Vintage clothing care tips
How to take care of your vintage clothes, protecting those delicate fabrics that have lasted so beautifully all these decades.
There are few events quite as glorious as the moment you unearth the perfect vintage dress in a dark, messy secondhand shop. Every vintage find is a conquest in its own right; it is unique and precious. The tragedy of vintage clothes lies in the fact that they are already old, and sometimes rather weather-beaten. »But… but… I want to wear my 40s cardigan until I die,« I hear you scream in anguish. Read on, because there are ways to make your vintage treasures last longer.
Vintage garments are not happy if they are constantly exposed to the joys of the washing machine. In fact, it is best if you always hand-wash vintage garments.
Use lukewarm water and a mild detergent. If you’d like to get rid of stains, let the item soak in soapy water for ten minutes. Be careful as this doesn’t apply to wool. Woolen garments will shrink when soaked for a long time. While washing, pat and gently squeeze the fabric but don’t rub sections of the garment against each other as that can discolour the cloth or make it fray. Afterwards, rinse thoroughly with cold water until it runs clear. If you’re washing something you’ve only just bought, several rounds of soapy water might be needed – some clothes collect dust in vintage shops for a long time before somebody scoops them up.
In the past, clothes were not cleaned as often as they are now. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself if your vintage garments really, really, really need washing. Sometimes it’s better to air them for a few hours and remove stains with a soft damp cloth.
It is not particularly nice to tumble dry vintage garments, it makes delicate stitching wonky and destroys some types of fabric. Spin drying is evil too. Some garments might survive tumble drying but I’d rather not plunge into the depths of probability. Better safe than sorry, n’est ce pas?
Wringing can damage vintage items, but you can squeeze out (some) water without rolling the fabric. Once you’ve done that, wrap the garment in a clean towel and pat gently. Remove the towel, hang the garment and leave it to dry. Padded hangers are very useful as they prevent stretching. If you’re in a hurry, use a hairdryer, then let the garment air for a while. Avoid hanging vintage items in direct sunlight as it can turn some white fabrics yellow. A very ugly yellow.
When you decide you won’t wear a garment for some time, fold it and place it in a bag. Avoid plastic bags – bags made of soft fabrics are much better as they allow the garment to breathe. You can use mothballs (indeed, it is advisable!) but make sure they’re not touching the fabric. If you want your stored garments to smell nice, slip a perfumed sachet in the bag. I’m always surprised when I take out my winter clothes after a long summer and discover that they smell of roses.