Maintaining Your Vintage Wardrobe

Vintage is many things. On one side we love vintage because it’s unique, more flattering and of better quality than the majority of contemporary clothing on the store racks today.  However, vintage isn’t without its problems.  How many of us have suffered a stain or tear or lost a tap? Part of wearing vintage is maintaining your clothing to continue their longevity. So here are a few tips to help you keep that fantastic closet of yours looking good for years to come.

Have a Good Dry-Cleaner

Most vintage should really be dry-cleaned.  Especially 1940s crepe numbers and garments of matte satin.  But I also understand going to a dry-cleaner can be scary, after all you are handing over quite possibly some of your favorite garments to someone else to clean! To find a good dry-cleaner I recommend talking to vintage shops where you know they clean their garments prior to putting them out for sale or talking with a fellow vintage lover in your area.  I spoke to AlexSandra of AlexSandra’s Vintage Emporium about where she goes to have her garments cleaned, and she recommended Tip-Top Cleaners, which is now where I take everything.

Understand Hand-Washing

Some more delicate garments need to be hand-washed instead of washed in the machine, and a few can even be hand-washed instead of sent to the cleaners.  Depending on the amount of items I am washing, I will use either a small plastic tub or my bathtub. I put in a bit of Oxiclean, then pour in a small amount of Woolite, fill up the tub, then put in my garments, swishing them around or soak them.  Then I drain the tub, and refill it without any additives, swish the garments around a little more and leave them to soak, letting all of the soap bubbles rise out.  Then the garment is either hung up to dry or laid flat on a towel on the floor.  I hand-wash nearly all of my sweaters, my rayon blouses, vintage undergarments (including stockings), and fragile cottons (sturdy cottons can go in the machine).

Have a Good Cobbler

Most of use have lost a tap at some point in our lives. If you are unfamiliar with the term “tap” it is what the small tip is called on the heel of a shoe, often made of plastic.  Loosing a tap causes one to walk funny, ruin hardwood floors and snag fabric and carpet.  Taps can easily be replaced by a cobbler at a shoe repair shop and relatively inexpensive.  Especially since I doubt you would want to get rid of the shoe!  Often shoe repair shops can also do zipper repair, with respects to a zipper coming out of a purse or jacket and other types of purse repair.  Once again, a good way to find a reliable and well skilled cobbler is by asking vintage shop owners or fellow vintage lovers, or you can check out reviews on Yelp.

Know How to Sew or Have a Good Seamstress or Tailor

Okay, yes, we all like vintage because it is of superior quality to new garments, however, most of our garments are at least 40 years old! And they are still going to be fragile to a certain extent.  Seams pop and  buttons come off.  I know many of you already can sew up a storm, but a few of you may not even know how to thread a needle!  Knowing how to sew on a button or fix a popped seam is very important to keeping your wardrobe up to snuff.  Also, knowing how to work a sewing machine can help you along with you find a garment that you love, but it doesn’t fit quite right.  Additionally, knowing how to sew can open up a whole new world to you of sewing from vintage patterns!  Consider having knowledgeable friend come over or taking a sewing class to learn the basics.  However if you and a needle and thread simply don’t get along, look around for a good seamstress or tailor that you can take your garments to for repairs or reconstruction.  Additionally, as soon as you notice something is wrong with a garment, make sure you get it into a repair pile (for you or for your tailor or seamstress) straight away, instead of putting it back in your closet. This will prevent any further damage caused by wearing it in case you forget about the damage.  And like dry-cleaners and cobblers, you can ask around or search for someone on Yelp.

Store Your Garments Properly

The way your store your clothing can in fact have a severe impact on how long they last.  I have often gone to shops only to find that the way a garment has been hung and handled has destroyed it!  Most sweaters should be folded and stored in a dresser drawer. Hanging can cause the fabric to stretch and pull, and the sweater to lose its shape.  Fragile fabrics, such as dresses that use chiffon in the yoke area for a nude illusion, should be hung up on puffy, padded hangers such as these. These hangers help distribute the weight of the garment, causing less stress on the fabric in the shoulder area.  For the rest of my vintage, I use “velvet” hangers like these.  These non-slip hangers prevent garments from falling off and ending up in a rumpled heap at the bottom of your closet.  Also, plastic hangers can sometimes have flash on them, which can cause unwanted snags in your garments.  Additionally, the velvet hangers take up less room than plastic hangers!  Garment bags are a good idea for fragile, special and beaded garments.  But if possible, try to find or make a garment bag that is of linen instead of plastic. It will let the garment breathe better.  To those who adore the 1920s, it is often recommended that you do not hang your garments. In just a few years those garments are going to be, are you ready for it, one hundred years old! *GASP!* I know, it’s pretty scary.  So, instead of hanging, it is recommended that they should be stored as if being archived.  Use an acid free box, and line it with washed cotton muslin that is undyed.

I hope I have been of some help! And if I left anything out, don’t hesitate to ask! Or if you have anything to add, feel free to comment below and I’ll work it in!

