Taking Care Of Vintage Clothing [Guest Blogger Virginia Knight]

Today this post is written for you by guest blogger Virginia Knight, a vintage clothing enthusiast who’s about to undertake her graduate studies in Dress and Textiles History in Scotland. Virginia will be sharing some of her vast knowledge on how best to take care of your vintage clothing.

Hello there!

I’m Virginia, and I’m going to be sharing some tips for keeping your vintage wardrobe in great shape. A bit about me: I’m a post-graduate student at the University of Glasgow studying Dress & Textile Histories, and I have been fascinated by vintage and historic clothing for as long as I can remember. I’m from the United States but have just recently moved to Glasgow for school and love living here!

These tips are not exclusive to vintage clothing—they can be applied to your entire wardrobe to help keep your clothing and accessories in the best condition possible. However, because vintage items are often unique (and can have extreme sentimental value), there is a bit more at stake with vintage than with more contemporary items in your closet. While museums and archives go to extremes to preserve textiles in their collections, with a few basic tips you can do a lot to prolong the life of your clothing. Let’s get started!

  1. Keep everything away from sunlight. This might be the obvious one, but it is worth stating. Light bleaches color, and aside from dying your clothing there is no way to restore that color. Now, you may not have a problem with popping an old dress in some dye and voila, new dress! However, if you’re trying to keep the color vibrant, light is not your friend.
  1. Store clothing in climate-controlled settings—not in a basement or attic. The uncontrolled conditions in a basement or attic age textiles, leather, and plastics faster than more constant conditions. Storing clothing in high temperatures can lead to mold and mildew growing on fabrics and leather if moisture is present. The living space inside your home is the best place to store clothing, and closets usually have the most consistent temperatures.
  1. Which is better—hanging or boxed storage? This is a decision you’ll need to make based on the style of the garment. Anything with lots of beading (or that is generally heavy) or with thin straps should ideally be stored in a box, so that the weight doesn’t drag down the garment and cause tearing or distortion. In addition, bias-cut or knit garments should also be stored in boxes. Use padded hangers when possible.
  1. Don’t mix in accessories with clothing storage. Store non-textile accessories (such as shoes, purses, etc.) separately from garments. This will protect your clothing from chemicals given off by treated leather, plastics, and glues.
  1. Think carefully before wearing vintage. For many of us, the best part of buying vintage is being able to wear your one-of-a-kind treasure! However, if you own something that is of extreme sentimental value to you (such as a family heirloom), here are a few things to consider before you wear it:

– Is the fabric/sewing thread strong enough to withstand dressing, moving, and undressing?

– Can the size/design of the dress accommodate my body without straining the seams or fabric?

If the answer to one or both of these is “No,” think about whether wearing that particular item is worth the possible damage.

  1. What is the best way to store and protect accessories, like handbags or hats?” Though often made of different materials than clothing, many of the same rules apply to your accessories. Keep them out of sunlight, and away from dust or humid/damp areas. For handbags, you can wrap them in a t-shirt or some kind of cloth (many new bags come with a storage bag included) to protect them from dust, but don’t wrap in plastic—humidity can build up inside. I wouldn’t recommend hanging purses for extended periods of time, as this can cause damage to the handle. Hat storage can get a bit complex (as vintage hats are often quite elaborate!), but an easy way to keep them safe is to loosely wrap them in acid-free tissue paper before storing in a hat box. If you have your hats on display, make sure you’re not putting stress on any part of the hat (for example, a brim sitting on a table).

General tips:

  • Don’t leave plastic dry-cleaner bags on clothing—the chemicals will break down quickly and harm textiles and metal buttons, snaps, and hooks and eyes.
  • Always make sure you clean clothes before you store them. This helps protect against stains (that will become essentially impossible to remove with time) and insects.
  • If you have any kind of fur, professional storage really is the best option. If that is not possible, store fur in the coolest storage area in your home.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to clothing storage and preservation, so if you have any questions (general or about a particular garment you might have) or want more information, feel free to e-mail me at vknight@unca.edu, and I will help as best I can!

I don’t want any of this information to scare you off buying or wearing vintage. In fact, I hope just the opposite: I think clothing is meant to be worn and lived in, and if you’re wearing something you love and something happens, then despite some initial sadness know that you gave that particular dress/top/skirt a good adventure. With that in mind, go forth and wear your vintage with pride!

A big thank you to Miss Amy May for allowing me to guest post and to all of you for reading this!

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