I’ve been thinking of presenting a series of posts about some of the things to look out for when you collect vintage and antique garments. The irreparable or costly to repair issues: it could include topics like silk shattering, the clothes moth and other insect damage, dyes that eat fabric away, devil dust….and here I have a good example. Sun damage!
Vintage dyes are not as stable as modern ones that are based on petrochemicals. Many are from natural materials and fade or change colour over the years. If you like (as I do) ’40s crepe dinner dresses you may have noticed how the blue ones may turn purple in patches, or grey will turn to brown. It’s a natural process and seems to be speeded up by exposure to air or sun.
My vintage clothing collection started in 1980 with ’50s party, prom and cocktail dresses – by age 20 I had fifty of the beauties hanging from the picture rails in my bedroom. I shudder to remember it now that I know better, but think it was a good thing that I moved often and the collection grew quickly so none of them would have been very exposed to the sun whilst hanging up there – and I was living in art deco apartments too, which tend to be dark.
In modern times many of us hang our clothes on clothing rails too – which exposes one side to the sun, or rather exposes one sliver of one side to the sun. It’s a frequent issue, many older garments have sun damage but this one takes the cake.
Here’s a shot of the dress separately.
And a close up of the jacket.
It’s a stunning ensemble – or rather, was once. Silk chiffon, with hand beaded and sequinned appliques. Fully lined – 1930s. In generally pretty good condition except that an antique dealer put it up on the wall for a display – and a few years later, the colour had completely changed.
Such a pity!
Now, what can we do with such an issue?
Firstly, what won’t work: dyeing. Applying dye to a garment with fade will usually result in a dyed garment with uneven colour, because the dye will not cover the faded spots, it will colour everywhere to the same degree. A possible exception is when a black garment of natural fibres is dyed black, but in this case a professional treatment is recommended because it’s still hard to get a good result (I consider black to be the hardest of all colours to dye, to get a true black rather than a charcoal).
Another issue with dyeing is that not all the materials may be the same: eg, the silk and cotton thread will dye well, but the rayon lining less so. If there have been any repairs in modern times, a polyester thread may have been used which will not dye well either, so you’ll end up with a few different shades (a tip for telling when a garment has been dyed too).
When there are small areas of fade, you could cover them up by applying additional fabric, trims or appliques. Alternatively, you could also remove the affected areas if the fabric is full (eg, in a skirt) and there is surplus fabric.
Another option is to wear your vintage garment and it’s ombre shadowing effect with pride! Many flaws are less noticeable on a garment when it’s being worn, and especially for evening garments where the light is not likely to be strong. Many vintage and antique garments have issues of one sort or another and depending on how bad the damage is, it may not significantly diminish it’s unique and historical beauty.