Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vintage woes and wins

Two days ago I stumbled on the most wonderful lot of five vintage 50s dresses, three of them shirt dresses with buttons to the waist, one two piece outfit as well a gorgeous 1950s cocktail dress. All but one dress are in great vintage condition, two of the shirt dresses even have the original belt, but the cocktail dress does have a few tears in the skirt and a few ripped seams. I just knew the price on this lot wasn't going to last and there was no way I would score the lot for $29 plus shipping, there was even 5 bids placed earlier. Shopping for vintage dresses it always seems like they are all so small and near every girl back then was a perfect 25 inch waist. Also its a score when you find a dress with the original belt or two piece outfit in tack. You cant even imagine how exciting it I was when I won the dresses for a measly $29, I felt like I hit the vintage dress loto.

For the cocktail dress (black and gold) I plan on fixing all the busted seams and holes by hand. In the pictures the seller posted on eBay, the holes are mainly large rips in random parts of the skirt which looks like a knit material and are repairable but will be noticeable wasn't fixed. My plan to disguise this little flaw is to add a cinched layer of black tulle starting at the waist and draping down to the edge of the skirt, the results hopefully will bring this beat up dress a new life. I also plan on adding tulle underneath the skirt as well but I will have to see the dress in person first.

With a lot of eBay sellers the photos do not do the clothing justice, sometimes a photo can make a gorgeous dress look like a dud and in person its a stunning one of a kind piece. Though the opposite often happens, a seller will make the dress look like a million dollars in the photos and in person its just a pile of old scraps. So buyer beware bid carefully and ask as many questions as possible if you are concerned. To the left is the two piece outfit that I also won that I think is so darling and cant wait to try on. I cant wait to give the dresses a good cleaning and see how they turn out. Here is a picture of one of the shirt dresses, isn't it darling? I just love the pleated detail as well as the lil bitty bows on the sleeves....this dress is to perfect for a picnic or a day at the park. Here are some tips on cleaning vintage clothing and removing spots on the collar and armpits.

Tips on cleaning a Vintage Piece of clothing
1. Before cleaning your item make sure it is worth the risk to try to launder, you wouldn't want to ruin anything, its not a good idea to attempt to wash the item if the fabric is really fragile or if it rips just by touching it. If you are not sure and still want to try to clean the item, I always test the garments durability by spot cleaning a piece of fabric somewhere inside the lining or a seam inside the garment. Hand washing your vintage item is the best way to go unless the piece is sturdy enough to survive the washer (with anything pre 1960s I never stick in the washer or dryer).

2. Starting out you will need two large containers of water, if your lucky enough to have a tub, that will work or a bucket and large bowls also work depending on the size of the item. For darker colors fill your container or tub with cold water and for lighter colors luke warm water works best. Its best to only wash one item at a time and never use bleach or any harsh cleaners.

3. If the item is a delicate vintage material like rayon, silk or wool it is best to use Woolite or any other non abrasive fabric cleaner. For cotton and other materials I usually use Oxyclean (it is a stain buster) or whatever fabric soap I have around for laundry.

4. The first bucket or your tub will be for washing and the second for rinsing. Fill the first tub or bucket up enough to fully submerge the item next dissolve the soap your going to use in some hot water and pour into the water. Next fill the second smaller container enough to submerge and rinse the item.

5. Submerge your item in the first soapy container, depending on the fabric and level of dirtiness soak your garment for about 5-20 minutes. If it is a heavy fabric like a wool coat or a heavy suit I don't recommend soaking the item just going straight to step 6 or possibly just spot cleaning with a towel.

6. After soaking the item the stains will lift much easier. One way to get out harsh stains is to rub the problem area with a towel, your fingers or even a clean sponge. Its helpful to have a small bowl of hot water with diluted soap in it, so you can dip your sponge or towel in the diluted soap then apply to the stain.

7. When pulling the wet fabric out of the soapy water be very cautious because the fabric will be much heavier and easily ripped. The next step is to rinse the garment in the second container making sure to remove all of the soap. If the garment is still very dirty try repeating steps 5-6 or adding a more diluted soap to your water.

8. After the garment is fully washed its best to towel dry the garment and get as much moisture out of the fabric as possible. If the weather is nice, and you have a good place to hang your item safely outside you can air dry the garment. When drying outside avoid keeping the item in direct sunlight, it could lighten your darks or darken your lights. I usually find a safe place near my closet or in the bathroom and dry the garment hanging over a towel or hung on a hanger.

9. For pin pointing specific stains like underarms and dirty collars, mix about 1 part water to about 4 parts oxyclean until you get a paste consistency. Apply the paste evenly to the stain and let sit for about 5-30 minutes depending on the durability of the fabric and the severeness of your stain. When done rinse off your item and you should hopefully see a big improvement.

Good luck! Happy Cleaning! If you have any tips or tricks you know, please tell me I love learning new things. Also I once read this tip from a 1950s house keeping book, the tip was to take your item with the stain drape it over a bucket or bowl (ohh how bowls and buckets come in handy!) fasten the item with a string or rubber band and then take boiling water and pour it on the stain from about 2 feet in the air. I havent tried it yet but its an interesting technique.

Remember wash your vintage items at your own risk! If it seems to fragile to wash just don't do it. Be careful with taking vintage items to dry cleaners, unless they specialize or insure vintage items.

Great site with tips on cleaning vintage items


  1. I talked to a woman who sells vintage clothes and she SWEARS by the carpet cleaner Resolve, she says it cleans all stains on vintage clothes , but to test a tiny part, I never tried it so I dont really know but I will try it soon!

  2. I have never heard that I will have to try that. Thanks for the info!


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