Fashion Conservatory Guide to Owning & Caring for Vintage Fashion

Caring for Vintage

Pass it On:
Proper care, handling and storage of vintage items is incredibly important to their longevity. Caring for your items responsibly can increase the likelihood that they are usable for decades to come. Let’s preserve these treasures for the next generation of vintage lovers!

Never store your items in airtight containers. Materials need to breathe and storing in airtight containers or bags can cause or speed up deterioration. Do not store in areas with direct sunlight, extreme heat or moisture. Air quality in the storage location is important, clothing may pick up odors and could get moldy if the air is damp.

Storing with cedar or lavender can help moth abatement, but do not store furs with anything scented. Furs will absorb the scent and it cannot be removed. 

Never, ever use wire hangers or hang knits. When you get your items home from the dry cleaner, change the hanger immediately. Wire hangers can cause irreparable damage over time. Heavy items should be hung on wide shouldered hangers whenever possible. Knits should not ever be hung. They can get shoulder damage in just a few hours and the weight of them hanging can cause the knit to warp out of shape or stretch. Knits should be kept in drawers or on shelves.

Most vintage clothing will not hold up in a modern washing machine or clothes dryer. Hand washing, dry cleaning, and spot cleaning are the typical methods used for laundering vintage items. The general rule is that if a garment has embellishments, beading, sequins, appliqués, is made of silk, rayon, velvet or has a lining, it should go to the dry cleaner. Furs and leathers need a specialty dry cleaner. We will be providing extensive resources regarding caring for and cleaning vintage in the future. Until then, please keep in mind that what works for one garment may not work for another. Dyes are not always colorfast and some textiles will shrink up to the size of doll clothes when wet. Do your research and clean your items with care.

A Gentle Reminder

Materials Degrade:
Both natural and man made fibers will deteriorate over time. Vintage clothing wearers are familiar with the practice of keeping safety pins, sewing kits and even back-up outfits on hand for accidental blow-outs. Vintage sellers are not necessarily wearing the garments they sell and cannot be held responsible for problems that occur when the item is used. There is always a risk of damage when wearing clothing, but, with vintage fashions, it’s important to remember that the older the item, the more delicate it is. The more delicate the item, the greater the risk of damage. Proper care, handling and storage of vintage items can prevent some degradation, but not all.

Seam Splits:
Seams splits can be the result of old or damaged thread, heavy use, or a garment being worn too tightly. If the thread has deteriorated (thread rot) seams can be pulled apart easily, at this point we recommend having all seams resewn, just to be safe!

Rips & Tears:
Rips or tears can happen when a garment is worn too tightly or when it is not treated carefully. As a rule of thumb, assume that the older the garment, the more fragile it is. Garments made pre 1960 should be worn with appreciation and consideration of their age. Garments older than 1940 should be worn with extreme care due to their very delicate nature. 

Dyes & Fading:
The dyes used in vintage clothing can often be unstable. Improper storage and/or care can result in fading, bleeding and/or textile deterioration. It is not uncommon for heavy fading to occur in garment linings or in items exposed to sunlight or ventilation drafts. Make sure to apply all hairspray and perfume before getting dressed. The chemicals and acids in spray-on products can cause older textiles and dyes to fade, bleach and/or deteriorate. Some dyes will damage textiles over time and one color in a print may be more unstable or delicate than others. This can result in the textile itself getting holes in certain colors, but not others.

Elastic has been around for decades, but it doesn’t always last for decades. Expect that older elastic will lose its stretch and need to be replaced at some point. Many sellers will replace damaged elastic while the garment is in their care, but others may sell as is. Any current elastic issues will be noted within the listing, but please be aware that elastic can fail at any time.

Textile thinning and wear:
Garments can have thin areas in the textile from use. This is not always obvious upon inspection and may not be noted in the listing. Elbows, knees, armpits, areas under belts, pocket edges and cuffs are all prime locations for thinning textiles. Be aware and use care when wearing garments with thinning areas, armpits, elbows and knees, may be delicate and could split when wearing. Any visible or obvious thinning or wear to textiles will be noted in the listing.

These guys deal with a lot of stress! Make sure they are tight and ready to go before each wear. Carry a large safety pin in a pocket or purse in case a button pops off while wearing. Older buttons may also crack or break. Keep in mind that buttons may need to be removed before dry cleaning. It is not unusual for garments with fancy buttons to have them pinned on instead of sewn on. This allows for quick removal and reattachment when dry cleaning. 

