With routine maintenance, your costume has a better chance of retaining its value and you will look your best in it. Maintenance begins with storage. Heavily beaded garments should be stored flat whenever possible. Costumes should never be stored until they are completely dry after wearing or laundering. It is important to unpack your costumes as soon as possible after your performance. Wet costumes may mold in moist climates and older style bras constructed with buckram (sized fabric) bases will reshape inside the suitcase as they dry. Be sure not to leave your Dina bras in a hot vehicle for extended periods of time--the thermoplastic cups are effected by heat! Take the time to lay out beaded costumes and hang unbeaded (or lightly beaded) skirts and veils so they can air out thoroughly. Spray a solution of 50% vodka 50% water onto your damp costumes to minimize odors. Only after the costumes are completely dry should they be stored. Overnight airing works well. Storing costumes with fabric softener sheets, cedar closet blocks or scented soaps also help mask smells. Following these simple guidelines will keep your costumes ‘fresh’ longer.
If your costume is visibly dirty or has developed a ‘funk’ about it, it’s time for a cleaning. There are different methods depending on the construction technique used and the item. Most of today’s costumes are washable if you take some precautions. Basic items you will need are a wash tub (this can be dish tub size or larger depending upon the size of the item being washed—porcelain bathtubs also work well), a mild detergent such as Ivory Snow or Sythrapol (a detergent designed to trap errant dye particles) and clean old towels.
If the cup is made of buckram (a stiff white sized fabric—typical of an number of vintage costumes) it is important not to soak the cup. It is best to spot clean the interior with mild soap and water or stain stick using an old wash cloth (always test for color fastness before cleaning any garment!). In instances where it is excessively dirty it may be swished quickly in a tub of cool water and detergent. Rinse in cool water. Pat the bra dry with a towel.
The next step requires a surface you can pin the wet bra into without damage. Homosote board (sound board sold at Home Depot), an old bulletin board, a firm foam pillow or a similar surface will work. Be sure to cover whatever surface you choose with plastic so the surface is not damaged by the damp bra. Next, pin the bra straps flat/taught onto the surface. Stuff your cups back into shape with something absorbent. Sizing in buckram is activated by water. This is your chance to fix oddly shaped cups or dents that have come about when bras have dried in an awkward position in your suitcase. Use a fan to speed drying time. It’s always better to wash the item a couple of times rather than leaving it to soak. Be sure to change out the water when it gets cloudy with dye or dirt.
The process is very similar with plastic cups (either the standard vinyl shaped cup or the new molded thermoplastic cups) and foam cups. This type of cup will not be affected by a slightly longer soak time. There is no sizing to reactivate like the buckram cups. Do keep an eye out for color bleed. Change the wash water as needed to prevent dye from resettling onto the garment.
Occasionally a really low end costume will be constructed with cardboard or paper cups (these are usually the round ‘ice cream cone or bullet bra’ cups). Spot cleaning is the only option.
If the lining is heavily stained or damaged buy perspiration the best bet is to simply bite the bullet and reline the bra.
Spot clean the interior with soap and water or stain stick using an old wash cloth (test for color fastness). I do not recommend submerging these unless they are really foul. Most older belts are made on a buckram base and long exposure to water is a bad idea. If you do have to clean one, it’s a quick swish in the soapy tub and fast rinse for the belt portion. The fringe can soak longer if it has been dulled by body oils or other grime. Be sure to pin the belt back into shape it dries. The best way is to pin the belt onto a plastic covered dress form (especially for shaped belts) but you can also use flat surfaces (Turkish two piece belts or any straight cut belt). If you don’t have access to a dress form, firm pillows or rolled towels work. If the belt is stabillized with a heavyweight interfacig or canvas it can take a bit more than the quick swish--but do not let it soak for an extensive amount of time. Any color bleeding will be made worse the longer it is in the water.
Synthrapol is highly recommended when cleaning this item. If the garment is reasonably color fast, swish in the tub for about 30 seconds then rinse. Change the water as needed. It’s ok to repeat the process to get the item clean. Three times is the magic number on many skirts. If your hem is particularly dirty, spot treat it with stain stick or a similar product before immersing it in the tub --gently agitate. Rinse the skirt in cool water until it runs clear (depending on the color fastness of the fabric—some will never run clear). Place it onto a thick towel and gently roll it to get the water out. DO NOT WRING. Repeat as necessary, changing towels in between if there is color transfer. Be sure to fold the towel around the skirt so the skirt isn’t rolling onto itself. The idea is to prevent color transfer back to the skirt. Lay flat to dry on a dry towel or on a ventilated drying screen. Once it’s just barely damp you can drape it over a clothes line or hang it to finish drying. This process works well on Egyptian style skirts and on delicate chiffons that have bead work at the hem or on the salvage edges.
