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The dress was canary yellow and sleeveless, 1960s vintage, with an empire waist and delicate ruffles at the neck and hemline. It cost $18 at a local consignment shop, and wearing it to my senior prom helped me stand out in a sea of nearly-identical poufy princess dresses.
Whether you're inspired by Mad Men or the late, great fashion icon Elizabeth Taylor, shopping for vintage pieces is a lot of fun, not to mention environmentally friendly. In my ongoing hunt for vintage gems, nothing has yet to beat the thrill of discovering that yellow prom dress. For every fabulous find, I have come to realize, there are a dozen moth-eaten, sweat-stained monstrosities. So I asked Christine Robidoux, owner of Massachusetts-based Modern Millie Vintage & Consignments, for a few tips for buying, wearing, and cleaning vintage clothing. Here's what she had to say:
- Most vintage pieces will have some wear and tear, but don't buy a piece if the fabric seems like it's dried out or deteriorating. Also check the piece for strong seams so your dress doesn't bust open as soon as you bust a move.
- Pick a decade or style that suits your body type. For example, boyish figures look great in clothing from the '20s or Twiggy-style shifts from the '60s. For a style flattering to all figures, look for a fitted bodice with a full skirt.
- A little tailoring can go a long way to making vintage pieces fit perfectly. Find a tailor you trust.
- Most vintage pieces have been washed many, many times before, so hand-washing or using your washer's delicate cycle with a mild detergent, like Seventh Generation's 2X Laundry Detergent, is usually a good choice, especially for polyester or cotton. Modern driers are just too harsh for vintage fabrics, so air drying flat on a rack is the best bet. (Air drying will also save energy and electricity charges!)
- Stains are par for the course with vintage pieces. Spot cleaning with a little detergent on a soft-bristled toothbrush is the best way to gently remove stains from the fibers. Underarm stains, unfortunately, are almost impossible to remove.
Do you shop vintage? What tips do you have for cleaning the garments?