Label lessons to learn

Amended 2/5/10:
Esther has updated information for this entry. Please click through for the latest.

Today we have a guest entry from Esther Melander. Esther is a 12 year veteran of the fashion industry specializing in children’s special occasion clothing. She has been involved with the manufacturing and selling of children’s clothing to big box retail and specialty boutique stores. She currently works in the industry and as a part-time librarian. Esther is the author of the Design Loft blog which features her exploration of children’s clothing design, personal design projects, and occasional library discussions.

wedding_dress_label As I was working on the alterations for a wedding dress, I wanted to see other dresses by this designer/maker. Perhaps the sleeve pattern shaping was intentional and not a mistake? Perhaps the problem is consistently found in other styles? I had no idea who the designer was, only where the dress was purchased. The dress was not in the store’s web catalog and the only label in the dress was not helpful. The dress was missing a brand label and had no RN number. Further, the care instructions were rather bizarre if not interesting. I googled the style number and came up empty.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) currently regulates the information that should appear on a clothing label. All tags require care, content, and country of origin. The dress should have listed an RN number along with the care and content on the label. With the RN, or manufacturer’s registration number, you can search an FTC database to find out the manufacturer of an apparel item. Wedding dress manufacturers/bridal shops have been fined in the past for failing to disclose or intentionally removing this information. Those providing alteration services may remove the labels after purchase but should give them to the bride.

This label states:

100% polyester
Do not dryclean
Spot clean ONLY
Use cold water and mild soap
Made in China
See reverse for care
Do not spray Alcohol
based product directly
on gown such as Perfume,
Hairspray….etc. This will
damage beadworks and
embroiderie designs made of
Rayon, Nylon, and other
synthetic materials.

I found the care instructions rather hilarious. How many of you spot cleaned your wedding dress with only cold water and mild soap? The fabrics themselves probably could be dry cleaned or even hand washed (though hand washing may be an adventure all it’s own with the dress’ built-in petticoat). The beads will probably dissolve in the dry cleaning solvents, so thus the “do not dry clean” instructions. But, if you can find a reputable dry cleaner who will clean the dress and avoid the beads, then go ahead and have the dress dry cleaned. Otherwise, hand wash the dress. BTW, there were no further care instructions on the back of the label. Many wedding dresses are currently manufactured in China, which may explain the poorly written tag.

The extra instructions are interesting. I suppose it is possible that perfume or hairspray may damage the beads. Though the bride would probably need to be drenched in it before the beads dissolved. Sure would like to put those beads to the test…

The label should have been written to say:

100% Polyester
Hand wash or
Spot clean
in cold water with
mild soap. Hang to
dry. Do not bleach,
Do not iron.
Made in China
RN 123456 (example)
Avoid the use of
alcohol based products
such as hairspray,
perfume, etc., as these
may damage the dress.

And of course, the care instructions should be thoroughly tested by the manufacturer. Good industry practice (and the government) dictate that a manufacturer should have a reasonable basis for the cleaning instructions. This means actual test data recorded and stored with the manufacturer. At this point in time, manufacturers (except children’s clothing manufacturers) can do their own in-house wash testing. Children’s clothing manufacturers will have to have it done by a certified laboratory. Wash testing is not specifically mentioned in the CPSIA, but it does imply that ANY testing will have to be done in a certified lab.

Speaking of the passage of the CPSIA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is now charged with regulating labeling in children’s products. Specifically, the CPSIA requires that children’s products be permanently labeled with more information than was previously needed. This requirement goes into effect on August 14, 2009 without the benefit of clear guidelines (pdf) or rules. There’s also an FAQ. Any form of labeling that a company adopts may very well change in the future – long after the requirement has gone into affect. Various groups have requested for a stay on this so they can adapt or change their manufacturing processes after guidelines have been issued. Recent requests for a stay have been denied.

Children’s apparel manufacturer’s have it easier than other product manufacturers because we are already accustomed to the idea of labels. Batch/lot numbers could be printed or handwritten on a separate label or perhaps the reverse of the Care/content label. In any event, stay tuned for more on this topic as it is a costly requirement. Also see Kathleen’s most recent entry on the topic.