Most silk habotai and polyester chiffon veils may be washed in the machine on a delicate setting and dried in the dryer on a medium setting. I highly recommend using Synthrapol and either Prosoft K (www.prochemical.com) or Ceranine K Liquid Milsoft (www.dharmatrading.com ) when laundering silk veils. These softeners dramatically reduce static cling and improve the feel of silk veils. Highly decorated veils should be washed by hand and hang to dry.
There are exceptions to all ‘care and feeding’ directions but the methods discussed above provide a starting point for most costumes. By repairing damage as it happens and keeping costumes clean, the investment is protected and you will keep looking your best!
Ombre dyed tribal skirts (the big skirts with one color on top, one on bottom)
Ombre dyed skirts can be washed but you can only wash one color at a time. It’s a little bit of a challenge and you may want a friend to help the first time you attempt the process. Follow the steps for the beaded skirt (directions in Part 1) on each color. It’s very important to only submerge and rinse one color at a time. You will have dye transferring on these so use big old towels that you do not care about changing color. Lay flat to dry. Once it’s mostly dry/slightly damp you can hang it to finish drying. Drying the larger, heavier skirts flat is done to prevent any more bias dip on the hem. They are never completely even and if you hang it when it’s too wet it will only make it worse.
There is no safe way to launder Banjara style fabrics with shisha or other delicate ornamentation. I have tried dry cleaning and ended up with all my mirrors off the garments or damage to the metal bits. Spot cleaning works well but sometimes it’s not enough. Out of desperation I have washed cholis and skirts with varying results. Synthrapol is required when attempting this process. The garment needs to be quickly swished through the soapy water and rinsed by color whenever possible. For example if you are laundering a Banjara skirt and it’s in bands of color, try to isolate the color when washing and rinsing. This is not always possible—sometimes the quick dip is all that will work. When drying, place a towel in between the layers of the skirt and place it on towels to lay as flat as possible (you will need a large clear space to do this). Place another layer of towels on top and roll carefully to remove excess water. Tent to dry if possible (ie—over a plastic lawn chair or over a small table—do not let the fabric fall back onto itself). The idea is to prevent as much color transfer as possible. The same process works with cholis. Instead of tenting a wide suit hanger will usually do the trick and prevent the fabric from touching. Bleeding and color transfer will happen with this fabric but as long as precautions are taken it can be minimized.
Removing Pen Marks
I hate when beading either comes loose or you alter a garment to find they drew the design on with an ink pen. Spray hairspray on the offending mark so it pools and let it sit (over a jar is always good if at all possible so the spray has a place to drip into)—blot with clean dry towel. Repeat as needed. As always check for color fastness on an out of the way area. This is a great trick whenever an ink stain happens on your street clothes too! Launder as usual once the stain is gone.
If you accidently get your blood on a costume a tried and true method is to spit on it and rub it in until the color lifts, then lauder per suggested method. It works!!!
When wax melts into a costume it is possible to remove it. Scrape off as much as possible before starting the process. Heat a couple cups of water to almost boiling (sequins may melt so find a sequin to test before proceeding if they are affected by the wax). Place the waxy area over a bowl and pour the water through the spot until the wax releases from the fabric. It may take quite a bit of water and you may have to increase the temperature before it releases. Keep an eye on the amount of water in the catch bowl to prevent overflow. If you end up with a water mark, launder the item using the appropriate method.
Restaurant dancing has some hazards, grease is a big one. I have had success with a 50/50 solution of simple green and water as a pretreatment when removing difficult stains. Always test for color fastness before using the mixture!
A quick tip on the care of those pesky plastic beads that lose their silver, gold or general color—buy paint pens from your local hobby shop and recolor them. My brand of choice is Testors. You can find a variety of colors. Sometimes they are found by the scrapbooking supplies. If the color needed is not in the paint pen selection, enamel model paints may be custom mixed to match. Buy disposable brushes when working with the enamel paints—it’s easier to clean up.
Tarnished Brass and Nickel
Brass and nickel are susceptible to corrosion when exposed to moisture. It you start to see a green discoloration try a mild vinegar/water solution (1 part vinegar to 4 parts water). Apply with a tooth brush and let it sit until the green begins to dissolve. Gently scrub with the tooth brush to dislodge any stubborn bits. Rinse well. Do not leave the solution on nickel for extended periods of time (it is susceptible to pitting much more quickly than the brass). This method works well on both low and high end costumes. When the corrosion occurs on an area that is in direct contact with the skin, seal the area after you clean it to prevent any additional damage. Clear nail polish or clear coat enamel (spray or liquid) work well. It also helps prevent the metal from turning your skin green.