The Care and Feeding of Vintage Dresses
I have said this before, Fashionable Reader, and I shall likely say it again. But I consider myself a consumer of vintage, not a curator or a collector. By which I mean that I buy dresses with the intent of wearing them. This means I may sweat in them. They may get dirty. They will likely have to be cleaned. They often have to be repaired and occasionally I modify them to suit my needs: tailoring, hemming, and so forth. (I'm not a label chaser, although I'm always intrigued when I can track the source of one of my dresses.)
However, that doesn't mean I intentionally mistreat my clothing. The dresses I find that fit me, that look nice, in colors I like, that suit my accessories and shoes are still valued members of my family. So here are some things I have learned over the years about the care and feeding of vintage.
Please do keep in mind that I am thinking about specifically clothing from after the turn of the century. Or even 1940s and later. Earlier clothing (like Victorian) gets into the arena of textile preservation and proper curration of organic material. I could put my archaeological hat on and address that subject, but frankly while I may admire these dresses, I rarely buy them because they are so finicky to maintain.
Please keep in mind that I'm addressing dresses as opposed to something like undergarments, which present a different series of challenges.
Rules to Drape By
Find a cleaner.
I dry clean all my vintage stuff. It's just easier. I have a green cleaner I really like who does a pretty good job. I think the green chemicals are gentler, and generally the expense encourages greater care. No luck in that department? Identify one used by wedding dress or tuxedo shops, corset makers, and/or the local opera costume department.
A note on cleaning vs. dry cleaning: If the fabric is mixed (as opposed to 100% cotton etc) always get it dry cleaned. If the fabric is pure but delicate I hand wash in a sink with Woolite ex-dark with cold water. I don't own wool, but I wouldn't ever wash it. Don't you DARE wash cashmere. Dry clean only. In general, I wash almost all my (non-vintage) clothing in the gentlest possible cycle with Woolite, and I hang dry. I loathe dryers. I devoutly believe they ruin clothes.
When you get it home take it out of the plastic and off the metal hanger.
I actually put the hangers aside and then when my dresses are dirty I hang them back on the wire hangers to take in to the cleaner. (Thus returning the hangers and not having to remember to take my hangers back with me.) Why take it out of the plastic? Cloth needs to breathe. Store dresses in plastic and there is a good chance moisture will collect inside the bag and the garment will mold.
If it's not knit: hang it, with room to breathe.
I use those fuzzy hangers that things don't fall off on, but the sticklers will say nothing is better than the fat wooden ones. They distribute the weight over the shoulder seam properly. Also you don't want to cram the dresses together. They need to drape off the hanger properly.
Hang them in the dark.
The AB, poor thing, shares an office with my vintage dresses. Fortunately, said AB is a computer-oriented cave-type and the curtains are rarely open. Both the dresses and I are pleased with this. Sunlight is rough on fiber.
Fold or roll knitwear.
I tend to store all my vintage sweaters rolled around a piece of tissue paper.
How to remove sweater pilling. I use an electric sweater shaver.
- Collecting and Caring for Vintage Clothing
- Traveling with Vintage: The Log Solution
- Organizing your closet (and five closet storage solutions) and your dresser
What they did before lint rollers:
"Cloth or Velvet Embroidery, to clean. – Bake a very thick chapatti (unleavened cake) of coarse atta and water. When barely cooked through, take the inside doughy part, form into a roller, and with the palm of the hand roll in over the embroidery. The fluffs and hairs stick to and come away on the dough, which also acts, like bread, as a cleanser. Excellent for velvet."
~ Steel & Gardiner, 1888
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You can also visit the following shopping lists: Travel Dork, My Steampunk, My Wardrobe.