What to Do When the Moths Converge

As Mothra attacks Godzilla, so do
moths attack beloved items of clothing.

It was foolish of me to think I could defeat the moths by merely slapping them around. They prevailed. Predictably. And there I was with evidence of their victories needing repairs. Luckily, when I mentioned the besieged jackets to a friend who lives in Manhattan, as do I, he insisted on my making an emergency hop to Alice Zotta of Zotta Re-Weaving on West 45th Street.

I bring this up in its relevance to street fashion, because although we often clog the local streets and avenues in new clothes, more frequently we’re out there in clothes that are not only not new but rather old. We’re wearing broken-in apparel in which we’re that comfortable, apparel in which we’re so at ease that we’re beyond reluctant to discard them despite moth attacks.

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(In other words, street fashion is not a reflection of recent runway activity but an amalgam of perhaps recent but mostly old and older wardrobes.)

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So off I went some years ago to Alice Zotta, and I’m still taking things to her. Why? For the obvious reason: When I retrieve whatever it is she’s just worked on, the repair is not detectable. I’m not talking about from a distance. I’m talking about nose to garment. There’s no hint, no trace that work has been done. Whatever it is–jacket, dress, sweater, whatever–looks as if it’s just been grabbed from the rack.

When I say, I went to Alice, I don’t mean I interacted with her specifically. I think I did the first time, but I don’t know for certain. I assumed the elderly woman on the other side of the window in the office was Alice, but I didn’t ask.

In more recent times and in an office on a lower floor, I have usually conducted business with a much younger man, although when I was there last week, I encountered a well-dressed woman, who I learned in the course of an unexpected conversation is Roberta Zotta, a Zotta cousin.

I was there to pick up one jacket and drop off another. It was the one I was wearing, although Roberta didn’t know that when she complimented me on it. Only for the sake of getting at her line of comments do I mention that the one I had on was a diagonally stripped beige-and-gray Giorgio Armani number, and it’s not every day you want to jettison an Armani.

The colors are what Roberta focused on as she launched into a discourse about what shades look good with a person’s complexion. She said she often warns fair-skinned people against, for example, wearing grays which have a yellow or green undertone. She suggests blues and reds for rosy-cheeked customers.

What any of this—which included details of her fashion conscious son’s wisely including forest greens in his closet—had to do with reweaving was tangential, but she did get around to the more pertinent aspects.

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When she did, she didn’t have a lot of personal or general good news.

Asked about Alice, she said the company namesake had retired awhile ago. One of three sisters, Alice was the only one closely associated with the business and that, other than Roberta herself, none of the later generation Zottas are interested in carrying on. When Roberta retires, if she does, there is no obvious family successor.

The dreaded moth hole

Asked about the number of weavers reweaving for the Zotta outfit, she said that at one time there had been many but that now there are only four. “People who know how to do this and want to do it are hard to find,” she said. She was implying that work of the sort for which Zotta is known might not be available sooner rather than much later.

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Looking over the jacket she was returning to me, she pointed to a white thread sewn into a patch of the tweed and easily removed. She told me that’s how the workers indicate where the otherwise undetectable repair had been made. She mentioned the name of the worker—apparently, workers are identified by the color threads they use for this purpose—but I don’t remember it.

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Before I left, having exchanged one jacket for the other, Roberta gave me a few tips about fighting moths. She said they don’t like lavender. Put some in closets, she said. I plan to. Moths also have an aversion to rosemary, she said. She advised me to place a few pots close to my closets. They do best on windowsills, she said. When I said my windows are not that close to the closets, she thought I should place the pots around anyway.

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When I got back to the street, I was still ruminating about the loss of the valuable process and decided to look into it further. Good luck on finding any comprehensive coverage of the reweavers universe. A Lost City piece includes this observation: “The vanishing trade is so old-world-immigrant, so idiosyncratic, so invisible to everyday view—and, also, so necessary!—I couldn’t help but love it. Reweavers are relics of a thriftier, more sensible time, when people actually had their old garments mended and darned.”

In a May 28, 1993, Baltimore Sun article, Jacques Kelly quotes reweaving business owner Helen Sarafidis telling him, “People are so relieved to find out that this nearly extinct service is still available.” She fills him in on other aspects, such as “a typical weaving customer…is a man who has a favorite suit or coat that he just won’t discard.” He also writes that “[p]eople who buy a new outfit and rush to rip off the price tag often find they tear the fabric, too.” At the Without a Trace website, there’s a detailed description of three types of reweaving.

Looking around for more background information, I discovered that many people commenting on website reviews consider New York City the best destination for impeccable repairs, although letting your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages in most, if not all cities, is successful in a reweaving search.

Turns out that Alice Zotta is cheered on in Manhattan, and so is French American Reweaving on West 57th Street. They’re the only reweavers listed in a 2002 New York magazine “best of” roundup. Whenever patrons talk about these two outlets, you can be sure that just about every time the high cost involved and the staff manners (or lack of) will emerge.

Because I haven’t tried French American, I can’t comment on the establishment. I can say that Zotta’s bills aren’t negligible, but you get the result you paid for. As to rudeness, I can only state that if I was told something couldn’t be done, I took it as expert advice, not abrupt dismissal.

And then there are Roberta’s helpful moth-banishing hints. When I said she should be charging for them, too, she said absolutely not—they’re part of the service.