I have a pair of pearl-encrusted wide-leg jeans from Zara, which earn compliments from total strangers wherever I go. I wore them one day during Bridal Week and ended up in an animated conversation about them with a completely random group of commuters on my crosstown bus ride. (Ah, leave it to fashion to soften up a bunch of hardened New Yorkers. Just kidding, we're really friendly, usually.) But then one of the astute public transpo riders inquired, "So how do you wash them? Oh you haven't yet." BUSTED. I'm afraid the fast-fashion pearls will fall off, OK? (I also never wear the jeans in a dining situation because I will drip some sort of dark, tomato-y, stain-forming sauce on them and I drink a lot of red wine.)
So, thank you nice lady on the M23 bus for giving me a kick in the butt to determine, once and for all, how to embrace this major trend without being unwashed and gross — and to provide others with advice for cleaning their denim adorned with pearls, sequins, studs, beads, patches, or all of the above. I reached out Sal Fernandez, General Manager of Cameo Cleaners, which FIT, the Metropolitan Opera and and the Cooper Hewitt Museum trust to gently clean their garments. I also chatted with a few denim pros, including Laurence Li and Chico Wang, founders of Laurence & Chico, Donwan Harrell, designer and founder of Prps and Janet Sung, founder of Denim Refinery. Read on for a few rules of thumb when it comes to keeping your embellished jeans clean and in tact. Given that embellished, early aughts-inspired denim was a big trend for fall 2017, you're probably going to need them.
NEVER EVER put embellished denim in the washing machine.
The details will definitely be knocked around and probably off in the aggressive wash cycle.
Take them to a professional.
Apparently, my lack of denim hygiene is right on track. "I always advise customers to wash their denim as infrequently as possible," says Sung. Cool. But when the time comes, you have two options.
Fernandez recommends the specialty all-hand-wash method offered at Cameo Cleaners. "It reduces mechanical action to avoid any of those pearls or gems or sequins falling off," he says. "We use 100 percent environmentally friendly chemicals that basically will not harm either the garment or the person." The cost is around $36, depending on the piece, and Cameo Cleaners does have a shipping option for those not located in New York. Alternatively, do some research to find a local cleaner near you that offers a similar hand-wash service.
Fernandez says dry-cleaning could be an option depending on the garment and the detail (always check with a trusted cleaner). He does emphasize — along with Harrell — going with an environmentally friendly shop. "There's a lot less heat used," he explains. "Heat and steam are what will affect the details."
Wash your jeans at home, but carefully.
Cameo's Fernandez also has some pro-tips on handwashing your embellished jeans DIY-style. First, fill your top-load washer, your bathtub or some type of similarly large container (I realize the first two options are luxuries in some cities) with cold water. Then add a mild cleaning solution or even a small amount of super-concentrated Dawn dishwashing soap. Turn your jeans inside out, so the embellishments aren't exposed, dip them in the water a few times and rinse them out.
Do not wring or twist your jeans in the process. Not only will you "agitate" the details but you might wrinkle the denim. Ironing, pressing or steaming the jeans could damage the embellishments.
And always hang dry — never throw your jeans in the dryer for obvious reasons. (Plus, Sung warns machine drying could also alter the fit of the jeans and the shade of the denim wash.) "If you air-dry it, your jeans will dry somewhat pressed," says Fernandez. "But not in direct sunlight as this will fade the coloring," warn Li and Wang.
"Febreze works surprisingly well on denim to deodorize them," adds Harrell.
Spot clean, but gently.
Li and Wang are not fans of spot cleaning, especially if the denim has been treated with "a special fading technique," like Laurence & Chico's pearl-, patch- and lace-embellished, light-wash designs for spring 2017. "So there's a risk of color inconsistency and discoloration with spot cleaning," they explain.
That said, depending on the denim, spot cleaning is an option, as long as it's done sparingly. Harrell is a fan of wet wipes, which he discovered by accident after his son was born. "But blot — don't wipe — to avoid leaving a white spot on your denim," he says.
For oil-based stains, Sung recommends dishwashing soap. "Put a drop directly on top of the fresh stain," she says. "Let it sit for 10 minutes, and then run it under water to remove it. If the water and soap run into the embellishments, it's fine. That contact is gentle enough. Let the water rinse the soap out thoroughly and then hang to dry."
Store your jeans properly.
Wadding up your jeans up and throwing them into the bottom of your closet or jamming into a packed drawer also puts the embellishments at risk. Hanging is one option, and Li and Wang even suggest storing them in a plastic garment or cloth dust bag for extra protection. Or, fold with the embellishments on the inside and place either at the top of a drawer or shelf "to minimize crushing," per Sung.
"Keep your vintage denim in a part of your closet or space that doesn't fluctuate much in temperature," she adds.
If embellishments do get damaged, be resourceful.
Fernandez suggests first going to the manufacturer or store to see if they have extra matching embellishments on hand. (Laurence & Chico always send a packet of extras with embellished pieces.) He performs this service for his Cameo Cleaners clients, but "if not, we try to match it as best as possible," he says. The Garment District in New York or a craft store might have options. Then either glue or sew the details back on yourself, or take it to a professional tailor.
Harrell also suggests taking your jeans to an establishment that specializes in metal repair. "There are so many great places in and around NYC that repair zippers and studs," he says. "That's the kind of place you should look for."
Finally, check yourself.
Hate to break it to you, but even just wearing your precious embellished denim out and about requires a concerted effort. "Be more conscious of big movements when sitting down or when the clothing is in contact with other surface areas," advise Li and Wang. Note to self the next time I think about resting a heavy leather bag on top of my pearl-encrusted lap.
Homepage and top: A look from the Dolce & Gabbana spring 2017 collection. Photo: Imaxtree