So, you bought some wonderful vintage treasures that you can’t wait to wear. You got them home and now you are wondering how to best look after them so that you can carry on enjoying them for many years to come? Worry not, here are our top tips on how to care for your vintage!
Storing your vintage treasures correctly is important for keeping them in tip top condition. First things first, make sure you store your clothing out of direct light, especially sunlight, to avoid areas of fade and in a dry place so that you don’t end up with damp or mould. There are a few other crucial things to consider:
- To hang or not to hang, that is the question!
When considering whether to hang your vintage, it is important to look at the fabric. Knitwear (1930s knit sets and beaded sweaters, we are looking at you!) can stretch and warp if stored on a hanger and delicate fabrics such as chiffons, georgette and silk can be easily damaged. Some older pieces such as those stunning beaded 1920s dresses are so heavy that the weight of the beadwork can easily warp, or worse tear, the shoulders of the often delicate base fabric. All of these pieces would be better stored carefully folded between sheets of acid free tissue paper to preserve them. Regardless of fabric, if there is any obvious wear, shattering or tearing in the should area, we would never advise putting these pieces on a hanger before these areas have been stabilised and reinforced.
- Not all hangers are created equal
You have decided that it’s safe enough to store your treasure on a hanger, but make sure you don’t squish them onto the rail. Clothing hung too tightly together can easily be torn when pulling it out or even marked simply by hanging next to another garment (have you ever seen the impressions left on velvet from being next to a beaded piece for example?).
And then there is the minefield that is hangers…there are so many different options, it’s hard to know which is best to choose! Metal dry cleaning hangers, throw them out right now, they are the devil. Not only are they far too thin to support the shape of your garment, they can also cause tearing and rust staining to the shoulders!
You likely have some of the plastic hangers you see in retail stores. They are not hideous, but probably best to keep them for your modern garments as they can have some rough edges that could catch and can break and splinter easily. There are some heavy duty plastic hangers that are great, but make sure they are perfectly smooth, ideally with rubber sections to prevent slipping.
One of the most useful options for vintage are the flocked velvet hangers. They are an affordable option that is gentle on your pieces and ensure they don’t slip off the hanger and end up in a pile on the bottom of your wardrobe. They are however quite thin, which is space saving for sure but make sure that doesn’t trick you into hanging them too closely together. They are also not particularly suitable for heavier items such as coats and suits. Wooden hangers or the heavy duty plastic ones are much more suitable for those heavier items.
And then there are the specialists, beautiful covered silk hangers. These are often pricy but a luxurious addition to your wardrobe and particularly suited for the more delicate pieces such as rayons and crepes.
- There is an enemy in our midst
You have taken care to store your pieces carefully, but when you take them out of the wardrobe, every collector’s worst nightmare strikes…the tell tale holes and chews of the winged devils…moths! Vintage garments are often made of natural materials making them more delicious for these little critters, so we need to be extra vigilant as vintage collectors.
But worry not, there are a number of things you can do to give you the upper hand against these evil creatures:
- Try to buy your pieces from reputable sellers, who will likely be at least as careful, if not more so than you will to prevent moth infestation. For example, we inspect, quarantine and steam all pieces before they are available for sale.
- Inspect any new pieces you bring into the house carefully. Check in the not so obvious places too, inside pockets and linings as well as inside the inner band of hats are popular hiding places that often go unchecked.
- Ideally then quarantine the piece for a period of time in case there are unhatched moths present. If you have the space in your freezer, wrap them in a zip lock bag (most of our pieces ship in these) and put them in the freezer for a minimum of two weeks. Ensure that the garment is completely dry before putting your piece away in the wardrobe.
- You should move and check your collection for any signs of moths regularly, ideally monthly to give you an early warning system.
- There are many moth prevention methods, which have varying levels of effectiveness and toxicity (mothballs, cedar, lavender, moth paper, moth spray, pheromone traps, smoke bombs), but personally, we prefer pheromone traps as an early warning system and moth paper as an excellent preventative. There are many great products out there and we would advise you to do some research to see what is most suitable for you.
- If you are storing your winter knits away over summer, be extra vigilant, as these can quickly become all you can eat moth buffets. Ideally try to store these between sheets of acid free tissue paper in vacuum sealed bags to keep the critters out. These are also an excellent space saving solution, but I would still inspect them regularly.
As most vintage was tailored to the original wearer, some pieces may require alterations to fit you perfectly. Most pieces will have generous hems and seam allowances (certainly substantially larger than modern garments), so it is often possible to lengthen or let out pieces for a better fit. However, to help you preserve the value of your vintage, here are a few tips for alterations:
- Make sure they are reversible – if you are shortening something or taking it in, please, please, please do not cut the fabric but fold it up instead so that the garment’s future owner can undo the alteration if they need to.
- Understand the techniques and materials used in the period that the garment was originally made in and mirror these. For example, pre-1950s vintage does not tend to have back zippers, but instead fastens at the side with either a zipper, or for pre-1940s pieces more frequently poppers of hooks. Hems are usually sewn by hand rather than machine. When making alterations, use the same techniques to preserve the garment’s character, replace broken metal zippers with either original or, if need be, replacement metal zippers rather than plastic ones. I implore you, never use hemming tape to shorten something, it is a nightmare to remove!
- If you do not have the skill to make these alterations yourselves, make sure you find a competent seamstress or tailor who is experiences in working with vintage garments (or at the very least wedding dress alterations, as these use many of the same detailed techniques).
Copyright © Marie-Christin Coomber, July 2022
Picture of moths courtesy of the English Heritage website
Please note that the above tips are based on our personal experience in handling and storing garments and do not constitute care instructions for any pieces purchased. We are not trained textile conservators and make no guarantee whatsoever as to the appropriateness and effectiveness of the information contained within this article. It is almost impossible to give proper advice without handling a garment in person and we would caution you to seek professional advice on storing and preserving your garments.