Style

How to Make Your Vintage Wardrobe Last a Lifetime

Preserve your treasures from the past and they’ll look just as great in the future.

Care

kitties

Be careful about ironing vintage clothing. It’s generally OK to do with cotton, but to be on the safe side, always lay a durable protective cloth between the clothing and the iron so you’re not exposing your precious finery to direct heat, the mortal enemy of fragile fabric. Ironing older silk or wool is risky, so if it gets wrinkly, you’ve got a few choices: You can use a steamer, if you have one, on the gentlest setting. You can hang the garment in the bathroom when you take a hot shower. (Some materials, like rayon, need to be steamed inside out, so do a quick Google search before you and your skirt get in the bathroom.) Sometimes I spread my old clothes out between two clean sheets and lay the whole deal under my mattress for a few days. I haven’t seen this method being recommended anywhere, but it’s definitely worked for me! Ir you can, if you’re very brave/reckless, try using an iron on the “silk” setting, with no steam. I personally never iron vintage silk or wool—I very occasionally take it to a dry cleaner. But repeated dry cleaning can wear out silk pretty quickly too, so my best advice is to be very careful with it, and don’t wear it every day.

The best way to prevent them sturdier materials like leather or vinyl from cracking is to use a special conditioner on them (here’s one for leather and one for vinyl). Start off with a small glob of your conditioner, rub it in thoroughly, and repeat a couple of times. For leather, doing this in two different rounds over a couple of days is a good idea—it gives the leather enough time to absorb the first layer of conditioner before you start on the second. The older the leather is, the more conditioner you’ll need, and while it won’t seal existing cracks, it will restore the piece’s suppleness and prevent further decay. Drying wet leather by exposing it to direct heat will crack it, so leave your newly moisturized cowhide in a warm room overnight, or as long as necessary to get rid of every last hint of moisture.

The single most important factor determining how long your vintage shoes will last is frequency of use. Shoes have to bear the full weight of your body and withstand repeated poundings on different hard surfaces, so older ones tend to be pretty beat-up to begin with. Unless your vintage footwear was made specifically to endure tough treatment (like Dr. Martens or other work boots), they can come apart quickly if you take them out on the town too often, so if you NEED to see them every day, you’re better off displaying them somewhere prominent in your room.

Repair

tropical

The thing with vintage clothing is that it’s not meant to look new and shiny—that’s what I find beautiful and unique about it to begin with, you know? It’s supposed to look worn-in and reflect the history it has lived through. Don’t throw away good clothes just because a seam is ripped or even because a button has popped off when you can add to that history by repairing them yourself!

You can test the integrity of a fabric by taking a section and pulling it gently in opposite directions, paying close attention to how the fibers are stretching. If they don’t seem to be in immediate danger of unraveling at your feet, go ahead and get to sewing. I don’t have a sewing machine, so when I hand-stitch tears or buttons on my vintage, I always use the smallest needles I can so I’m not gouging large holes in the fabric. If you’re repairing a seam, never sew along the old seam—your long-suffering jacket will just not be able to handle the stress if you try to revisit an already perforated spot.

Here’s a guide to some common mending tasks.

Storage

leopard

A short list of things that are very bad for clothes: dust, dampness, prolonged direct sunlight. Cottons, silks, and blends thereof are prone to wrinkling when they’re stored for long periods in cramped closets and can be hard to smooth out when ironing is not an option. The best way to store this stuff, especially if it’s fussily embroidered or beaded, is to hang it on a clothes rack in a garment bag. If garment bags sound expensive and finicky, it’s because they are! But you don’t need to spring for one: You can make your own cheap and effective garment bag by turning a garbage bag upside down and cutting a hole at the top for your hanger. However, if you want to pack something away for long-term storage—I’m talking years—fabric garment bags are the way to go because they’re a bit more durable and will let your clothes breathe a bit (but not too much!).

Some pieces shouldn’t be hung, though—old lace and delicate wool will stretch out from its own weight, so the best way to store it is to fold it gently, then place it somewhere without anything stacked on top, since pressure can cause folds to turn into permanent, fraying creases. When storing your polyester, just make sure it’s not in a ball in the spot behind your dresser where the cat likes to cough up hairballs sometimes. Actually, you know what? It’ll probably be fine no matter what. Polyester doesn’t care what you do to it, seriously. When it comes to leather and vinyl, atmosphere is the biggest issue to keep in mind. Mildew will rot these materials and heat will crack them, so store such pieces in a cool, dry place.

***

I can’t stress enough how much of a lifesaver these methods have been for the vintage pieces I love most. Preserving vintage is important to me because I want my clothes to to be more than something I just throw on every morning. I want to hear their stories and have other people listen, too! And taking care of these special and beautiful parts of my wardrobe ensures that they’ll continue to be heard for a good long time to come. I hope the same is true for you and yours! ♦

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22 Comments

  • Tara Warkentin December 19th, 2013 8:31 PM

    I have a beautiful cashmere sweater which is white and green…. It’s very special as it belonged to my great grandma…. BUT IT HAS AN AWFUL GREY STAIN! Any ideas, lovely Rookies???

    • Ragini December 20th, 2013 3:07 AM

      Oh noes, so sorry to hear that! If the stain is somewhere you can pin a brooch on, that’s the easiest way to hide it. Cashmere is really delicate, so stain remover would hurt it. I’d recommend it having it looked over professionally by a drycleaner who specialises in cleaning vintage clothes. The last option would be to dye the sweater if you are not hopelessly attached to the colour it has right now! These are just things I can think off the top of my head but I hope you can find something that works for you. Good luck!