Rhinestones & Embellishments:
Rhinestones and other gem-like adornments may lose shine or change color as they age. If they are prong set, the prongs may damage the textile over time. Glue-on rhinestones, gems, sequins, glitter or other embellishments are subject to the strength and age of the glue. As the glue deteriorates, the embellishments may fall off. If they fall, try to collect them. In most cases, the glue-on embellishments can be reattached.

Gelatin Sequins:
Older sequins are often made of gelatin. If you get them wet or steam them, they will melt! There are a couple of ways to test if the sequin is gelatin. You can remove a sequin and put it in warm water, if it melts it’s gelatin. You can dampen the tip of your finger and touch the sequin, if it’s sticky, it’s likely gelatin.

Beading & Sequins:
Items that are heavily beaded or sequined may have a few loose or missing beads or sequins that are not mentioned. Beads & sequins can get loose, damaged or lost due to the stress of shipping. They can also get tarnished, lose color and degrade over time. This is typical with these types of garments and to be expected. Any significant issues will be noted in the listing. 

As time passes, products can degrade. This is especially true of the components used to make and hold shoes together. Shoes must handle a great deal of stress when worn. With vintage shoes soles can crack, split or separate, heel caps break and fall off, leathers can tear, thread can break, shoelaces can snap, and glues can and will lose their adhesive properties. A good cobbler will be able to fix many, but not all, of these issues. It’s always a good idea to take vintage shoes to a cobbler to check and reinforce the soles prior to wearing them. 

Moth Damage:
The dreaded moth, destroyer of fine woolens. Many vintage garments will have moth damage. Some issues, like moth holes, will be obvious to the seller and will be noted in the listing. You may also see notes like “moths have nibbled at the nap” meaning there is some damage to the surface of the textile, but not a hole through the textile. There is other moth damage that may not be visible until after wearing or cleaning. The stress of wearing, dry cleaning, or hand washing a garment can reveal damage that was previously not visible. Moth holes can often be rewoven by a professional or darned at home.

A few vintage garments may have an odor that is noted in the listing. Sometimes, garments will smell just fine until the scent gets “activated” with a bit of body heat or steam. This can be a frustrating experience, but not an uncommon one with seasoned vintage owners. If you’re wearing your item for a few hours and start to notice a smell, you’re not alone. It can be anything from perfume to mildew and it’s always frustrating. Even items that have been dry cleaned can react this way, certain fabrics just hold on to scents. There are many ways to remove these odors from fabrics, but usually a good airing out will do the trick. Sometimes it takes more drastic measures. We will go over this in detail when we add our laundering resources; they’re coming soon!

Deterioration, Shattering & Dry Rot:
All textiles, leathers and furs can deteriorate and that decline can be accelerated with improper storage techniques. Sun damage, water damage, mold, fabric dyes, sweat, make-up, hair products, perfume, lotions, oils, food stains, improper storage, storing while dirty, and many other things can lead to textile degradation. Most items with obvious deterioration problems will not be sold and if they are being sold for study or pattern, the damage will be noted. However, these issues are not always obvious, visible or even active. Sometimes items will only present a problem when you wash, dry clean, wear or use them. It’s a heartbreaking experience when an item falls apart, but it is the nature of dealing with older materials. All things die eventually. 

Textiles, especially natural fibers, can deteriorate to the point where they start breaking or shattering. Once this process begins, proper storage can slow, but not stop the continued degradation. Sometimes the item is still strong enough to wear, use carefully or temporarily stabilize, but the process cannot be reversed and the textile will continue to degrade over time. When the process advances enough that the item can no longer be used as intended, it can still be displayed or studied. Eventually the textile will disintegrate completely and even the tiniest amount of stress will cause it to tear or shatter. It can get so bad that even the act of touching it will turn it to dust on your fingertips. This is most common in 19th and very early 20th century items, but it has also been witnessed in more modern items that were stored improperly. Sellers will note if an item has any obvious signs of deterioration in the listing. 

When fur or leather has not been stored properly it can begin to deteriorate. Fur will lose its shine, start shedding, and eventually the pelts or leather will start tearing. There is no remedy for this. Depending on the garment type and style, deteriorating fur and leather items can typically be worn with care for quite some time after the process begins. Again, proper storage can slow the process, but it cannot be reversed.