I’m moving to Moscow for a few months, and being that it’s my first time there, I’ll have to find a new tailor and dry cleaner. When I was young, I used to worry about having to find a new barber when I travelled. The whole idea of having a new person cut my hair just seemed frightening. What if they chop my hair to uneven bits? I’ve learned, however, that hair grows back. Clothes that you’ve painstakingly poured a lot of time and money into, on the other hand, will never be restored once they’re ruined. That’s why it’s important to find good tailors and dry cleaners – one exchange with a bad one could ruin your favorite garments forever.
So I’ve developed a kind of system to finding good tailors and dry cleaners in a new area. Perhaps it will be useful for you as well, whether you’ve arrived in a new place or you’re still trying to find someone reliable. Here’s my three-step process:
1. Find the local consensus: The first step is to call the very best upscale stores and hotels in the area. For stores, this can be high-end boutiques such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus; independent fine menswear stores that sell brands you respect; and internationally known brand stores such as Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, or Zegna. For hotels, this can include the Four Seasons, St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton, etc. Just check your Zagat Survey for the five-star operations.
Ask the managers of these places which tailors and dry cleaners they send their work to. Hotels will obviously have dry cleaners they depend on, but menswear stores will often also have a dry cleaner that they send soiled garments to. They will most certainly at least have tailors they work with for alterations. Try to identify a consensus among these recommendations. You’re likely to spot at least two or three that everyone goes to. These will be your candidates.
2. Ask questions and identify quality operations: Call up your candidates and ask them questions about the job you’re looking to have done. Unfortunately, you have to know a little bit about tailoring and dry cleaning in order to know what are the right questions to ask. It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover these subjects, but you should search the archives of StyleForum to get a sense of the processes behind whatever you want done. Ask them about some of these technical details. A good tailor or dry cleaner should be able to discuss these things with you competently.
Additionally, for dry cleaners, look for places that do the work on-site and, ideally, offer hand ironing. The second part is particularly critical if you have high-end suits, otherwise your nice rolling lapels may come back incorrectly pressed.
Note that while you can often find a very skilled alterations tailor who is affordable, good dry cleaning never comes cheap. If someone tells you they only charge $25 to clean a suit and $5 to launder a shirt, and you can pick it up in just a few days, you’d be a fool to hand over your garments.
3. Give them your worst: Everyone has low-end, ill-fitting garments they don’t wear. Send these in before you hand over things you actually favor. After you get the garment back, spend two or three weeks with it – wear it a few times, see how it fits, examine the quality, etc. For me, it takes a few weeks to really review these things. First impressions are often always positive, but three weeks in, I may notice that the work might not be done as cleanly and well as I would like. Before I trust someone with something I’ve spent a considerable amount time to find, and somewhat hefty amount of money to purchase, it’s absolutely critical that I can fully trust their work. Getting to this place can sometimes take two or three “test runs.” It might seem like a lot of hassle, but imagine the hassle you’ll go through if you had to replace some of your favorite clothes.