Brooklyn’s own ‘Iron Man’ offers to smooth Greenpoint’s rumpled clothing for free

james hook with iron in greenpoint
James Hook, Brooklyn’s own “Iron Man,” is offering free ironing services every Monday this month.
Photo courtesy of James Hook

One North Brooklyn resident is ready to help his neighbors smooth things out — literally.

After a few years off, James Hook — aka Iron Man — is once again offering his free public ironing services to the good people of Greenpoint.

Every Monday for the rest of March, Hook and his trusty ironing board will be set up at the Mallard Drake starting at 8 p.m., ready and waiting to make presentable whatever rumpled clothing his neighbors have to offer.

In the past, Hook’s “Public Pressing” appearances have been described as performance art – but that’s not quite it, Hook said. 

james hook with ironing board
James Hook started “public ironing” in 2016. Photo courtesy of James Hook

“It quite literally is me doing my ironing,” he said. “But by doing it in a public space, it has all these wonderful attributes to it that are not available to you if you’re doing it in private, and it just turns it into a much funner process.”

Hook started ironing in public in 2016. Then a stay-at-home dad, he was looking for a good reason to get out of the house  and figured, why not take a chore he had to do anyway and make it a public event, something fun? 

By 2018, he had formed the Brooklyn Ironers’ Union, a small group of fellow iron enthusiasts. 

“One of the groups of people who love ironing the most are former military men, because they’re people who have always been told they must iron their clothes, and iron them really, really well,” Hook said. 

At its peak about five years ago, the Ironers’ Union included an ex-Marine, Hook said. But for now, the iron maven is working alone. His return was inspired by his new job — where he has to wear collared shirts, which, of course, must be ironed and wrinkle-free.

Turnout depends largely on his own marketing, Hook said. Sometimes up to 25 people show up, sometimes no one does. 

Many takers have just regular run-of-the mill clothes they need pressed and professional, but some use the simple task of ironing to make a deeper meaning. One woman brought her pleated skirt from her Catholic school uniform, he said, asking him to press out the pleats so she could reconnect with it in a new way. 

james hook outside with ironing board
The Iron Maven uses his own top-quality irons and board. Photo courtesy of James Hook

Another man brought a shirt his ex-girlfriend had given him just days before she ended the relationship and asked Hook to iron the garment until it was burned.  “Which turned out to be incredibly difficult, it’s actually really hard to burn a shirt,” he said.

His best moment, though, came when a couple asked him to iron the clothes they were wearing right then and there.

One by one, they slipped into the “courtesy robe” Hook offers as he pressed out their clothing — then departed the bar quite quickly once they were dressed again.

“I think I enabled their night to take on a dimension of insouciance that I was really proud of,” he said.

Truly a master at work, Hook will use the best of the best tools — a pair of Rowenta steam irons, which he called “the BMW of irons” — during his “residency” at the Mallard Drake. 

He’ll iron anything brought to him — though he reserves the right to reject any item he thinks could be a hazard to him, the iron, or the public — and, as part of the Ironers’ Union, has even been presented with a proclamation from then-Borough President Eric Adams. 

james hook at ironing board
Hook said many people have forgotten the simple joy of donning a perfectly-ironed shirt. Photo courtesy of James Hook

When this reporter told Hook she did not own an iron, he said, “It makes me think you’re living in the world without seeing the sun and the moon.”

“[To] put on a well-ironed, crisp shirt is one of the greatest pleasures known to man,” he added. “With perma-pressed clothing, and all sorts of cheap substitutes for the old ways, I think people are losing track of how pleasurable it is to actually wear something that has no wrinkles in it, and is extremely smooth, and is pressed flat as a board.”

To that end, Hook said, he also hopes to turn the event from a private chore to a public service – maybe even to get the local government to pay for free ironing as a public service.

“We as a society pay for the things we publicly value, and what we publicly value is constantly being whittled away from us,” he said. “I’m trying to find a thing that has the appearance of having absolutely no value and create public supporting value for it.”