Toronto. I had first learned of the company through menswear forums when seeking a reliable cleaner for my first bespoke suit. I subsequently entrusted them with my formal wear as well and have been consistently impressed with the results. (They didn’t even bat an eye the first time I dropped off my collarless full-dress shirt.) Del Monte was established in 1962 by Rinaldo’s father Salvatore so they have plenty of experience. They do their cleaning on premises and have built their successful business solely through word of mouth as they don’t advertise. Some of their biggest champions are local tailors who rely on them to press their suits into tip-top shape before delivering them to clients.
DeMichele’s secret to properly cleaning formal attire? Proper training, attention to detail and lots of patience. It takes time to do it right.
Let’s start with the tuxedo. When it comes to dry cleaning, the most common advice from sartorialists is to avoid it unless absolutely necessary as the chemicals will break down the fabric over time. DiMichele has a different take. While he doesn’t dispute the side effects of industrial cleaning compounds, he advises they be put in context, pointing out that laundering equipment has become so efficient over time that the amount of solvent his father used to go through in a week now lasts the company over a year. He cites former customer and local telecom magnate the late Ted Rogers who had his 1980s suits cleaned weekly for decades without any problem.
In DiMichele’s experience, bad pressing is far more likely to lead to the premature demise of a suit because of the way it wears down fabric. And when it comes to the tuxedo’s unique silk facings, the primary rule is that they must never be touched directly by anything hot, or warm for that matter. Instead, they must be pressed from the reverse side of the garment or with the use of a press cloth placed between the silk and the press. If not, the process will create an impression of the underlying seams and/or leave a shiny finish. A competent cleaner may be able to remove the sheen but once the satin is impressed the effect is irreversible.
As for shirts, Del Monte presses regular dress shirts using a pressing machine first then touching them up by hand. With formal shirts, the entire garment is done by hand to allow for careful application of pressure. Tough stains are removed by the judicious use of a whitener that is gentle on fabric. Not surprisingly, DiMichele recommends customers avoid starching their shirts as it will wear on the garment over time.
Once the dinner jackets and shirts are cleaned and pressed, Del Monte applies their finishing touch: stuffing the shoulders and sleeves with paper to help the garments retain their shape while hanging in the closet.
As I mentioned, it takes time to do these things properly and time means money. But when you consider that black-tie affairs are the most glamorous events you’re likely to encounter it’s a small price to pay to ensure that your wardrobe rises to the occasion.
For those in the Toronto area, Del Monte is located in Etobicoke at 1124 Queensway west of Islington. However, you don’t need to visit them in person as most of their customers take advantage of their free pick-up and delivery service in the GTA on a weekly basis. They charge $45 to clean and press tuxedos or $35 for pressing only. Formal shirts cost $15 to clean and press.
For everyone else, you may wish to discuss Del Monte’s recommendations with a local dry cleaner to sound out their level of expertise. Of course it is always preferable to work with a company that does the cleaning on premises because you can interact directly with the people that actually do the work. Otherwise, you’re left to relay messages through counter staff that may have little understanding of the process. On-site cleaners may also be able to correct any shortcomings with finished garments right there on the spot.
For those that prefer to steam their suits at home and spare the expense of professional pressing, you might want to think again. I’ll explain why in the next post How to Iron Your Tuxedo.