Thursday, June 3, 2010

Guide for Caring for Your Vintage Clothing- UPDATED: 6-4-10

This is me in Vegas at the Venetian in March 2010. I am wearing a basic black Stop Staring dress and a 50s vintage black velvet swing coat. It was actually chilly there! I was quite surprised!
I wore my black velvet coat a lot during my 4 day trip and I even got some mystery stain on it, which was annoying to say the least. When I returned home, I promptly took it to the dry cleaners.

Like many of you ladies, I wear vintage daily and we all know vintage clothing requires special care. I have created a vintage clothing care guide based on my personal experiences. I hope you find this list/guide helpful and if you have any questions, suggestions, or thoughts, please feel free to share! I love comments!

Anyway, without further ado, here are some tips:

Rayon, velvet, polyester, silk, polished cotton, gabardine, wool, crepe, crepe de chine, satin, chiffon, cotton blends, and taffeta are all fabrics that require dry cleaning. Do not, under any circumstances, try to wash or care for items made from these materials. Water WILL ruin them!

Say it is the end of the day and you are removing your vintage clothes. If the item can be worn again, simply turn it inside out and hang on a good quality hanger so it can breathe. This helps remove any smells from the day. I will sometimes apply one light spray of Febreze on the inside of the underarm area to prevent any odor (do this when the item is inside out). Even though I wear an antiperspirant/deodorant, natural odor can still occur.

If you get a stain on your vintage dry clean item, you try to remove it right away. Do not put clothing away that has a stain because it can set in even worse. I have had much success with Dryel cleaning solution. This comes in the Dryel kit. However, given the sensitive nature of silks, I would not use this product. Instead, take silks to to the cleaners as soon as you can. I am not saying you have to rip the item off and race over to the cleaners in your underwear! Taking a soiled silk item to the cleaners the next day is usually sufficient.

As for Dryel, in order to get the stain off, try to blot most of it off using clean, soft cloth. Do not rub, blot! On a clean section of your cloth, apply a few drops of Dryel and gently blot soiled area until stain has lifted. If the stain is still present or has only lifted slightly, I recommend taking item to the cleaners.

For those vintage girls like myself who wear Stop Staring clothing, I have found that using the Dryel solution for spot stain treatment is not only effective, it does not cause any damage to the fabric.

When it comes to caring for basic cottons like sundresses for house dresses, hand wash using Dreft or Ivory Snow is best. Cold water is ideal. Wash per manufacturer's directions. Be sure to rinse completely and then lay item out on a clean towel and then hang to air dry once damp. I know it is tempting, but do not put washables in the washing machine. Vintage clothing is old and as a result, can have weaker areas. Modern machines can be quite rough so it is best to hand wash!

When caring for cardigans or sweaters, you can use Dryel or you can simply take it to the cleaners. I do not like putting cotton/water-safe cardigans and/or sweaters in the wash nor do I like hand-washing because they can become misshapened. Moreover, if your vintage cardigan is made with any embellishments like beading or sequins, take it to the cleaners. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Vintage lingerie made from silks, rayon, or poly blends should only be dry cleaned! However, girdles like those made my Rago can hand washed. I hand wash my Rago items all the time and I have not experienced any negative results thus far. Dreft and Woolite are amazing for shapewear.

When it comes to cleaning silk/nylon stockings, hand washing is best. Some companies make lingerie and stocking wash. I simply use a small amount of liquid mixed with cold water. When washing, I wear latex gloves to prevent my nails from snagging the delicate material. I also wear latex gloves when putting my stockings on. No matter how smooth my hands are, I usually snag an area of my stockings!

When caring for jackets and coats, dry cleaning is best. At the onset of the colder months, I usually take my outwear to the cleaners and if I find myself wearing a particular item a lot, I will have it cleaned again a month or two later. Should you get a stain, try to spot-clean using the appropriate method, or you can take it to the cleaners.

On the occasion I need to iron my vintage, I always consider the fabric! Now, most irons have a visual guide on them detailing which heat levels corresponds to specific fabric types. For example, most cottons and linens can be on the middle to higher settings (and some can even use the steam setting), while synthetics and blends usually require lighter/cooler settings.

Stretch polyester and gabardine (ie Stop Staring dresses) should be ironed on the lowest setting and to further safeguard the fabric, I usually place a clean, cloth napkin between the iron and the fabric itself. This will help prevent iron marks and even melting. The cloth napkin method is vital when ironing extremely sensitive fabrics like silks, velvet, and satin! If you do not shield the iron from these fabrics, they will be ruined!

Remember, synthetics do not like heat, so ALWAYS keep the iron on its low setting and depending on the fabric, use a cloth napkin! If not, your dress/blouse/skirt/pants will melt! I once made a huge iron mark on the front of a black Stop Staring dress! The heat was way too high and as soon as I pressed the iron directly down on the fabric, presto! A nice, ugly v-mark appeared on my dress!

Again, most vintage items should either be dry cleaned or hand-washed. Hang clothing after wearing, and be sure to treat stains promptly and properly. When it comes to ironing, do so carefully and read the guide on the iron.

When we give our vintage clothing the best care possible, it will last even longer and look great for many more years to come!


  1. Wow. This is such a good, informative post. Thank you so much. I wish I read this before I stuck a 1940s crepe dress in the washer/dryer. What a DUMB!!!!! Luckily the dress still fits, but it's much tighter.

  2. Mary,

    Thank you so much for your comment and compliment! I once put a pair of crepe pants in the washer and when I pulled them out, they were basically destroyed. I was so angry at myself. I told my mom what happened and she informed me that most man-made fabrics, ie synthetics do not like water! I learned my lesson for sure!

    I am glad your dress is okay, albeit a little smaller. I wish I could have said the same for my poor, mangled pants!

  3. Hi, great post but I have a bit of a situation that maybe you can help me with.. I bought a 1937 silk satin champagne gown for my wedding. My step-mother is altering it for me but I'm having panic attacks about getting it cleaned once she's finished. She tested one piece of scrap and it just disintegrated! Do you know of any trusted cleaners specializing in vintage clothes? I'm very willing to travel up to a few hrs if need be. It's not in terrible condition,if I had to I suppose I could just steam it but I think the color would be much better with a cleaning. Thanks so much! ~ Amy

  4. Just read your bio and noticed your a makeup artist! My wedding is in Oct and we still haven't found someone...I have to admit I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my makeup and would do it myself if only I thought I could keep it together on my wedding day;) Our wedding isn't a theme but it will be an Old Hollywood glamour vibe. We both had our makeup done at MAC recently to find someone but she just lacked the detail we both want (our lashes were clumpy and not separated) I would love to meet with you if this is something you would be interested in! Thanks again~ Amy