  • AnaRuiz December 19th, 2013 8:39 PM

    Perfect timing for the beaut Levi’s I found last Saturday. :)

    http://anaruizwriting.blogspot.com

  • lauraunicorns December 19th, 2013 9:24 PM

    Really helpful! I love vintage, but I haven’t found much around where I live beyond the 80s. If any Rookies have suggestions for online places or good Etsy shops, I’d appreciate it!

    http://lauraunicorns.tumblr.com

    • Ragini December 20th, 2013 3:19 AM

      I’m currently obsessed with the Deargolden store on Etsy but they are pri-cey! Fabgabs and Dalena Vintage have been old favourites for a long time :)

      • lauraunicorns December 20th, 2013 10:47 PM

        Thank you! I’ll check them out!

    • wallflower152 December 20th, 2013 11:28 PM

      RivalryRetro.etsy.com

      #ShamelessSelfPromotion #UsingHashtagsOutOfTwitter

      I just listed some really cute lace collars.

  • Hecticglow December 19th, 2013 9:28 PM

    any advice on vintage furs?

  • kittyweasel December 19th, 2013 9:36 PM

    This is so helpful and the illustrations are darling!!

  • julalondon December 19th, 2013 11:17 PM

    I wear A LOT of vintage so this is really useful! Thank you!!=)

  • December 20th, 2013 4:46 AM

    I bought a (new) silk dress recently, but wore it to a ball and spilt red wine on it, so I decided to risk it and handwash it (I’m a poor student) The stain didn’t really come out, which I don’t mind that much, but the silk shrank a couple of inches, while the synthetic layer underneath didn’t, any tried and tested tips on how to deal with this? I’m a rookie when it comes to silk!

    • kendallpanda December 27th, 2013 8:03 PM

      Not certain about silk-specific things, but they say white wine helps get rid of the red wine stain! That might be pre-wash though? Sorry I’m not more helpful :) good luck
      xox

  • Jane-Eyre December 20th, 2013 5:27 AM

    Thanks so much, this is really helpful! And judging by your pictures I’d love to raid your wardrobe.. :)

  • Emmie December 20th, 2013 9:03 AM

    Thanks Ragini! As usual, you rock xoxoxo!!!

  • elliecp December 20th, 2013 11:00 AM

    this is actually really helpful! <3 thankyou :)

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • mangointhesky December 20th, 2013 2:49 PM

    I wasn’t a vintage person until I read this. Now, my wardrobe feels like it has to be re-created over the holidays!

    http://thebluepapaya.blogspot.com

  • Roothford December 20th, 2013 9:24 PM

    I live in a high humidity environment right off the coast & have found out that plastic garment storage is simply not an option. If you can’t afford garment bags, another plastic-free solution is to find an extra pillow case (100% cotton is best) and cut a small hole in the top seam for the hanger. I have a vintage dress that I’ve been storing in two pillow cases sewn together & it’s been working fabulously. If you live in a place with a significant amount of humidity, storing clothing in plastic over the years can discolor & age it even quicker.

    Also, I completely agree with the fact that synthetics like polyester are very durable, but I’ve found on too many occasions how badly synthetic fabric responds to high heat in dryers. I’ve gotten in the habit of never putting polyester rayon, etc. in the dryer on anything but low, or even better, hang drying always works.

    As I’ve found more & more wonderful vintage clothing over the years, I’ve also learned the value of hand washing & hang drying — I couldn’t agree more with Ragini’s reccommendation to do as such. I’ve found that the more I keep my favorite clothes away from machines, fabric softener, hot irons all while using gentle soaps & detergents, they won’t last forever, but they will certainly last much longer.

  • RubyintheRain December 21st, 2013 4:29 PM

    This is so useful and helpful! Thank you! x

    Ruby
    http://rubys-eyes.blogspot.com

  • shayelea December 21st, 2013 5:19 PM

    I’ve nearly ruined more than one vintage piece by hand washing in lukewarm water. Even fibers like rayon and polyester (!!!) can shrink if they are old and delicate enough. (I’m talking poly crepe, not jersey, because I agree that stuff is indestructible!) The rayon piece I was able to salvage by gently pulling it back into shape and size the entire time it was drying, and then eventually putting it on (!!!) and wearing it while it dried. (It sucked, I don’t recommend it.) The polyester piece, however, did not respond to such ministrations and is now simply quite short and a little smaller overall, which sucks because it used to fit me quite well and is now just a tetch tight.

    The moral of the story is that it’s often best to wash as infrequently as possible. I recommend dress shields (absorbent pads you stick in the armpits) and large napkins. :)

  • nocturnem December 22nd, 2013 2:53 PM

    I would avoid washing vintage in warm or lukewarm water unless the garment was very very filthy and one was a 100% sure that the fabric can stand it, otherwise there’s a risk the colors will bleed and the fabric will shrink. I handwash all my vintage in cold water with a mild soap for delicate clothing (like woolite), then hang dry or dry flat. If a dress is very, very wet, I’ll put it on top of a towel, roll the towel, and press. It doesn’t damage the clothes yet it works like wringing! Fabrics like taffeta, rayon, certain wools and silks, very delicate fabrics or beaded pieces are best sent to dry cleaners you trust or who have experience cleaning vintage. Also, some skirts and dresses from the early 60s and earlier have linings made of acetate, which will most likely shrink if you try washing it (I know that from experience…), so even if the outside fabric is washable, send it to the dry cleaners!

  • Raissomat December 23rd, 2013 10:32 AM

    I am surprised to admit the vintage part of my wardrobe is constantly growing. Wearing a long dark blue polka dot dress and a vintage marine Cacharel sweater right now. The sweater is all cotton but knitted and still fragile so I Wash it cold in a bra baggie (the ones that zip up and protect your garment). Tonight I will wear my mums 70′ suede pants, witch are very delicate and I take to the dry cleaners once a year. I have special leather spot cleaning tissues for other little accidents. Man do I love my vintage stuff..