Finding A Sponge And Press

Words by: Simon Crompton


Most men destroy their suits by having them dry-cleaned too often. That much is uncontroversial. A high-street dry cleaner will stick your suit in a large drum, soak it with chemicals that spread the dirt around more than they get rid of it, and then put it in a big industrial press – which will stamp it flat, ruining any curve in the shoulders, chest canvas or lapels.

The chemicals wear away the cloth, shortening its life. The press forces a three-dimensional object to become 2D.

Much better is a sponge and press. This has to be done by hand and involves someone lightly sponging the suit before pressing it with a steam iron. The lining has to be done first, and makes a surprising difference to how comfortable the suit is. Then the pockets. Finally the outside is pressed – in small sections and rolling the lapels, chest and shoulders. A wooden mould is often used in the sleeve to retain its shape.

This is what a Savile Row tailor will do for its clients every few months, often as part of the service. It can make a suit look and feel like new.

For some gentlemen, this is all that is ever required. I remember David Gale at Turnbull & Asser telling me with great animation that “first, you only ever need a sponge-and-press, and second, it should always be free”.

For most, dry cleaning is still required, it just has to be kept to a minimum. Some have everything dry cleaned once a year, before it goes into storage for the season. Others keep it for extreme situations, such as a bad stain. I try to dry clean as little as I can – and I don’t feel it’s required that often when the suits are in consistent rotation.

But they could certainly do with a regular sponge and press. Which is where we hit a snag. There are very few, if any, dry cleaners with a spotless (sorry) reputation for hand pressing. I’ve had the shape of more than one suit ruined by a supposedly high-end cleaner.

So I’m conducting an experiment. I am collecting recommendations for companies, individuals and dry cleaners that offer a sponge and press, and trialling each one in turn. (Tell me if you have a recommendation.)

This week I tried Stephen Haughton, a professional valet who spends most of his time working with VIP clients. He has their keys, takes their suits (and shoes) when they’re away and returns them before the client returns. Some have so many they wouldn’t notice if the suits weren’t returned.

Stephen sponged and pressed a grey flannel suit of mine and returned it within a couple of days. I then took it to my tailor to get their verdict on the job – which was very good. The shape was excellent and, for want of a better phrase, it felt like new. It did.

The service cost £19.95. That includes securing any loose buttons and threads. If it was heavily soiled, ripped or had silk lapels it would have been £25.

Stephen does pick up from businesses as well as people’s homes, and has worked with tailors in the past including Kilgour and Welsh & Jeffries. If I use him in the future, I will probably leave a few suits at Graham Browne and have him pick them up from there. Stephen can be contacted at: stephenhaughton at aol dot com.

Next time I’ll give an old suit to a ‘good’ dry cleaner.