How to take care of vintage clothes!
A few months ago I was devastated to discover that my favourite authentic Victorian funeral cape, bought in near mint condition several years earlier at a vintage fair in London (you can read about vintage fairs here), had seemingly overnight, developed brown spots all over. Doing some online sleuthing, I was able to ascertain that my mistake had been to store it using a recently purchased plastic garment cover. This was a crime! As it transpired that what I thought were spots, was actually a layer of silk that had deteriorated because of a reaction with the plastic.
Thankfully it’s not affecting the structure of the garment and it can still be worn but it made me think about how many of us vintage vixens, have had clothes damaged because of not storing them correctly or misusing them without even being aware of what we are doing wrong. So, I decided to do further research. Also, though I know that most of us aren’t big wearers of pre-1920s clothes, I’ve consulted an expert who works for several museums and handles antique textiles, costumes etc on a daily basis. The culmination of which is bullet-point bible below, which I sincerely hope will help you to protect your valuable vintage investments from similar mistakes to that which I made.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF VINTAGE CLOTHES
- Wash your hands! This is stating the obvious I know but some of you may not realise just how much damage even the smallest amount of grease can do over time.
- Acid-free paper is your new best friend! Used in museums for the storage, I recently ordered 30 sheets and put it at the bottom of every shelf, every drawer and between the garments. Perhaps it’s overly indulgent but the recent unpleasant experience with my Victorian cape made me somewhat paranoid and cautious. I also use acid free paper to fill all my vintage hats.
- Make sure that garments are clean and dust-free before they are stored.
- Check often for holes, weak seams and make sure to mend immediately if such problem occurs. I can’t as much as sew a button (I’m not exaggerating!) So, if you’re like me, leave the mending to professionals.
- It’s a good idea to hang your clothes inside out after wearing them so that they can dry in case of perspiration spots.
- Antique or very precious vintage garments should be stored in archival boxes (acid-free), which you can order from the Internet but they are very expensive. Remember that acid destroys textile over time, causing yellow spots.
- Direct sunlight should be avoided and as I’ve discovered, silk likes neither heat nor dry conditions (not to mention PLASTIC!) That last one goes I believe, for all fabrics.
- One very useful tip I got from my friend dealing with antique garments is to use 100% cotton sheet or cotton-muslin to protect vintage garments from dust. I think she was referring to storing antique textiles in acid-free boxes lined with cotton sheet but I made little covers for all my vintage dresses and suits, that are hanging on a rail.
- If you, like me, love to accessorise with a brooch, be careful not to damage the fabric and don’t forget to remove it after wearing the garment.
- I think it goes without saying that very heavy vintage-dresses, same goes for antique capes should be stored flat (horizontal). I keep my precious, heavily-beaded ice-skating outfit from the film Mommie Dearest in a drawer, between two sheets of acid-free paper.
- Coat hangers are not your friend! If I could have the perfect wardrobe space it would consist mainly of drawers, where all my precious vintage clothes dating from the 1930-1950s would be safely resting on an acid-free paper “bed” instead of being placed on dangerous coat hangers, that put a strain on clothes and if fitted badly, be it too small or too big, can destroy the shape of the garment. I can finally appreciate the alleged rage of Joan Crawford when she was screaming at her daughter“ No wire hangers!” (a line taken from the film Mommie Dearest), as they can rust. Beware of wooden coat hangers as well. I always thought, that coat hangers made of cedar wood, a great moth repellent, are my cloths best friend but I didn’t take into consideration that cedar is actually an oily wood and over time can cause fading and even yellowing to garments. So… No more cedar wood for me!
- Last but not least; Kleinert’s dress shield is the perfect protection for your vintage clothes from sweat and deodorant! I’m really afraid of hand washing vintage clothes, with the exception of cotton and polyester, so almost everything I own is dry-cleaned (I’ve found an excellent dry cleaner who knows how to handle vintage garments!), which as you can imagine is very expensive but thankfully I’ve recently found a way of making visits to dry-cleaner less frequent and save a back. While searching for vintage slips on Etsy, which I wear underneath all my 1940s suits and dresses, as a way of protecting them a little bit, I stumbled upon an original 1960s dress shield from Kleinert’s. I have to be honest up until I bought the said undergarment, I wasn’t aware of the brand’s existence even though Kleinert’s, the inventor of dress and garment shield category, has been on the market since 1869 and their dress shields have been the best way to protect garments from sweat since 19th Century and boy I’m really glad I’ve found them! The camisole is made of soft, medium weight cotton with underarm pads sewn into it giving the perfect protection from sweat or deodorant getting into any vintage garment. I wear it underneath everything and it really does its job well. As you can see in the picture, my camisole is identical to the one on Kleinert’s add from the 30s and the only reason why I know for sure, that mine is from late 60s is because of the RN (Registered Identification Number) on the label. I’ve spoken to Kleinert’s owner, who kindly let me use the company’s vintage ads on my blog and he informed me, that many of the camisoles, which are being sold by Kleinert’s today have not changed in the designs, popular prior to the 1960s. I haven’t purchased anything from the company as yet but if their contemporary products are as good as the vintage one I own I will definitely let you know about it!
If there is anything that I’ve missed and you would like to add a useful tip on how to take care of vintage clothes, please feel free to do so in a comment!