Joe Pisani (opinion): Dry cleaners deserve the shirts off our backs

A dress shirt is handed off via a drive-thru window. (Cindy Schultz / Albany Times Union)
[ – 2022.06.09] We got an urgent call last week. Most of our urgent calls come at 2 a.m. when I’m asleep, cavorting in dreamland and doing things I can’t do in real life … until the phone rings, bringing me back to boring reality.

When I pick up the receiver, I expect the worst because only the worst happens that time of night, when I’m in my pajamas and totally unprepared to deal with an emergency. As I press the phone to my ear, a gruff voice growls, “Is CRYSTAL there?!? This is Axel!” (Last week it was Chaz.)

I’m afraid to respond because I’m convinced Axel, or Chaz, will show up at the front door, brandishing a tire iron.

Anyway, this particular urgent call was from the dry cleaner, who politely informed me that my shirts had been waiting four months to be picked up, and even though I may not need the shirts, he needs the cash. I apologized profusely. You see, I haven’t worn a dress shirt in a while.

In the olden days when I was still respectably employed, I wore a suit and tie to work every day (shoes too), and I’d drop my shirts off at the cleaners on Friday and pick them up the following week.

But like everything else in America, our standards have been declining ever since some visionary CEO invented “business casual,” which devolved into “casual” and ultimately into a style best described as “business grunge.”

Then COVID came along and we worked from home in our BVDs and pajamas, which can be classified as “business slob.” So nowadays, people rarely dress up for work, church or special events, and prefer wearing T-shirts, running suits, jeans, sweat pants and leggings. As a result, America’s dry cleaners are being taken to the cleaners.

I’m always amazed when I look at family photos from the ’40s and ’50s and see my father and his friends on the East Side of Bridgeport outside of Bill and Eddie’s Bar on Pembroke Street, dressed in snappy suits with shirts and ties and well-shined shoes. In those days, you wore a suit whenever you left the house. I can’t imagine anyone wearing a suit to go to the bar now. It would be a tank top and shorts — with fashionable tears in them.

Every school principal dreads enforcing the dress code and having to send a student home because too much skin is showing. And pity the poor airline attendant who has to police passengers in skimpy outfits and make them change into something respectable for the sake of in-flight safety. (If they’re not fully clothed, they should cover up with their face masks.) The media usually jump all over those stories and make the enforcers look like puritanical tyrants.

I don’t want to debate the Puritans or the progressives. I just feel sorry for my dry cleaner, whose business has been taking a beating for 15 years. Here’s my suggestion. After we send much-needed aid to Ukraine and after we forgive every student loan since the turn of the millennium and after we rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and after we pay for the coronavirus stimulus payments, Congress needs to put together a relief package for America’s dry cleaners, who’ve done a lot for this country. It’s time for another bailout.

When I picked up my shirts, I gave my cleaner a hefty tip, which amounted to about $6 a shirt. And that’s still cheaper than a gallon of gas.

Former Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time Editor Joe Pisani can be reached at

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