In American Hustle, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser find love in a hopeless place: the storage room of a New Jersey dry cleaner. Irving (Christian Bale), who owns the business, leads Sydney (Amy Adams) to a back room filled with clothes left behind by customers, and tells her she can have whatever she likes. She throws on one expensive outfit after another: a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, a Halston-like evening gown with a plunging neckline; fur. It’s like the great fashion closet scene of The Devil Wears Prada – except this is a dry cleaner, not Runway.
“I could only dream about these dresses,” Sydney says to Irving, eyes wide. “They’re beautiful.” A bounty like this seems too good to be true, but at some dry cleaners in New York and New Jersey, it’s surprisingly not so far-fetched.
Today, when you call Tweeds Dry Cleaning in Camden, New Jersey, where American Hustle was set, an automated British woman's voice answers, eerily similar to Sydney Prosser’s alter ego, Lady Edith Greensley. But Scott Kaufman, who is a part owner and has been in the dry-cleaning business for 22 years, is as American as it gets. And he’s seen many a garment left behind. “You name it," he says. "Upholstered furniture, fur coats, and day-to-day clothes like dress shirts, skirts, suits — everything.”
According to New York and New Jersey state laws, dry cleaners are responsible for unclaimed items for up to six months, during which time they’re supposed to repeatedly contact the customer, although it’s not required. If the customer fails to respond after that time, the items are deemed abandoned property. Unlike in American Hustle, dry cleaners today cannot keep abandoned property — it has to be given away to charity. (And a mistress in the market for a mink, for example, is not considered charity.) Most cleaners donate items to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or to local churches. “If we see someone in need on the street, we’ll give them clothes,” says Joey Valentino, an employee at a Tribeca dry cleaner who’s worked at various cleaners in New York City for the past seven years. “Sometimes people come in and say that they’re going on a business interview and need a suit, and we’ll give them what we can find.”
If they have the space, some cleaners will hold onto clothes well past the six-month mark with the hopes of returning them to their owners. “We had this one woman’s fur coats in storage for around three years,” says Valentino. “She kept leaving the coats, so eventually we just gave them away. She blew a fuse and the next thing we know, we got a letter in the mail from her lawyer.” Other cleaners have similar stories. The minute a piece of clothing is given away, someone remembers that they miss it.
To avoid lawsuits, the Village Tailor & Cleaners in Soho keeps racks of unclaimed clothing in a back room, just like the one in American Hustle. “It doesn’t make any sense to me how people forget to pick this stuff up,” says Isaiah Bell Sr., who’s worked there for nine years. “Some of it is really nice." Hidden in the layers of plastic wrap and yellowing tags are Gucci suits, Brooks Brothers shirts, even a Lanvin cocktail dress. The Village Cleaners also own a cobbler shop next door, and Bell says that shoes often get left behind there as well.
Possible explanations for the sudden disappearance of customers range from simple forgetfulness to leaving town and never coming back. “In New York City, people are transient,” says Kaufman, who owned a cleaning service in Manhattan prior to working at Tweeds. “They’re in, and then they’re out.”
Ann Hargrove of the National Cleaners Association cites, of all things, weight gain as a possible reason people abandon their clothes. “If you gain 100 pounds, you’re not going to want your skinny clothes back,” she says. She’s even seen failed marriages affect dry cleaning. “You’d be surprised how many wedding gowns don’t get picked up. I had this one — it was a masterpiece and cost maybe $5,000. It was beautiful. When the bride, who was a regular customer, came in she said, 'I’m not even married anymore. I don’t want it.'”
And when life isn’t getting in the way of dry cleaning, sometimes death is. Forgotten dry cleaning oftentimes isn’t forgotten at all — the owner of the clothing died. Finally, “Some people don’t have the money,” Hargrove says. Dry cleaning bills can add up; but forgotten dry cleaning also costs the establishment. “All your hard work goes up in smoke."
So, next time you neglect to pick up your dry cleaning, remember that if you don't come back to claim it, the Lady Edith Greensleys of the world might.
Most Viewed Stories
The Fashion Executive Who Doesn’t Wear Underwear on Dates
25 Famous Women on Being Alone
22 Intimate Lost Photos of Marilyn Monroe
How Angelina Jolie Won the First Big Battle in Her Divorce
It’s Time to Get Over Your White Feelings and Start Taking Action for Black Lives
The Will & Grace Reunion Was Intensely Documented for Social Media
Amy Schumer Went All Out for the Kiss Cam at a Mets Game
Prince George Has No Time for Justin Trudeau’s High Fives
The 6 Best Denim Shops on Etsy
Everything We Know About Brad Pitt’s Plane Incident
From Our Partners
Who What Wear
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Fashion FeaturesCiara's Wedding Dress Was Too Big for the Chapel
To be fair, it was a 13 foot-long dress.You and Rihanna Will Both Want to Invest in Dior’s New Bag
It's got something for everyone.Polo Shirts Have Turned Their Back on Ryan Lochte
Along with his other major sponsors.Ryan Lochte Will No Longer Be Paid to Wear Tiny Bathing Suits
Speedo remains committed to transparency.Laura Brown Is the New Editor-in-Chief of InStyle
After 11 years at Harper’s Bazaar.Tyra Banks Is Going to Teach a Class on Smizing at Stanford
"If I see somebody not paying attention, I’m gonna call on them."This Floating Pier Is the Most Zen Installation Ever
Walking on water in Italy.Nation Is Appalled by Matt Lauer’s Nude Ankles During Ryan Lochte Interview
What’s the opposite of “Jeah”?8 People at the Life of Pablo Pop-up Explain Why Kanye West Is a God
"I mean, Kanye West is just Kanye West. There's not more or less you can say about Kanye West. He's just Mr. West!"A T-shirt Is Enough
Simplicity, versatility, and cool. What more could you want?
She took a perfect pencil dive off a 30-foot yacht.American Apparel Is Being Sued by Former Workers
As the company considers putting itself up for sale.A Gendered History of the Tailored Suit
From Marlon Brando to Coco Chanel.How Zendaya Developed Such Great Style at the Young Age of 19
The star's best looks from Disney to now.Proof That If You’re Chic Enough, a Little Federal Investigation Doesn’t Matter
Is this the best they could do?5,300-Year-Old Mummified Iceman Probably Would’ve Been a Street-Style Star
He had several different looks and was “pretty picky.”J.Crew Has Identified 226 Shades of Pink
Even more than there are shades of gray.Gigi and Bella Hadid Merch Is Now Somehow a Thing That Is Happening
Today in Hadidiana.Gird Your Loins for the Return of Yeezy to New York Fashion Week
The season approaches.This Indie Brand Had a Great Response to Ivanka Trump
When she bought one of their cuffs, they donated the proceeds to the Clinton campaign.