Caring For Your Costumes Garbriela Mendoza-Garcia, MEd

Caring For Your Costumes
by Garbriela Mendoza-Garcia, MEd
Store your costumes and accessories neatly in a dark, temperature- and humidity-controlled room
Tutus, dresses, headpieces, hats—every dance teacher has a collection of dance costumes. Often,
these garments are your most prized possessions, representing aspirations and dreams, not to
mention endless hours of sacrifice and labor (and money). To keep your costumes in top
condition, proper cleaning, care and storage are essential. Here are a few tips to help these
treasured items last.
As you know, cleaning dance costumes is no easy task. There are three basic methods: dry
cleaning, hand washing and machine washing. Which method you choose will depend on the
fabric of your costumes, since different types require specialized care.
• Dry clean fabrics made of wool, wool blends, leather, pleather, chiffon, georgette, velvet, rayon
and satin. Since costumes using these materials are often delicate and difficult to repair, use a dry
cleaning service that you feel is reliable, trustworthy and experienced in the cleaning of dance
costumes. Or, if you’re the only school in town, hunt for one that specializes in wedding gowns
and other types of eveningwear. Ask around for recommendations.
• Hand wash costumes made of lace, cotton, linen, knits, Lycra or spandex, tulle and other
delicate fabrics, and costumes trimmed with sequins and gemstones, by filling a tub, sink or
bucket with cold water and a commercial detergent specially designed to wash delicates.
Leotards and tights may be hand washed or machine washed in the delicate cycle. Use bleach to
clean white costumes.
• Machine wash costumes made from cotton/polyester blends, 100% polyester, broadcloth,
poplin, nylon, acrylic and other durable fabrics, as long as they are not trimmed with sequins and
gemstones (these should be hand washed). Machine wash colored and dark costumes in cold
water. Wash basic white costumes in hot water with bleach.
Before you place garments in the washing machine, check to make sure that the seams and
ribbons, lace and other decorations are intact and solidly attached. All broken seams and trim
should be mended beforehand, as they are likely to rip more in the wash. Apply a commercial
product or clear nail polish to keep the edges of any unfinished ribbons or the outer edges of
fabric from fraying and unraveling.
What not to wash
There are some costumes that can never be washed—for example, ones made of fabrics with
extremely delicate embroidery, painted costumes, heavy jackets or jackets with shoulder pads
constructed out of anything other than standard polyester. How do you care for these types of
costumes? Use a commercial spray designed to eliminate odor in fabrics, making sure to test it
on a swatch or small corner of the costume before using to check for discoloration.
To ensure the longevity of these costumes, reduce the amount of perspiration left on them by
requiring dancers to wear undergarments such as nude leotards with nude tights for women and
undershirts or leotards for men. In addition, have dancers take costumes off immediately after
performing and hang them up to air dry. This also reduces wrinkling. (Read on for which hangers
to use and which to avoid.)
Drying and ironing
Tumble dry costumes made of sturdy fabrics such as cotton, polyester, broadcloth and poplin,
and line dry or air dry lighter, more delicate ones. Do not overload the dryer, as this will prevent
garments from properly tumbling and rotating, damaging them with heat. Be careful not to shrink
garments by leaving them in the dryer too long.
Hang-dry garments such as shirts, blouses and skirts. Dry stretchy items, such as leotards and
tights, flat. If garments get wrinkled, iron them inside out on a cool setting, making sure to place
a cloth between the iron and the clothing to prevent burning. Steam delicate costumes. Or, as a
simple home remedy, hang them in the bathroom when you take a hot shower to steam out the
Proper storage is also essential in preserving the life of your costumes. Ideally, you should store
them in a large, open room with good ventilation and a constant room temperature and humidity.
Cover windows with curtains or blinds, because sunlight will fade vibrant colors. Believe it or
not, your garage and spare bedroom can make excellent storage areas if you do not have a
temperature-controlled room at your studio or school.
Renting a storage space is another option. Carefully check the room for any holes that, in a
rainstorm, could let in water, destroying your costumes in a matter of minutes. Nip a mold
problem in the bud by filling a spray bottle with bleach and water and spraying any mold spots
on the walls or ceiling. To avoid mold growth on costumes themselves, always hang and air dry
your costumes immediately after use. Do not leave wet costumes in hanging bags, boxes or any
other type of container, since mold will accumulate on wet fabric.
No matter the size or location, your costume storage room should remain neatly organized. First,
decide on the type of hanging racks you will use. Department store racks are sturdy, adjustable
and can be purchased at a deep discount during closeout sales, but they take up a great deal of
floor space. On the other hand, multiple layered racks, with one hung from the ceiling and
another 8 to 12 inches below it, maximize a small space. Rolling racks make transportation easy,
although they are not able to withstand as much weight as ceiling and department store racks.
For this reason rolling racks are best-suited for lightweight costumes.
Wooden hangers are ideal for heavy costumes, while good quality plastic hangers can be used for
lighter ones. Never use wire hangers: They won’t be able to withstand the weight of the
costumes and will leave hanger marks on the fabric. Store valuable older costumes in a cedar
chest between layers of white cotton sheets to protect from moths. Be careful to fold them as
little as possible. Placing older costumes in a cotton bag with cedar chips is a good alternative.
Most importantly, do not use plastic boxes or bags, since plastic will eventually discolor
Install shelving along the walls of your storage space for accessories and other props, securely
anchoring hanging rods and shelves to the wall or ceiling studs. Purchase clear plastic containers
to fit and organize small items. Avoid using cardboard boxes since they attract roaches and
rodents. Label each container with a number, and maintain a master list of what is located in
each. Also, keep a ladder handy for quick access to hard-to-reach top shelves.
By cleaning and storing your costumes properly, you’ll be able to extend the life of these
precious items. With a little extra attention, they’ll be looking their best for years to come. DT
Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia, MEd is an adjunct professor of dance at Texas A & M International
University and founder and director of the TAMIU Ballet Folklorico and the TAMIU Ballet
Folklorico Juvenil. Michael Carmona, director of the University of Texas at Austin Ballet
Folkorico; Professor Judith Douglas of Santa Monica Colleges’ Kinesiology-Dance
Department; and Tucson, Arizona-based folk dance teacher Sally Lefko also contributed to this