16 thoughts on “Maintaining Your Vintage Wardrobe

  1. Can I add use liniers for your clothes – sewn og more modern paper ‘pads’ to attach to the armpits of your clothes – preventing sweat to get on the clothes; in the end saving you and your clothes a trip to the drycleaner and the wear and tear that comes with it (not to mention the money paid)

  2. Thanks for the tip on where to get ‘velvet’ hangers! I haven’t used them before. I was chatting to a dealer a while backwho pionted out how much less room they take up and I have meant to search for them ever since. I hear you about the shoe taps…I have recently lost three good pairs of shoes to the cobbler pile…waiting for the time and cash to get them fixed. xx Shauna

  3. Awesome post, dearie. I always make sure to check what any of my vintage clothing is made of so I know how to wash it, store it, and take care of it. You gave some really good points that are really important, like having a tailor – OMG such a difference! And having at least some sewing skills is super helpful. I’ve gotten some amazing dresses with little fixable flaws like armpit seam tears for pennies on the dollar – and that is a mad easy fix! A lot of people can just be lazy that way LOL. But the savings on dresses/separates like that can be incredible just from some teensy flaw – it’s just knowing the definition of a “teensy flaw” 🙂


  4. Excellent and advice and post, Janey. I usually try to mend any problems or launder my clothes as soon as possible if something happens to them, but a fallen hem, loose button, tiny stain, etc, can escape even the most diligent of us, so about two or three times I year, I set aside an hour or two and carefully go through all of the garments (plus hats, shoes and accessories) in my wardrobe to look for any that might be indeed of repair or cleaning. This is, I find, also a great time to weed out those that no longer fit, aren’t to your liking any more, etc.

    ♥ Jessica

  5. I couldn’t agree more in re to cobbler. Early last year I found a pair of vintage 40s shoes that were deadstock and FIT! While this alone was great, the glues had started to dry out and parts of the shoe were coming apart. I took them to my cobbler and ta- da I can wear them now. Too I tend to hand wash alot in my bathtub. Or not submerge
    the whole garment…and just spot clean.

  6. Wonderful post, very sound advice. For those keenly interested in preserving 1930s and older clothing, I recommend seeking out a class in costume/textile preservation from your local community college or university. Always handle older garments with clean white gloves (the same kind used for musical instrument handling, etc.) to prevent finger oils from transferring to the fabric. Oil attracts dirt and can gradually eat away at fibers! For woolen goods, invest in a cedar lined chest for storage to keep away those pesky moths, or tightly sealed plastic totes with plenty of cedar sachets thrown in. Acid-free tissue paper is also a good thing to use when folding up clothing for storage, use wads of it to puff up fold lines to avoid dry-rot or fading along the folds. Save up those little packets of silica from new shoes and other purchases to place into boxes as well, they soak up extra moisture in humid climates. Thanks again for this great post!

  7. This is a wonderful post. Full of helpful ideas and information. Tell me Janey, are you a seamstress? Most women today can’s sew a stitch to save themselves and wouldn’t know how to hand wash and iron. I wonder how many women out there still do their own repairs, and hand wash and iron. I have a great old ironing board, made of wood and is dated back to the thirties. Found it at Goodwill in downtown San Diego, CA; just as I have found a lot of vintage clothing stores in the North Park region of San Diego. I have been buying second hand for almost 20-30years, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • I don’t know if I should really grace myself with the title of seamstress quite yet. But I do enjoying sewing and have made several garments, however am not as skilled as I would like. So I think possibly “seamstress-in-training” would better describe me. A lot of other vintage lovers make their own garments too.

  8. I do spot cleans too (ugh, dry cleaning. There is never a conveniently located one). But my best investment was a clothes steamer – got it from a department store for $80 and I rarely have to head to the dry cleaners now!

  9. Your recommendations are wonderful. I am a professional seamstress (my atelier is inside a vintage store) and I am always giving advise to people on how to care for their garments. I am just amazed that soooo many ladies have never even thought about how to care for delicate items. Yes, by all means, vintage garment rehab is better done sooner than later.

  10. Hi there! I know this is an older post but was hoping for some advice or someone to point me in the right direction. I have a small vintage collection (mostly 70’s Gunne Sax dresses) and most of it I can easily clean or repair. The only piece I’m at a lost of how to clean and store is a 1930’s maribou feather cape that’s lined with what I think is satin. At the moment I have it on a plastic hanger in a cheap garment bag though I’m thinking of moving it to a padded hanger and maybe a nicer cloth garment bag. I know furs need to breath so I figured feathers probably do too. Unfortunately google has not yielded any good results on how to clean or store vintage feathers. Any help would greatly be appreciated, thank you!

    • Hi Daisy! That cape sounds marvelous! And, yes, I think it’s important for feathers to breathe as well as fur. And moving it from a plastic hanger to a padded one is a great decision. Regarding garment bags, there are ones that allow garments to breathe, but some are just plastic and thus don’t. So the best solution is often the silliest. I recommend getting a cheap or second-hand all cotton (no polyester) pillow case, cut a small hole in the top, and drape it over the garment on the hanger.

      As for cleaning, I routinely just dust my feathered items with a soft cloth. But have never had anything intense enough to require a deep clean. I would suggest visiting a local vintage clothing shop, ask if they know of any options. Or perhaps your dry-cleaner. They may have tips for you.

      I wish I could be of more help!

      • You’re actually super helpful! Thank you so much! Fortunately it doesn’t require a deep clean but wanted to know just in case of future accidents. But again, thank you Janey, I really appreciated the help! 🙂

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