How to Take Care of Vintage Clothes

Dominique de Merteuil By Dominique de Merteuil7 min read

Last updated on May 26th, 2023 at 09:44 am

Home » Vintage Fashion Tips » How to Take Care of Vintage Clothes

How to Take Care of Vintage Clothes!

  • Learn why the dress shield is your vintage garment’s best friend
  • Why use unbuffered acid-free paper
  • Why hangers are dangerous

A few months ago, I was devastated to discover my favourite Victorian mourning cape, had brown spots all over. I bought the magnificent piece in near-mint condition several years earlier at a vintage fair in London.

My mistake had been to store it using a plastic garment cover. I run out of the archival Tyvek ones and time was of the essence as we had an unexpected construction work on our apartment.

This was a crime against any antique piece of clothing but It was also an emergency. I had no choice but to protect the garment from dust.

The trouble is, I left it in the deadly plastic for longer than I would like to admit. A layer of silk deteriorated because of a reaction with the plastic.

taking care of vintage clothes
How to take care of vintage clothes!

Thankfully it’s not affecting the structure of the garment and I can still wear it.

It did make 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 did wrong.

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 and costumes on a daily basis.

The culmination of which is the 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.

Victorian mourning cape
I paired the Victorian mourning cape with a 1950s hat and Stuart Weitzman boots.
Victorian funeral cape
Damage caused by a plastic garment cover.

How to Take Care of Vintage Clothes Step by Step

  • Firstly, 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.                                                                                                                                                                          
  • Secondly, an archival unbuffered acid-free paper is your new best friend! Used in museums for storage, I recently ordered 30 sheets and put them 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, and weak seams and make sure to mend immediately if such a 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 or use my favourite Bo-Nash Fuse It Powder that doesn’t require sewing or stitching. I wrote a post with step-by-step instructions on How To Fix A Hole in Clothes Without Sewing.
fixing vintage clothes without stitching

DO YOU HANG YOUR VINTAGE CLOTHES PROPERLY?

  • 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 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 textiles over time, causing yellow spots.

How to take care of vintage clothes

RELATED

Learn in great detail how to store vintage clothes like a pro!

I’m a huge fan of archival Tyvek covers and store all of my 1940s and 1950s skirt suits, dresses and CC41 lingerie in them.


  • 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 a 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, the same goes for antique capes should be stored flat (horizontally). I keep my precious, heavily-beaded ice-skating outfit from the film Mommie Dearest in a drawer, between two sheets of acid-free paper.
Mommie Dearest dress
Ice Skating outfit from Mommie Dearest film.

NO WIRE HANGERS WHEN STORING VINTAGE CLOTHES

The original dress from the Mommie Dearest film.

The original “No Wire Hangers” dress from the Mommie Dearest film.

  • Coat hangers are not your friend! If I could have the perfect wardrobe space it would consist only of drawers. I can imagine all my precious vintage clothes safely resting on an acid-free paper “bed”. That, however, is just a dream, and for the time being, many of my precious garments hang on the dreaded coat hangers.
  • Rember that coat hangers can strain clothes and, if fitted badly, be it too small or too big, can destroy the garment’s shape.
  • I can finally appreciate Faye Dunnaway’s rage in the film ‘Mommie Dearest’ when she was screaming ‘No wire hangers!”.
  • Wire hangers can rust but beware of wooden coat hangers as well. I always thought, that coat hangers made of cedarwood, a great moth repellent, are my clothes’ best friend. I didn’t take into consideration that cedar is an oily wood, and over time can cause fading and yellowing to garments. So… Now you know.

No more cedar wood hangers for me!

The Kleinert’s dress shield is the perfect protection for your vintage clothes from sweat and deodorant!

  • I’m really scared of handwashing vintage clothes, with the exception of cotton, polyester and vintage lingerie made of artificial silk. I dry-clean almost everything I own. I found an excellent dry cleaner who knows how to handle vintage garments.
  • I only ever handwash my precious vintage and contemporary lingerie in Eucalan liquid detergent.

DISCLOSURE: As of October 2021, (I published this article in 2017!) I’m part of an affiliate program, and I get a small commission for purchases made through links in this post. That’s how I keep my website alive, for which I’m very grateful to you. All opinions expressed here are mine! 

Shop My Favourite Eucalan!

 

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.

  • Kleinert, the inventor of the 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 the 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 ad from the 30s and the only reason why I know for sure, that mine is from the late 60s is because of the RN (Registered Identification Number) on the label.                                                                                                                                                                     
Kleinert's dress shield
Picture of the 1960s Kleinert’s dress shield I bought on Etsy. How to take care of vintage clothes!


Learn How to Date Vintage Clothes

 

  • I spoke to Kleinert’s owner, who kindly let me use the company’s vintage ads on my blog. He informed me, that many of the camisoles, sold by Kleinert’s today have not changed in their designs since the 1960s. I haven’t purchased anything from the company as yet but if their contemporary products are as good as the vintage ones I will definitely let you know about it!
Kleinerts_vintage_ad
On the left: Kleinert’s advertisement from the 1950s. On the right: Kleinert’s advertisement from the 1920s-1930s.
Kleinerts_vintage_ad
How to take care of vintage clothes
how to take care of vintage clothes
In the picture on the right; is Kleinert’s ad from the April 29, 1940 issue of Life. In the picture on the left; is Kleinert’s ad for dress shields from 1923.

Best Detergent for Delicates & Washable Vintage Clothes

How to wash vintage clothes

Eucalan is my favourite detergent for lingerie and washable vintage garments!

Related: How to Wash Vintage and Contemporary Lingerie!


Shop My Favourites!


If you enjoy reading my articles, please consider donating to my book fund. Thank you!

Dominique x


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8 Comments
  • Alison Cloonan
    October 24, 2023

    What a great post, defo going to check out the fuse it powder, some great tip here, thank you.

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      October 25, 2023

      Thank you so much! The Fuse It Powder is a lifesaver for those of us with no mending skills. However, it takes some practice to get the powder amount right at first.

  • JAMES W TAYLOR
    October 5, 2021

    Very informative. Thanks.

  • Sam Hooper
    October 2, 2020

    Really cool read, I will pass this along to my friends @slothshackvintage!

  • Dee
    August 25, 2017

    Great advice!!! People spend such good money on vintage, but quite a few don’t understand the proper maintenance for it, especially storage and cleaning. I have a love affair with acid free paper, and ditched all hangers to store everything this way. It’s nice to not have have as many unexpected “surprises” when selecting something I haven’t worn in a bit. Another tip from an extreme neurotic such as myself is to shuffle your favorite woolens into the freezer for 72 hours at a time to kill off any potential moth larvae. I live a place where moths are a real problem almost all year round, and will even get into drycleaned garments, so I am pretty protective of my winter pieces.

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      August 26, 2017

      Thank you Dee!
      My best friend from NYC used to have a serious problem with bed bugs and the only way she saved her clothes was by storing them in a freezer for 48 hours! I’m very curious how different fabrics react to very low temperature! Dx