Wrung Out

Between putting the finishing touches on my book manuscript, making enough peach jam to tide over a nationwide peach famine, and working on more new knits, I’m a bit knackered. Plus, I washed several of my winter sweaters in Kookaburra Wool Wash the other day, and that got me thinking about how we care for our precious knits, both those we make ourselves and those we buy in stores.

During a low point in my life, I was a manager at a Banana Republic store. It was not easy coping as a single parent with a small child while juggling a full-time job with a retailer that was distinctly UN-family-friendly (I still feel guilty about the night I had to work ALL night rolling out a new season’s clothes, and had to put my then-4-year-old to sleep on a pile of clothing in a corner while chaos reigned all around her. Though in retrospect, she thought it was a grand adventure.). That’s probably why I lasted only a year. But what a year it was.

I still remember some of the people who returned garments in various states of seriously-messed-up but expected a full refund anyway, even if it was obvious that they had spilled/incorrectly washed/torn/shredded the garment in question. In the days of “The Customer Is Always Right,” we were instructed to accept returns no matter how heinous what their condition. I think BR has since changed that policy.

One customer in particular stands out in my memory. She marched up to the counter and dumped the contents of her (not) BR bag onto the surface. There were three lightweight summer sweaters, made of a silk and cotton blend, and I remembered them from earlier in the season. Much earlier. Way past the standard “30 days and we’ll gladly refund your money” period when it’s acceptable to have a change of heart about a purchase.

Not only were these sweaters well past their born-on date, but they were, in a word, disasters. Stretched out of shape, terribly faded, and so pilled they appeared to have been chewed on.
“These sweaters are NOT the quality I expect from Banana Republic!” the customer declaimed.

Unable to lift my eyes from the warped and wrinkled mess on the counter, I asked her what had happened to them.

She threw her shoulders back and fixed me with a Look as if to say it – whatever “it” was – was all my fault. “Well! I took them to Europe with me this summer. I was traveling for a month, and I planned to wear them all the time.” (And obviously this is exactly what she had done – they looked as if she had slept in them, and perhaps even wore them into the shower.) “I washed them out in the hotel sinks every night, and you know what? They didn’t hold up as well as I expect something from this store to hold up. I mean, just look at them!”

But at that moment I had torn my gaze away from her mesmerizing foaming-at-the-mouth indignation and was looking at the label in one of the sweaters, which stated in bold, easily read text: DRY CLEAN ONLY. So, had she dry cleaned them? Apparently not. I gently pointed this out to her, whereupon her voice escalated. “These sweaters are a mess, and I want a refund!”

I caught the eye of the other manager, who had overheard much of our conversation. She joined us and Crazy Sweater Customer launched into her sad tale all over again. The other manager sighed. She pointed to the label and gently said, “The label clearly says ‘Dry Clean Only.'” But her heart wasn’t in it, and the customer could tell. This was the olden days, after all, when a customer could return a garment even if she had used it as an impromptu diaper for her new baby (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration…).

Now, I take to heart the edict “Thou shall not wring out your hand-washed sweaters,” as well as “Thou shalt not rub, twist, or otherwise mangle your sweaters unless you want them felted.” I use a special product for washing my knits. Although I confess to having some cashmere sweaters with labels that advise DRY CLEAN ONLY, I know from years of experience that a VERY gentle hand washing makes them even softer than they started out, and that they can be reshaped on a towel or drying rack with no ill effect. But I do it all very carefully.

Long story short, we took the sweaters back, wretched as they were, and gave Crazy Sweater Customer her money back. I don’t think BR does this kind of thing anymore. I wonder if they’ve ever gotten more family-friendly?

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