We have long been a fan of using a home steamer to remove wrinkles from my suits. It’s so much quicker and cheaper than having them professionally pressed. Apparently, it’s also much more damaging.
Steaming vs Pressing
I recently stumbled across a couple of posts on menswear forums by a tailor who provides a detailed explanation of how a suit’s construction can be adversely affected by steam. Even the old trick of hanging one up in a steamy bathroom for a few minutes is risky in his opinion. As with any other professional advice it’s ultimately up to the reader to weigh perfection against practicality but his arguments definitely provide food for thought.
The crux of his explanation is that individual pieces of a suit are stretched or shrunk into shapes that conform to the human body. This shaping process, known as “ironwork”, takes place before any of the pieces are sewn together and requires a lot of time and skill. It is accomplished by first using steam to relax the wool’s fibers then stretching or shrinking the piece as required. When the fabric cools it retains the desired shape.
He compares the shaping process to curling hair with a curling iron and we all know what happens when curled hair is exposed to humidity: it loses its shape and sags. Same goes for the stretched wool which relaxes as it hangs, losing the shape required to lie smoothly over the body’s contours. Furthermore, steam can cause deliberately stretched seams to pucker and puff, especially around the sleeve cap. Sometimes the original fit can be restored with a competent pressing but the more serious damage is usually permanent. (As if this weren’t enough reason to avoid steaming, the hot mist can also cause the interlining fused between the inner and outer layers of some jackets to become unglued, creating unsightly bubbles on the surface.)
We created a series on ironing like a pro at home that you can find here.