Ok, so we can't all be as miraculously talented as the great Coco Chanel but even a novice can apply a little tlc, if needed, to their vintage dress.
First off, here are the basics for looking after your precious vintage dress. Don't forget to use the same principles for any cherished piece in your wardrobe whether brand new or decades old.
- Dry cleaning - prepare to make your dry cleaner your new best friend! We use Grafton Cleaners on South William Street and have consistently found them amazing. Fear not, if they aren't accessible to you any good dry cleaner will treat your dress with the care it deserves. Don't be afraid to ask your cleaner about how they will treat your dress. Most vintage dresses won't have a care label but a careful and considerate dry cleaner can suss out the best process for your dress. Sometimes they will test the beading, cover it up or use the machine at a cooler temperature. We've never lost a dress in the dry cleaning process and after thousands of dresses have passed through our boutique that's saying something!
- Storing - once you've had your dress dry cleaned take it out of the clear plastic bag as soon as you get it home. Your dress needs to breath! Instead snip a hole in the top of an old pillow or sheet and drape this over the hanger instead. Keep your dress out of direct sunlight as it can irreversibly fade prints and colours. Fasten any closures and do up any zips as it will help maintain your dresses shape. Making sure your wardrobe isn't packed to the rafters will do the same (although I'm totally guilty of over-stuffing my wardrobe!)
- Hand-washing - Some vintage dresses prefer a good ol' fashioned hand-wash in lukewarm water with a soft cleaning agent like Woolite. Most 70's dresses are very easy to care for and can be washed on a hand wash setting in your washing machine, check for a label as they were definitely in use by this time. If your dress is jersey or stretchy you can be fairly sure it can be washed. Rayon, a favourite fabric in the 40's, can be handwashed in lukewarm water but I wouldn't recommend it if you havent done it before. Your dress will shrink as the fabric contracts and this can be scary but it can be ironed out again, it takes a long time and lots of patience! If your dress has any covered buttons and is prior to 1960's it will more than likely have steel buttons, DO NOT GET THESE WET!!! They will rust as your dress is drying and will ruin your item. If you aren't sure and still want to handwash then you will need to remove the buttons for washing and re-attach when dry. If your dress is verging on antique and of the most delicate quality then start off with spot cleaning only in a dry cleaners for any marks and then follow with an airing for freshness. The same goes for anything heavily beaded and with fur or feather trims.
- Try using padded hangers, avoid metal ones as you don't want the edges to damage delicate fabrics or cause rust marks long term.
- Steaming your vintage garment or having it pressed at a dry cleaners is preferable to ironing it. Think of it like a beneficial spa treatment! The more you over-treat your vintage dress the weaker the structure of the fabric becomes. You know that high street jumper you keep throwing in the washing machine that's become a threadbare mess, your dress will behave in exactly the same way, so less is more! Oh and never iron velvet, beading or sequins!
- Vintage lace is especially delicate so always be extra gentle with this incredible fabric. You could try storing it flat so that the full weight of the dress isn't dragging on the lace. Rolling it in acid-free tissue paper will also increase the longevity of a vintage lace dress. Heavily beaded dresses should be treated similarly.
Now, down to some maintenance a la Ms Chanel (well, really this is for novices, Chanel would probably role her eyes at these basics as pretty much everyone could sew in her era!)
The fact is vintage dresses were made better than today's mass produced dresses. More time was spent on them, better fabrics were used and the tailoring was impecable. This said, vintage dresses can be 20-90 years old so a little up-keep might be necessary at times.
Don't let this put you off. I've had gorgeous dresses that I've worn plenty of times and have never had to do anything with. Those dresses that have required tlc have been totally worth the little extra time!
- Always repair minor tears and rips as soon as possible as they will only get bigger. There are endless tutorials online on how to hand stitch like this one all you have to do is find one you enjoy and practice on a scrap piece of fabric or old pillow case. If this is too daunting then drop your dress to a local seamstress or alterations place to do the work for you. We use Fitz Alterations on Drury Street and find them brilliant.
- Re-hem your dress if it falls down so that it doesn't snag on anything. Again you could do this yourself (I can't count the amount of times I've fixed a hem on my own collection!). It's so super easy you really shouldn't be afraid to give it a go but don't worry the professionals are happy to fix these too!
- If you get a tear or hole in the fabric of a dress which isn't on a seam don't fret, your dress may still be salvageable. Try adding some beadwork, lace or an applique that fits in with the overall look of the dress. This little addition might even enhance the fabulousness of your dress!
- Replace any buttons or hook and eye closures that fall off. It's back to the internet for a tutorial . If you've never replaced a button then give it a whirl, it's super simple and I promise it will give you an immense feeling of accomplishment!
The history of your vintage dress will enhance it's charm and authenticity. Rest assured that minor flaws will never detract from how stunning a vintage piece looks when worn.
So, relish the small imperfections and lets hope that we'll all age as beautifully as vintage clothing!