Keeping Costumes Clean and Beautiful

Costumes are a big investment whether they are store-bought, custom-made or handmade by you. Keeping your costume looking and smelling wonderful will enhance your confidence and stage presence. In particular, costumes embellished with beads or other decorations need to be handled with care to preserve their beauty. Precautions to prevent damage and prompt stain removal will give your costumes a long and beautiful life.

Preventing damage

Perspiration is acidic and will damage and stain fabrics. Using dress shields or promptly removing stains prevents acidic damage. It helps to use deodorants or anti-antiperspirants that dry clear; some products leave white residue that transfers unsightly debris to fabrics.

Perfume and many hairsprays contain alcohol, which damages sequins and fades the color of some fabrics. A towel or other cover over your costume will prevent damage from spills when dressing for a show.

Keeping costumes fresh and clean

One of the best ways to keep your costumes clean is to ensure that your body is clean when you get ready to wear it. If you sweat during the day and then put on your costume, you immediately transfer dirt and odor onto the costume. You can prevent this by taking a shower or using wipes on your body just before putting on your costume. Use hypoallergenic wipes for sensitive skin.

Some costumes are more sweat-proof than others. A thin cotton t-shirt or crop top worn under opaque, loose-fitting costumes will absorb perspiration, keeping acidic moisture away from the costume. Some long-sleeved folkloric costumes have cutouts in the armpit area, which prevents perspiration stains and odor on fabrics while allowing more freedom of movement for the arms. Dress shields are also a useful alternative for preventing fabric damage in the underarm area.

Washing and dry cleaning

Silks and some cotton fabrics are prone to fading when washed or dry-cleaned, losing their color vibrancy. If cleaning is necessary, test a fabric swatch or inconspicuous area of the garment. Dry cleaning is less dangerous to some fabrics than washing; however, dry cleaning results in loss of glued-on decorations, applies heat and fades silk.

If washing a costume in the washing machine is unavoidable, you can put it inside a pillowcase and tie the opening in a knot, using the delicate cycle and cold water to avoid damaging sewn-on beads, coins and other embellishments. A stain remover stick is helpful for removing stains. Be sure all the stain is gone before putting the item in the dryer, since heat will set some stains, making them harder to remove later. Delicate fabrics can be laid out to air dry, which is safer for them than using a dryer.

Storage

If your costume is not washable or dry-cleanable (as is the case of many beaded costumes) let the costume air dry after a performance in order to allow perspiration to completely evaporate. This is also very important for shoes and wigs.

Some performers lightly spray costume linings with a vodka and water mixture to minimize odors. If you do this, test an inconspicuous area or fabric swatch first to determine whether it is safe for your fabric. Always avoid spraying alcohol-based products on embellishments such as sequins, beads and plastic decorations. Alcohol fades some fabrics, so use with caution.

Costumes should never be stored until completely dry, because wet storage will result in mold, which could completely ruin the costume. Be especially careful not to store wet shoes in plastic. Store your costume away from direct sunlight and bright lights to avoid fading; this is vital for preserving delicate silks and antique fabrics.

Costumes with heavy beadwork, or made of net or stretchy fabrics should not be stored on hangers, since they may be permanently stretched. These costumes can be stored flat or rolled. Fasten hooks and eyes and close zippers when storing. In addition, avoid wood and plastic hangers, since they release acids, which cause fabric stains with long-term storage. Padded hangers are a safer choice.

Taking care of your costumes will ensure that they look and smell lovely for many performances.