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Fashion Vintage

How to Care for your Vintage Clothes

February 2, 2022

Owning a wardrobe full of vintage clothes is a wonderful thing. Each items tells it’s own little story, a history that most of the time we will never know. I love looking at my vintage clothes and remembering where I found them. Nothing beats that feeling of spotting something gorgeous and then realising that not only do you love it, but it’s also your size. Each of my vintage pieces is precious to me and I love wearing them, styling them and of course looking after them.

Vintage clothes often require a little extra care, unlike fast fashion these are not throw away items to be discarded when we no longer want them. We need to use them, look after them and treat them like the little pieces of fashion history that they are. Today I thought I’d share some of the ways I take care of my vintage clothes, to make them last as long as I possibly can and get as many wears out of them as possible.

When they first arrive

When a new vintage item comes into my home I always make sure to check it over and do any maintenance I can before putting it with my other clothes. Things like checking for smells, pests, damage and dirt are essential. One of the advantages of buying from a vintage dealer is that they’ve usually done all this for you, but I often buy things that need a lot of work and it’s really important to make sure you sort out any problems before putting things near your other clothes.

Preventing Moths and Other Clothes Eating Pests

Don’t let this put you off buying vintage, but it’s always worth being aware that some clothes, mostly wool, can bring problems such as clothes moths and carpet beetles. The main way I prevent any problems is to freeze any woolen items that come home with me. I just wrap them up in a plastic bag and leave them in the freezer for a few weeks, this gets rid of moths and their eggs. Once they’re out of the freezer I give them a really good hand wash and they’re good to go. I’ve managed to never have any of my vintage wool eaten by moths so I’ve been very lucky. You can also deter pests with cedar blocks, herbs such as lavender and rosemary and if you already have moths in your home a pheromone trap will help. Every six months or so I take everything out of my wardrobe and hoover it and give it a good clean, I also check all my clothes for any signs of moths, luckily this has worked very well for me so far and none of my precious vintage has ever been nibbled.

Repairing Damage

Vintage clothes sometimes have small areas of damage, so I always check over my new clothes to see if they need any repairs. It’s usually very small things like sewing up a weak seam, re-hemming or sewing on a missing button, anything more than this and I’d consider it a big restoration job and it would inevitably get left in my large repair pile for a few months! It usually takes me able half an hour to do minor repairs on a piece of vintage and once it’s done the piece has a new life and after being cleaned is good to go for many more years. You only need a basic sewing kit with some needles and thread, some pins and a few spare button, snap fastenings and hooks and eyes to do small fixes. You also don’t need to be a talented seamstress as most repairs are very simple and don’t require much skill. There are some great videos with tips for things like hemming dresses on Youtube.

Removing Stains

If a quick wash won’t cut the mustard and there are stains, don’t give up hope. Oxy cleaners are my best friends when it comes to vintage. I always have a pot of oxygen cleaner for colours and for whites. For more severe stains I usually soak the items for a few hours with plenty of oxygen cleaner. I’ll then either hand wash the item, or use the hand wash setting on my washing machine depending on how delicate the item is. I also find hanging my clothes out in the sun helps to fade the stains a little. It’s worth being cautious hanging vintage in the sun as it can make the fabric fade too, but usually a couple of hours on the line won’t do any harm. Some stains will fade even more in the wash over time, but often a small faint stain won’t notice and I’d just wear a piece of clothing anyway.

Gentle Washing

As I mentioned above I either wash my vintage clothes by hand or on a hand wash cycle in my washing machine. I always wash anything new that I’ve bought as you don’t really know where it’s been and it’s nice to give things a freshen up. Some vintage clothes will benefit from a good soak before washing just to get rid of any stubborn dirt and smells. It’s worth stocking up on oxygen cleaner, delicate and wool wash detergents, colour catchers to avoid colour runs, and laundry bags to put fragile items inside in the machine. Choose the right cleaning products for your items and it’s always best to be cautious and hand wash if you’re not sure on the fabric. I wash everything in machine at 30º, as it’s better for the planet.

