Washing Tips to Get Your Costumes Event Ready

April 8, 2020

by Mads Colvin

Some people are amazingly organised: they come home from events, unpack their car, wash their clothing and put everything else away. The day after an event, you can barely tell they've been camping for a week at all! Some of us…. well, you’re lucky if your car is unpacked before you start packing for the next event.

One thing that this period of isolation is fantastic for is getting yourself event ready for the festival season, whenever it returns! A great place to start is with your fabric clothing because a vast majority of garments can be washed at home with materials you already have (or are easy to order). 

Even though cleaning items seems like common sense to a lot of us, there are tons of costume lovers who don’t have a lot of experience with laundering delicate items and different fabrics. We thought that it would be helpful if we wrote a guide to help you wash your way through your whole wardrobe!

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Think about it as extending the life of your garment

It’s easy with modern clothes to just throw things in the washing machine and forget about them. This is because we think of washing as something we do for ourselves and our own comfort, not something that we do for the sake of the clothing. When it comes to your costumes, you need to reframe the process and think of it more as an act you do to protect and maintain your costumes. If you treat your clothing well, wash it gently and take care in how you launder it, it will serve you well for many years to come!

Remember that historical fabrics are different from modern textiles - and to wash in cold water

While modern knit clothing is happy enough to be thrown in the hot wash every other day, woven textiles made from linen and cotton cloth are generally happier when they’re treated with extra care. Let’s pretend for a moment that we live in an ideal world where we all have endless time to wash and tidy and do everything perfectly. I would recommend washing absolutely everything in cold water, by hand (or in the case of leathers, wools, and other difficult fabrics, have them professionally dry cleaned). This is because a fabric that is washed gently will always hold up better than something that’s been through a dozen spin cycles. However, if you’re going to put your garments in the washing machine, we do have recommended wash cycles and temperatures listed on our clothing care guide as well (because we know that not everyone lives in that perfect utopia where they can wash their clothing by hand, dance in the garden, talk to the birds, etc).

Say goodbye to the dryer

Never put your costumes in the dryer! Putting your historical clothing in the dryer can do all sorts of damage that is so easy to avoid by simply hanging it on a clothesline or laying it down on a flat surface. Cotton and linen are easy to burn in the dryer and heat also causes the colors to lose their luster and fade. All fabrics regardless of care will eventually start to discolor at some point, but you can greatly prolong the life of the color by simply not putting in the dryer. Avoiding the dryer also means that your clothing won’t shrink and will remain true to size. I also recommend drying clothing on the clothesline inside out, so in the rare chance that you do experience a bit of fading from UV rays, it happens on the inside of the garment.

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Wash less by wearing undershirts and chemises

One of the best ways to make your clothing go the distance is to preserve it before it even gets to the point of needing to be laundered! One of the main reasons that people wash their clothing is because it becomes smelly and sweaty. If you have overgarments made from wool or colored cotton and linen, a great way to keep them looking and feeling fresh is to wear a linen undershirt or chemise. This will absorb your sweat and keep your outer clothes safe. Of course, this won’t protect you from the threat of spilling things on yourself - that one is up to you.

Use a color-safe, cold water detergent made for delicates

When purchasing washing detergent, check the bottle and find something that meets the following criteria:

  • Color-safe
  • For delicates
  • Performs well in cold water

This kind of detergent will be multipurpose, gentle, and will usually allow for both machine and hand washing.

Divide dark and light clothing

I know that this is a basic concept that most of us learn at a young age, but just in case you didn’t know: it’s always best to wash similar colors together and separate dark and light clothing.

Remove all lacing, undo buttons

Leaving lacing attached to a garment risks it becoming tangled on itself, snapping, and pulling on the lacing rings. Leaving buttons done up can put extra stress on buttonholes and cause them to stretch. If you’ve attached any additional jewelry or safety pins to your costumes, take those off too to prevent the fabric from becoming accidentally warped or ripped! I keep a checklist of this kind of thing near my washing machine (which also reminds me to check the pockets, etc).

Know what should be dry cleaned

There are some garments I don’t recommend washing: leather, suede, and even wool. Personally, I am comfortable hand-washing my wool, but if you don’t have much experience washing, it is very easy to ruin by stretching it too much. If you’re even slightly tentative about washing something yourself, it’s always best to leave it to the professional instead of potentially ruining your garment.

Any embellishment? Hand wash!

Does your garment have any gorgeous embroidery on it or little pearls? At ArmStreet, we put countless hours into hand sewing our embroidery and adding other beautiful things to our garments, and cringe at the idea of it going through the washing machine! The best thing to do is to very carefully hand wash it, let the water drain off, and then dry it on a flat surface - somewhere it won’t be stepped on and far away from curious cats!

Store your items properly

A lot of people don't focus on correctly hanging and storing their garments, which also prolongs its life. My tips for this are: 

  • Do not store your medieval clothing before it is COMPLETELY dry!
  • Even if I come home with clean clothing I didn't wear, I usually let it have some fresh air outside in the shade before I pack it away.
  • If hanging up your clothing, make sure your wardrobe has some kind of moth repellant in it. 
  • Store your clothing out of direct sunlight.
  • If folding it up and putting it away, store it in an airtight box with a moisture absorber and some kind of moth deterrent.

Refer to our clothing care guide

Have any questions about a specific fabric, or what setting you should use if you are washing your clothing in the machine? Refer to our recently updated clothing care page for guidelines on how to get the most out of your clothing.

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