Caring for Vintage Clothes | Seventh Generation
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Caring for Vintage Clothes

Author: Alexandra Pecci

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?


nelda picture
What a great article! I sell vintage clothing, I think my Customers will find the article very helpful. Thank you for posting this.
viviene18328 picture
Less is more. When you're cleaning vintage clothing most of the time you don't know what the stain/smell is from. So start with your mildest cleaner such as just plain water, vinegar or baby shampoo. Many times what you see on an item is just dust and plain water will remove it. Scented odor removers mask odors and don't remove them. They'll come back when you least expect it. My advice comes from selling vintage clothing and accessories for 12 years. I handle many items in many different conditions. Gentle is the name of the game. Most vintage items will last forever if you treat them right. Marge of Born Too Late Vintage
MotherLodeBeth picture
I not only wear home sewn clothes but I redo vintage clothes to fit my needs. I wash in cold water with Woolite all items, including wool. I fill the sink with cold water and one capful of Woolite and allow to set in the cold water which loosens any dirt. Then I squeeze to wash. Then rinse well, and air dry. Sweaters are laid on a thick towel, blocked and allowed to dry. I change the towel twice during the day. In 4H sheep are washed with Woolite LOL when the kids show them. picture
I too have chemical sensitivities, and I use vinegar in the wash water. It seems to break down a lot of the smells.
theresal picture
Being the youngest in my family and having four sisters, I've had many hand-me-down clothing. Also, my children wore many of their cousin's clothing. I very seldom purchase new clothing, and I love finding great deals on second hand clothing. However, having severe allergies to the laundry products such as GAIN and anything with FEBREZE, it makes going into a second hand clothing store difficult. I now have to wear a mask, and my time there is limited so I have to know exactly what I want. If the clothing I choose have been washed with these horrible products, it can take four washes and I can still smell the toxic chemicals. I love the Seventh Generation products, having developed Multiple Chemical Sensitivites this is the only product line I will now use. So thank god, I found something that does me no harm. I really hope people stop using these harmful products because your normal life can change, within ten years. So choice your products wisely, and spend a little extra and save your life and environment with no regrets. I hope Seventh Generation does not make changes to their products for profit because its perfect right now. Thank you.
rblrosie picture
What a great article! I have recently begun buying some clothes from vintage consignment shops. I love the tip on how to wash these pieces. I always forget that seventh generation makes more than just fabulous diapers and wipes that I use on all my kids! I love the info about what body type suits what stye period best!
heathererika picture
I don't like the smell of scented fabric softener or laundry detergent, but sometime vintage clothes have been laundered with those products. I just put the clothes through as rigorous of a wash cycle as I think the garment can handle (with perfume/fragrance-free laundry detergent: check the ingredients list), and I hang it outside to dry and air out. After doing this once or twice, the scent isn't noticeable.