One of the most common enquiries I get is about the cleaning of vintage garments – very important if you wish to wear them as the wrong cleaning can cause damage.
Where ever possible, I like to hand wash my vintage – it takes longer and requires a nice warm but preferably overcast day, but your clothes last longest and smell the nicest.
Not all fabrics can be washed though: satins, taffetas, velvets (with the possible exception of cotton velvets), crepes and tailored garments need to be dry cleaned. Vintage silks are usually best dry cleaned as the colours may run, or the fabrics shrink (georgette and chiffon are especially prone). It’s often best to dry clean beaded and other luxury materials too, as they can get damaged during the washing process.
Leathers, suedes and furs require specialist treatment – best to call dry cleaners first as many won’t do it. The first two, you can clean yourself using a product from a shoe repairer and furs can be cleaned by adding to a cup of bran in a pillowcase and giving it a good shaking. I love a home remedy!
From the in-box this week:
I’m just wondering if you can recommend a dry cleaner in Melbourne that specialises in vintage garments? I have a crepe rayon dress and matching capelet from the 30s that has a few marks/stains and needs dry cleaning. I took it to Bancrofts in South Yarra and they seemed confident that they could get the marks out but it will cost me $233 which I thought was rather expensive! So if you have a recommendation, I’d be most grateful.
Kind regards, Sarah
Bancrofts are the best dry cleaner in Melbourne, and the only one I will entrust my ’20s dresses to. They’re skilled at getting marks out, and that’s particularly impressive when you consider that vintage stains have often been there for decades and you can only guess at what they might be! Other options might be to contact a costume, theatre company or museum to see who they recommend. I’ve heard good things about Ferrari Wedding Gown Cleaners but am yet to use them myself.
$233 is a lot to pay for one outfit though, especially if it’s not particularly valuable or special – I spend about $3-4,000 per year on dry cleaning for Circa and here’s my general advice:
1 – secure any beadwork or decorative trims on the garment. If they’re particularly fragile or valuable, you might like to remove them altogether.
2 – I usually remove buttons too, if they’re old or special. Sewing them back on later is much easier and cheaper than replacing them if one gets damaged or lost during the cleaning process. If you don’t want to remove them, consider covering them in foil.
3 – I also remove the labels if it’s particularly cute, rare or designer – labels often seem to get lost and I’ve lost all too many.
4 – do any repairs needed: it’s likely to come back worse if you don’t.
Most dry cleaners can cope well with vintage in good condition as long as you’ve followed the precautions. I’ve been through quite a few cleaners, and my feeling is you’re best off with a small dry cleaner that’s owner-run, that does all the cleaning in-house. That way, too, you can explain your concerns and identify any issues. By all means show the cleaner the stains, but keep in mind they’re probably there to stay and if they don’t get them out, dry cleaning will set stains if they weren’t set already.
Sarah, regarding your outfit in particular, I recommend that you take it to another dry cleaner and see what they can do – you might be surprised. It all depends on what’s causing the stain and how long it’s been there. Alternatively, there are ways to live with a mark and cover it up with a decorative feature – or you could try your luck at Bancrofts!
Lastly, when you do get your goodies back from the dry cleaner, please remove the plastic bag they place over the garments – they do an excellent job of ensuring they make it home without dust or tangling but in your wardrobe, your clothes (and more importantly) your vintage, need to breathe – the fabrics will absorb and release moisture and the plastic inhibits this process and the result can be oxidisation – seen as brown marks on the fabric (often mistakenly called “rust”). Another name for this is foxing, and it can be removed from some fabrics but not others. A blog topic for another day.
Some cleaners will seal up your wedding gown in a plastic covered box: I’m sure you understand the problem with this method. Fine if your gown is polyester (which is not affected by oxidisation) or if you’re only storing it temporarily but if you have long term plans for your gown, like handing it down to your daughter you may find that it has unpleasant stains.
And because we all like a nice frock and it’s good to have pretty pictures, here’s a late ’70-early ’80s frock by Prue Acton – you can see the ’50s influence. It’s silk but because it’s modern (or modern in my world any way) I thought it would be fine at the dry cleaner but it came back with the bodice shredded along the top – a reminder that a certain amount, hopefully a very small amount! Of vintage will have trouble being cleaned – in this case, Esther and I were able to put it back together and it now looks fabulous. I’m sure her new owner is loving her too.
For more help on how to find a good dry cleaner, you might like to read Couture Allure’s great blog post on the topic.