I am currently in a cleaning and repairing overhaul. Once I found myself hesitating from grabbing several of my costumes because of loose hooks, grungy straps and missing stones or broken fringe, I had to make time for some TLC.
Performing several shows a week is hard on you, and it’s hard on your costumes. Think about how dirty you are when you come home from a night of shows. I reach for my favorite three or four costumes on a pretty regular basis. My poor orange costume got a real beating this October, getting worn for about three sets a week.
When you finally take a close look at your glamorous, expensive costumes, you may be shocked. Some dancers don’t know what to do and start to feel their costumes are getting ruined. In fact, I have known dancers who never wash their costumes, or sell them for hundreds less than they are worth for fear of cleaning them. With a little TLC, my costumes always come out looking brand new.
I’m a bit ashamed of this picture. Believe it or not, this skirt got in this state after only three or four gigs. (PSA: This is another reason I wear shoes!)
Cleaning skirts is pretty simple. If it’s velvet, cotton, lycra, sturdy chiffon or standard spandex, you can usually machine wash it in cold water on delicate cycle and hang to dry. With cheaper or some overseas fabrics ALWAYS test for colorfastness before washing. I purchased some Bollywood costumes that could not be washed because the dye was not set properly.
If the skirt has beading of any kind, or if it’s metallic, glittery, etc, it will need to be hand washed. I always hand wash my chiffon skirts from Pharaonix and Bella.
First I thoroughly soap up the hem area and anywhere with spots. You can use Borax, Woolite or baby shampoo, but honestly I use regular soap, since it breaks down body oils. Rinse, and if there is still gunk, I scrub the last few inches of hem with a soft body brush and soap. The gold skirt took four wash/rinse repetitions to finally come out clean. Don’t soak sequins too long. Holographic sequins will flake a bit, especially if you agitate them. To dry, gently roll the fabric in a towel and press. Don’t twist or wring too much, you’ll damage the beading and stretch out the fabric. Then lay flat on a towel or hang up to drip dry.
The inside of your bra is probably the second dirtiest part of your costume, next to the hem of your skirt. Again, here, I take my brush and soap and scrub the straps and lining. Don’t get the beaded side wet yet.
The edges of straps and cups are always the dirtiest, and, unfortunately, more delicate. Gently rub to get the dirt and oil out but avoid damaging the threads. Usually by the time my costumes are grungy, they need some reinforcement, so I will often just go back and whipstitch the edge after cleaning, as the threads are often coming loose by this point anyway.
Next, flip the costume over, dunk it in cold water and swish it a little bit. With a soft baby toothbrush, take soap and lightly brush over the large crystals. You’d be surprised how cloudy and gunky they get, even though they aren’t against your body or dragging on the floor. Rinse under running water, and squeeze water out gently. Wrap in a towel and press, then leave it to dry flat.
I keep my costumes in the open air to store. Never put your costume in a sealed bag, especially after a gig. Let your costume dry, or all of that sweat will quickly make your costume smell musty.
Fighting odors is more about prevention. I put paper towels and silica packets in my costume bags to absorb moisture. You can regularly spray the inside of your costumes with vodka. This kills bacteria which cause odors and evaporates, leaving no residue.
– If you wash one part of your costume, sorry, but you need to wash all the matching parts. You’ll always lose a little bit of dye when you wash. If you wash your skirt but not your veil, they will become different colors. This doesn’t mean you need to wash the whole thing every time, but if you wash your bra, wash the belt and arm bands, or wash your skirt and your veil.
– If you’re selling a costume, take a little extra time to wash it and do minor repairs. You will be able to get a higher price if your costume is in like-new condition. You may even decide to keep it when it comes out all squeaky clean and sparkly!