How To Save Money on Drycleaning with Washable Dress Shields

[Previously, in “how to avoid paying professionals for routine wardrobe care”: I repaired my own boots with a leather needle and some waxed thread.]

Recently, I started back to a part of my job that has me wearing my four suit jackets more frequently (I’d been wearing nice sweaters, which are washable as long as you don’t put them through the dryer, all through the fall, but I need to be a little more formal on a semi-regular basis now.) This sent me back to a project I’d picked up the supplies for in the fall, but hadn’t implemented yet, because admittedly it’s a pain: it requires the aforementioned upfront investment in materials, and the job itself is boring and a little finicky at the same time (only when you’re putting things together initially; after that maintenance is trivial.) [Note for the completely sewing-challenged: you could also probably pay someone to do this for you pretty cheaply.] However, it’s going to save me a ton of money since I now won’t have to dry-clean the jacket every time I wear it — possibly no more than once a year.

When I worked in the theater, some costume items (underwear, bras, stockings, tshirts, some other shirts) got washed after every show, but others were washed only every four shows, only once a week, or in some cases only every month or so. To keep them from getting too gross, we switched out underarm dress shields* after every show. They have a cotton outside and a vinyl layer inside, and you can wash them an almost infinite number of times (helps to iron them flat after drying.)

For this project, I bought just two sets, one black and one beige. In my experience the best and sturdiest are made by Kleinert (affiliate link). Be sure to get a kind that says “sew-in” — the “pin-in” ones might sound easier, but they won’t sit as flat and they’re more likely to stress the inside of your garment over time. You will also need eight heavy sew-on snaps per garment; I only bought two sets of shields, but I have four suit jackets so I needed eight sets of snaps (4 snaps to a set). I like Dritz Size 4s (affiliate link) for this project — they’re big enough that you’re not constantly fumbling when you work with them. I bought them in nickel for the light-colored suit jackets and black for the dark ones.

Now to set up. Put some music or a movie on or something because this is going to take a while and, like I said, be boring.

Dress shield with male snaps attached

Step 1: Dress shield with male snaps attached

Step 1: Attach the male half of the snaps to the four corners of the dress shield. I attached them with thread chains (youtube video tutorial) because I was feeling fancy, but you could also just straight up tack the snaps down to the shield. However you do it, make sure they are securely attached because otherwise they’ll wear down more quickly as you’re pulling them in and out of garments and putting them through the wash.

Shield laid out so I can figure out where to put the female snaps

Step 2: Shield laid out so I can figure out where to put the female snaps

Step 2: Lay out your garment and put the dress shield in place. You may want to safety-pin it in, then put the jacket or dress on and make sure it’s actually sitting where you want it to sit. Using the male half of the snaps (on the shield) as a guide, sew the female halves of the snaps in on each arm. Two will be down inside the sleeve, so you’ll have to pull the lining out far enough that you can see. The critical thing with this step is to be sure your stitching doesn’t show on the outside of the jacket; if the lining is sturdy enough you can just attach it to that, but if it’s fragile (I have a couple of vintage jackets) you may need to pick up a couple of threads from the shell also.

Sewing a snap to the lining of the jacket (note how it's laid out on the seam -- this makes the stitching more secure and also helps the shield lie flatter)

Sewing a snap to the lining of the jacket (note how it’s laid out on the seam — this makes the stitching more secure and also helps the shield lie flatter)

Step 3: Snap the shields in and try the jacket on 🙂

And that’s it. Repeat Step 2 with all the jackets or dresses or whatever you want to protect (this probably means you’ll have a lot of extra male snaps running around, but oh well) and you’re good to go.

*charmingly referred to as ‘pit pads,’ because we were super glamorous, obviously

9 thoughts on “How To Save Money on Drycleaning with Washable Dress Shields

  1. I wouldn’t have thought of this solution at all! I would think that these would go in your shirts because those touch your pits, but I guess shirts are easier to clean?

    Thankfully when I was working I only had to wear my suit a couple times a year so it didn’t really get smelly.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Shirts are easier to clean, yeah, although if for some reason you didn’t want to wash your shirts you could use these inside them too. I wear camisoles or tank tops under my suit jackets, not shirts, so I need something to protect the lining unless I want to clean it every time.

  2. Tarynkay says:

    What a fantastic idea! I wish I had known about this back when I had to wear suits. Especially since I was speed walking to the train in my suits, which did not help with the stinky factor. I will keep this in mind if there are more suits in my future.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      🙂 With me it’s more that I always overheat when I’m teaching! All that adrenaline and so on. I actually enjoy suit jackets, but the PITA/expense factor of cleaning them is high so I’m glad I remembered this old theater trick.

  3. Great tips, I do not think I will ever use a dress shield though. Unless they start putting them in T-Shirts…

    1. thesingledollar says:

      They are a specialized product for sure! 🙂

  4. Christine says:

    What a great idea! I sweat like crazy in my suit so this will definitely help “shield” myself from my clothes 😉

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Cool 🙂 I was actually convinced nobody was going to read this post so I’m glad that four or five people have mentioned either here or on twitter that they thought it was a useful idea.

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