Getting Rid of Smells

Sometimes vintage can have a bit of a nasty musty smell to it, which can be hard to shift. If I can get all the scent out in the wash or the item is dry clean only, I always use vodka! This tried and tested method really works. I fill a spray bottle with vodka and spray it all over the garment, the vodka evaporates away taking the smell with it. It doesn’t damage the garment or leave any alcohol smell behind. I’ll usually hang the garment to air for a few days and then give it a very thorough steam with ironing water to get into all the fibres and freshen it up even more. This usually works a treat.

Ironing and Steaming

Once my new to me vintage is repaired and all clean I always give it an iron or a steam, so it’s ready to wear. I always use ironing water in my steamer and iron as I love the fragrance and it’s better for your appliances. I’ll then hang it in my wardrobe, anything containing wool will have a cedar block or lavender bag hung on the hanger as an extra deterrent for pests.

Removing Bobbles

Don’t give cup on bobbly vintage knits. Investing in a good bobble remover will breath new life into even the tattiest old knits. It’s super satisfying as well! Mine cost about £10 from Argos and I use it all the time to keep my knits in tip top condition.

I’m mindful of not putting you off buying vintage, so although this seems like a long list, most vintage clothing just needs a quick wash and it’s good to go. Also if you’re buying from a vintage seller, they’ve usually already done all this for you. I spend lots of time looking after the clothes for my shop before they go on sale. Make sure you always check listings as they’ll usually describe any damage so you know exactly what to expect. 

Maintaining Your Vintage Clothes

Once you’ve got your new clothes in tip-top condition and you’re ready to start wearing and enjoying them, it’s all about maintaining them and keeping them in good condition. Here are some of the ways I keep my vintage clothes safe and ready to wear.

Only wash when dirty

One of the things that shortens the life of clothing the most is washing them too often. I always make an effort to only wash my clothes when they really need it. It also saves me a lot of work too. As I mentioned above I choose the right detergents and wash cycle for the garment and I wash delicate items in laundry bags, this really does make a big difference to the life of your clothes

Air dry

I try to avoid putting my clothes in the dryer and either hang them to dry outside on the line if the weather is nice or hang them up in doors to dry. This stops them shrinking and is just gentler on the fabric making them last so much longer. It’s also a great way of saving electricity.

Store Carefully

I hang most of my clothes up in my wardrobe on thin velvet hangers, so I can fit as many things in as possible. Delicate items and things that might lose their shape are kept folded up in drawers. The most important thing is to keep them out of sunlight so they won’t fade and to make sure you are deterring moths. If you’ve had clothes dry cleaned try not to store them in the plastic and let them breath.

Keep your wardrobe clean

Every few months I take everything out and check it over before returning it to a clean wardrobe. I also find this a great opportunity to remove anything that I don’t love any more or I’m not really wearing, so I can send it to a new home where it can loved again. I always give every corner of the wardrobe a good hoover and wipe down and check for any signs of moths. Any problems are always best caught early. I’ve been very lucky to never have a moth problem, but I do know people who have lost lots of beautiful clothing to hungry little critters. This doesn’t just apply to vintage, moths will munch on new clothes too!

Keep on top of repairs

Inevitably all our clothes can get damaged with wear, loose buttons or have stitches come loose. It’s good to get into the habit of repairing this as and when you need to, so you can keep wearing them.

It’s worth noting that pre fast fashion, clothes were made to last. You’ll often notice how well constructed vintage clothing is and often how much better quality the materials are. I have lots of very old vintage clothes which are still in great condition and very hardy. Some of my 50s cotton dresses have survived 70 years, various owners and I’ve worn and washed them numerous times and they’re still in great condition. So many old vintage clothes have more life in them than brand new high street items.

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful and if there’s anything you’d like to add please do in the comments. I’m always learning when it comes to caring for my vintage clothes.

For more post on vintage fashion, check to the Fashion section of the blog.

If you’re looking for some lovely new additions to your vintage wardrobe or jewellery box, check out all the latest arrivals in The Vintage Frills Shop, I have added so much lovely stuff this week!

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