Fashion can be fragile — especially the kind that's stood the test of time to earn its place in your vintage collection. Standout vintage items aren't easily replaced, and restoring a vintage piece after an improper dry clean can be expensive or impractical. Your vintage clothing deserves special treatment in the same way fine art requires specialized techniques to preserve its finer details.
Luckily, no atmosphere-controlled sealed glass container is needed to keep your vintage garments in tip-top shape. In the age of fast fashion, a few simple tips can help you and your vintage collection stand out from the crowd.
While it might look aesthetically pleasing to have the same kind of hangers in your closet, there are different types meant to preserve items like slacks, broad-shouldered garments, and delicate pieces. Avoid metal hangers, as these can cause creases. For heavy or uneven garments, fold and store them flat.
The average dry cleaner isn't equipped to handle vintage couture pieces. Superior dry cleaners use different cleaning solvents and machinery for different types of fabric, while the average dry cleaner uses the same solvent for everything. If you have a fashion emergency and need dry cleaning, be sure you know which type of cleaner you're using.
A steamer is a more gentle way to remove wrinkles from your clothing than an iron, as a hot piece of metal is harsh on fabric. Use distilled water for maximum longevity, and use a protective cloth between the steamer and delicate fabrics such as silk, velvet, or suede.
Moth larvae can seriously damage your wardrobe, especially items made with natural fibers. To keep infestations at bay, hang a moth trap (or two) in your closet or dresser. While less effective than the traps, red cedar blocks contain oils that deter the insects. Replace the blocks when they lose their piney smell.
Breathable garment bags are essential for protecting all hanging vintage items against dust, odors, and exposure to household insects like moths. Garment bags should be washable and preferably made from muslin — do not use dry cleaner bags as these can actually cause damage.
Acid-free tissues have a number of uses for your vintage collection, from padding shoulders and stuffing sleeves to eliminating creases when folding items for storage. Ensure the tissue is acid-free, as older materials are especially susceptible to corrosion. For larger items like purses or handbags, consider a purse pillow instead.
While a wad of (acid-free) tissues could work in a pinch, a shoe tree is a much more reliable way to maintain a shoe's shape when in storage. Most shoe trees are meant for men's leather shoes, though there are models for women's pairs as well.
As plastic zippers only became mainstream in the late 1960s, most vintage items will don a metal version. Vintage zippers are usually high quality and warp-resistant, though they might require a bit of lubricating to avoid jams. Applying a bit of beeswax to the teeth does the trick nicely.
UV radiation from the sun photodegrades pigments in the dye and causes colors to fade (resulting in a sun stain). In addition, direct sunlight and heat can damage fibers, making a vintage piece more prone to rips or tears. Hang clothes loosely in closets to ensure proper ventilation.
Wash your hands before handling any vintage clothing to avoid transferring oils that could stain the material. Rinse and dry well, as moisture and soap residue can damage certain types of material.
An underarm guard resembles a shoulder pad but is used under your armpit to protect against sweat stains. Not only are sweat stains hard to remove, but the salts corrode the material. Any undershirt will add a similar layer of protection.
With the right care regimen, vintage leather can last a long time and even look better with age. Maintain leather jackets or boots twice a year or so by brushing away dust and residue before applying a leather cleaner to condition the leather and protect it from cracks. Never use soap on leather, and always let it hang dry out of the sun.
When stains appear, a spot treatment will often suffice instead of putting the entire garment through the wash. However, test the spot treatment first on a different item or else on a resilient part of the garment, like the seam. Each type of material requires its own spot treatment, though lemon juice will often work for light stains on vintage items.
Vintage clothes are especially sensitive to harsh chemicals, so spot-treat or be sure to use only the gentlest detergents when washing at home. Minerals in tap water can also damage vintage pieces. Use de-ionized or distilled water in a bucket wash to protect your collection from unnecessary damage.
Hang dry vintage clothes after they've been worn or washed, as a conventional dryer is anything but gentle. Use a wooden rack instead of metal to avoid rust stains, and dry by turning clothes inside out to protect the exterior. Dry in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight.