Top Ten Ways To Care For Your Vintage Clothing

The Top 10 Ways To Care For And Retain The Value Of Vintage Clothing

  • Tip #1:

While dry cleaning is the easiest method, and the only one recommended for rayonsand velvet, (YOU don’t have to do any of the work!), for those of you who want to do it yourself, here’s a tip: Try a commercial product called “Orvus” (purchase it at a ranch supply store).

Be careful when using Woolite or something similar, as it contains chemicals that can contribute to the deterioration of vintage clothing. Wash and rinse, rinse, and rinse again. When it comes to appliances, again, common sense is a necessity. Wash on “delicate” at a warm to cold temperature, and hang on a drying rack, never in the dryer. There are also several good books out with tips on cleaning, such as “Second Hand Chic” by Christina Weil.

  • Tip #2:

Provenance (who previously owned it) is important, especially on early garments.

Anything that has photos or proof of original ownership adds to the value. Collectors who just love the sentimental, nostalgic aspect of collecting vintage clothing especially desire it.

  • Tip #3:

Never store in heat, such as an un-insulated attic.

The fastest way to throw your investment down the drain is store items in intense heat. While that may kill certain critters, it also kills your clothes, especially fur.

  • Tip #4:

Do not store in plastic bags-ever!

How many times have I found a beautiful suit from the 1940s in someone’s attic, only to have the plastic bag melded to the disintegrated buttons? Aaacck! Case closed!

  • Tip #5:

An air Ionizer works great at getting odors out of otherwise clean clothing. Just put the clothing in a fairly sealed room with the machine for a day or so and it will smell just like a thunderstorm came through. Especially good if it has a smoke smell.

***Caution – do not put items with rubber or elastic, or vinyl in with the ionizer. It will cause those materials to disintegrate! Also seems to mess up Patent Leather.

  • Tip #6:

Fold sweaters and delicate lace items carefully for storage – do not use hangers.

Ever put on a sweater and find that you have 4 shoulders? Or a lace dress from the 20’s that no longer HAS any shoulders? Fold, don’t hang, these items!

  • Tip #7:

Hats can be stuff with acid-free paper, and stored in trunks or boxes.

Hats hold up quite well and using acid free paper to stuff and loosely wrap will keep them nice for another 100 years. Store in a cool, dry place. Alternatively, displaying them in an area where the sun won’t hit them is also acceptable.

  • Tip #8:

Fur coats should be dressed every few years and stored in a cedar closet or cool dry place – not the attic or the basement!

Fur needs a cool environment. Check with a furrier for frequency of dressing to keep your fur in tip-top shape.

  • Tip #9:

Never iron velvet – steam from the inside and brush as you go.

Velvet has a thick nap that can be ruined by pressing with an iron. Dry Cleaner is my first choice. If you must do it yourself, follow instructions as above.

  • Tip #10:

Always steam rayon on the inside – otherwise shiny spots will appear.

Rayon is another tricky fabric. You, again, should let a dry cleaner do it. But if you insist on doing it yourself, steaming from the inside while pulling fabric slightly taut will give it a flawless finish.

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My Favorite Books about Vintage Clothing

Favorite Books About Vintage

These links will take you to to view some great books on vintage clothing and related topics. You will find the Cats Pajamas listed as a resource forgreat vintage in some of these.


Secondhand Chic
Author: Christa Weil
Bargain Secrets

Dressing Up Vintage
Author: Tracy Tolkein
50 Years of Fashion

Price Guide to Vintage Fashion and Fabrics
Author: Pamela Smith


Vintage Style 1920-1960
Author: Desire Smith
Schiffer Collectors Edition

The Complete Guide to Vintage Textiles
Author: Elizabeth M. Kurella

Clothing & Accessories from the ’40s, 50s, 60s
Author: Jan Lindenberger
A Handbook and Price Guide


Shoes : A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers and More
Author: Linda O’Keeffe

Hats : Status, Style and Glamour
Author: Colin McDowell

Bathing Beauties : French Photo Postcards of the 1920s
Michael Goldberg (Editor)


Swimsuit Sweeties (Artist Archives)
Max Allan Collins(Editor)

Retro Chic A Guide to Fabulous Vintage and Designer Retail Shopping in North America and Online
Authors: Diana Eden, Gloria Lintermans

Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930
Author: Nancy E. Rexford

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How To Look After Vintage Shoes

If you’re taking your first steps into purchasing vintage fashion and footwear it’s really important to remember that whilst they are meant to be worn, loved and enjoyed, in many cases, particularly with shoes, the items will need special care and attention to make sure they can continue to have a long and happy life. Here’s how to look after and care for the different styles of vintage footwear you might have in your collection to ensure you get the best out of them.

General upkeep of vintage shoes

Keep away from other shoes: Always store your antique footwear separately to your other shoes. Generally, while vintage shoes are very well made and constructed, they are easier to damage or crush, simply because of their age and the condition they may be in when purchased. Store them in pairs, preferably on a proper shoe rack that can be kept somewhere safe. Even better is trying to purchase something along the lines of an archive box (you can buy these from stores that sell home wares or even places that sell Genealogy supplies) they are usually made with acid free paper or specialist plastics that will not harm the fabrics or leathers the shoes are made of. They are not cheap, depending on where you buy from, but really will look after your footwear.

Make sure they smell sweet: There’s no delicate way to put it at all, vintage shoes are going to carry odors, whether from being stored and not worn, or because they have been worn and picked up the particular scent of their previous owner. Dealing with such matters in precious garments like this is difficult as you do not want to damage the insoles or lining with harsh modern chemicals. One tip is to very lightly dampen the insole by using an atomiser filled with water. Onto this lightly damp surface, sprinkle a small amount of baking soda. Leave the shoes out to dry thoroughly for a few hours or overnight and then simply shake off the excess soda.

Keeping vintage shoes clean

Keeping vintage shoes clean can be problematic, but not an insurmountable issue to tackle. The main thing to do, as with making sure the shoes smell sweet, is to try and avoid putting them in contact with harsh chemicals. Generally, the cleaning process will be different depending on the sort of material the shoe is made of.

Leather shoes: If you have a beautiful pair of vintage leather brogues or boots, perhaps a set or two of Jeffery West shoes or any other well known designer brand such as a great pair of Vintage Roger Vivier pumps that you want to either repair or keep in good condition, then one of the easiest ways to keep them clean is, believe it or not, to raid your kitchen cupboard. Take an ordinary spray atomiser; into it put quarter of a cupful of white vinegar (the distilled variety) and then half a cupful of olive oil. Give this mixture a very good shaking before every use so that the ingredients are mixed and well distributed. Now, take a soft to medium bristle brush that is specially made for shoes and give them a going over. This will remove anything loose, such as dust and dried on mud or other detritus. Next, lightly spray over the prepared oil and vinegar mix then use a soft cloth to evenly spread the mixture over the shoes. Finally, take a second soft cloth to buff off any remaining polish and give the shoes a good shine.

Fabric or canvas shoes: These can be tricky to care for and may require specialist handling from someone who repairs vintage clothing or jewellery for a living. If you are in any doubt, don’t attempt to clean the footwear yourself, take it straight to a specialist. However, spot stains can be cleaned at home providing the right amount of care is taken. Only use the gentlest of soaps on them, preferably ones that are formulated without ingredients like sodium laureth sulphate or its equivalents. In many cases it is better to actually just use water and no detergent at all, unless the stain is very ground in. Run a small basin full of lukewarm water and use a soft cloth to gently spot treat any areas that need it. Gently sponge as much water out of the shoe as you can, before leaving it to air dry.

Prevention is always better than cure

If shoes are looked after properly and stored correctly from the moment you buy them then issues such as cleaning or repairs will occur infrequently and a good program of maintenance should be all that you need. Vintage shoes are there to be worn and loved not just kept in a box and stared at. It’s really important that you have fun buying them and looking after them, too!