It’s a retail nightmare: you’re about to wear something brand-new to a big event, and as you’re putting it on, you realize the store associate didn’t remove an unsightly plastic security tag. Uh oh!
That scenario (sort of) happened to Kim Richards this season on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills as Kim and her sister Kyle got ready for Kim’s daughter’s baby shower. “What is hanging out of your dress, Kim?” Kyle asked. “Oh no, that comes right off, you just twist it,” Kim said as she yanked on the security tag and it popped apart.
FWIW: The infamous tag on the dress looked like something called a b-tag, which stores use now to prevent shoppers from trying to return a pricey dress after they’ve worn it. Once you snap that b-tag off, you’re committed to owning that dress for life. Kim pulled her dress out of a Bloomingdale’s bag, and a Bloomingdale’s PR rep confirmed to The Lookbook that the department store still uses b-tags in addition to traditional tags in-store for security purposes. So let's put that to bed!
In the meantime, what should you do if you end up with a traditional security tag on an item you paid for and took home? “This happens all the time,” says security consultant Chris E. McGoey, CPP, CSP, CAM. “The sensor can actually activate the door alarm when you return to the store or another retail store for that matter if it uses the same sensor technology. It can be quite embarrassing for the innocent shopper.”
Here’s Chris’s advice: “Take the dress back to the store and go straight to the return desk. Having a receipt is helpful to allay suspicion. Ask the person at the return desk to remove the tag with their special tag-removal tool. Be aware that tag-removal is supposed to signal that the item was purchased so it will draw a certain amount of suspicion when you present a dress with a security tag still attached. However, it is a regular occurrence so it shouldn't be a problem.”
The “certain amount of suspicion” he’s referring is related to studies showing that retail associates often profile and make snap judgements about customers’ perceived honesty when they’re returning items, based on racial bias, cultural bias, poverty bias, gender bias, and age bias.
There are plenty of people posting online, however, who’ve skipped going back to the store and have tried to take the tag off at home with everything from rubber bands to lighters to heavy-duty magnets — even sticking ink tags in the freezer and then smashing the tag with a hammer. Would this work? “Many crazy methods have been used by shoplifters to defeat store security measures,” Chris says.
You could easily rip the garment while trying this, and if an ink pack explodes, that dress is probably dunzo. “We have had questions about removing the ink from security tags,” said Lorraine Muir, the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute’s director of Textile Testing and Research Services. “If there is a heavy amount of ink on the fabric, it may not be possible to remove the stain. If only a small amount contacts fabric, it may be possible to lighten or remove the stain.”
It all depends on the fabric, the composition and concentration of the staining substance, and how long the stain has set in. “If dark black ink in a security tag contacts a pink satin fabric made of silk, chances of removing the stain completely are low, although it may be possible to lighten the stain,” Lorraine says.
Jon Simon of DC’s Parkway Dry Cleaning is equally cautious. “We can remove almost all types of ink – but permanent ink is really permanent – and it would depend on what type of ink that retailer’s security tag was loaded with. Unfortunately there is no way to know for sure until the customer brings us the garment for testing,” he says. “But we have about five different spotting agents that we use along with several techniques specifically for ink removal. Also, red dye is typically the most difficult to completely remove so if the piece is dyed red it would be less likely that we could completely remove the stain.” If it was a white dress, Jon says he could maybe bleach the entire dress to hide the stain, but it probably wouldn’t match the original white.
We called a few different mall chain stores and posed the question whether a tag could be removed at home. Every store associate said it’s better to remove a security sensor in the store. In other words, don’t try this at home—and a quick scan of your items for tags before you leave the store could save you a headache later.
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