Originally Posted by HomerJ
Um, sorry about being confusing. Let me try again.
Wool is the material of choice for tailoring partly because, like any hair, it can be molded; think of a woman using a curling iron or putting her hair in curlers. A combination of heat and moisture will "set" the hair in a particular shape, and once it has that shape it tends to want to keep it (think about trying to flatten a cow-lick).
A suit factory has many different presing machines in very specific shapes to press and mold the garment. Though they can come with standard shapes, usually the designer will have the shapes made specially depending on the desired shape of the garment- if an extreme chest or waist or natural shoulder or rope etc. A ton of pressure, steam, and then vaccuum to dry and cool the garment set the shape, shrinking some areas and stretching others. First the shoulder is pressed on a buck the shape of the shoulder, then the collar is pressed on one machine to "break" it, then another machine to shrink the break line further. Then it goes on a machine shaped like the back, to press the back, shrinking a little at center back and the side in order to give a little length over the shoulderblade, then it goes on the front machine, and so on until all the parts of the jacket have been pressed (the sequence may vary but the process is basically the same in all factories).
Then the jacket is turned inside out and the lining, which has been messed up during pressing, is pressed. HOWEVER in every other case, the surface on which the presser works has vaccuum drawing the steam down to dry it, if we were to use vaccuum here to clean the lining, the steam would undo some of the shaping and the finish that the big machines created. So we use blower tables- they blow air up so that the steam used to clean up the lining does not penetrate the jacket and does not affect the cloth.
The jacket is then repressed (touched up) by hand on the outside of the garment- only the little impressions which need to be removed by laying a pressing cloth over the spot, dabbing it with a damp finger or little sponge so that the resulting steam is VERY isolated. The whole process takes a little over an hour and a lot of skill and experience is required.
This is why we often hear people cautioning about not pressing a lapel or chest flat, though really no part of the garment should be pressed completely flat. A dry-cleaner or small tailor shop will have only a few general use utility presses which is why your suit never looks as good when it comes back from the cleaners, and why most tailors send their work out to be pressed, if such facilities exist.
The steam used in pressing is used only in specific areas, and only as the garment lays on a specific shape; it is not removed until it is dry and cool. Taking a steamer to a suit would undo all of this, and may cause certain seams to pucker. Think back to the elaborate hairstyle created with the curlers and curling iron, then take a steamer to it- all the shape falls out.
Dry clean your suit once a season- have it spot-cleaned if it gets stains. Find a cleaner who has good pressing facilities (ask local tailors). Hang the suit in a well-aired spot and many little creases will fall out, and stubborn ones can be removed with an iron, being very careful with the steam and heat so you don't create any shine. But please, don't steam it.