Amended 2/5/10:
Esther has updated information for this entry. Please click through for the latest.

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  1. Connie says:

    I kinda like the Chinese instructions. At least something is on the label.

    When one of my daughters was little she had a lovely white dress that she had stained. I don’t remember there being a warning of any kind. I started with the mild soap and cold water routine, moving to hot water and in my frustration eventually started using alcohol or acetone to see if they were better solvents. The dress melted like the wicked witch of the west.

  2. Darcy Moen says:

    I found your comments that a cleaner should clean around the beads equally as hilarious. How exactly does one clean around the beads? Is it the same as hand washing around the beads? Most likely, the beads (If they are not safe to clean in any solvent) should be removed, then reattached after drycleaning. Yes, that would be expensive, but it is the only safe way to clean the gown without damaging it.

    I suspect that this gown’s beads are made of a compressed styrofoam. Any contact with any solvent will cause those beads to melt. I would test an upexposed bead with a solvent with a similar KB value to dry cleaning solvent in the presence of the gown owner to prove the gown will fail in conventional dry cleaning, then offer wetcleaning as an alternative cleansing process should the fabric prove to withstand wetcleaning procedures. Water is likely the only solvent that will clean the gown with the beads attached.

    I will commend and agree with you on the FTC care labelling rule. Kudos for sharing that information accurately.

    Of course, one could also send the gown to wedding gown cleaning and preservation companies such as: or

  3. Esther says:

    Does the dry cleaner have to saturate the entire piece with solvent? Couldn’t they focus on the areas that need the most cleaning like the hem and underarms? I knew one dry cleaner who seemed to have this ability as I had some dresses w/beads cleaned by him. (BTW, this dress had plastic beads in one area across the waist).

  4. Esther says:

    Connie, I wonder if the dress was made of Acetate? Acetate fabrics will melt or dissolve in finger nail polish remover. This dress claimed to be 100% polyester, which should stand up to dry cleaning ok. I suspected the Do Not Dry Clean statement was because of the beads. I probably should have included that statement in my revised label.

    Do Not Dry Clean
    Hand wash or spot clean
    with mild soap…

    I don’t always take the Do Not Dry Clean/Dry Clean statements as fact. I have worked with a lot of special occasion fabrics and know how they react. The beads are the unknown factor in this dress, so the statement may be valid. Manufacturers have a tendency to pick the method which is the least risky, and for good reason.

  5. Barb Taylorr says:

    Were the beads glued on? There could certainly be componets in hairsprays and such that could dissolve some glues if were staurated enough. I also suspect there probably really are people who only care if they get one time use from a wedding dress and would have no concern about this if the price was right.

  6. Eric H says:

    “Though the bride would probably need to be drenched in it before the beads dissolved”

    Sounds like every wedding I’ve ever been to. Oh, wait, I thought you were still talking about alcohol …

  7. Becky says:

    I know we all think this label is a little silly. But how could it have been done differently? All of that information seems important, to cover all of the bases. Is there a way to inform the customer how to treat the special trimming without all of that wording? I also notice that the style number and size were written in. Which brings us to our ongoing question about what will hold up the longest in putting the new dating requirements on the children’s labels. Also, how long is this label required to hold up? I have clothing that I can’t see anything on the label anymmore, due to regular washing. There seems to still be a lot of questions regarding the new labeling requirements that are due to start next year.

  8. Harper says:

    Speaking of alcohol, the World’s Oldest Theatrical Wardrobe Cleaner is 50% water, 50% The Worst Rotgut Vodka you can find in a spray bottle. Turn garment inside out, hose it down, and let it air dry overnight. Takes ancient funk out of things that can never be cleaned and doesn’t damage a thing.
    Good vodka does not work for some reason! Get the crap in the plastic flask behind the counter. When I worked for the Bolshoi, they used Chinese vodka :)

  9. Terry Tofer says:

    Did you ever find out the brand of the dress? I have a cocktail dress with the same label and am looking for more information on it.

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