The Circa Home for Lost Frocks

Have you noticed that I run a home for lost frocks? Since 1980 I’ve adopted dirty, damaged and downright neglected frocks. Frocks that were once beautiful and have fallen on hard times – abandoned by everyone else, I’ve sheltered them from harm and promised to one day return them to their days of glory.

It’s a good thing that you don’t see them as they come to me – many are in a very sad state. Most of my collection is more than fifty years old and that invariably seems to mean they’ve spent a spell out in the wild – stored in a leaky shed or attic, or perhaps crushed in boxes under beds. As long as the fabric is strong, I can help them though.

There’s an enormous pleasure to be derived from taking something that looks like it’s fit for the rag bin and turning it back into a thing of beauty to be enjoyed.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been going through hundreds of pieces, selecting items for tomorrow’s online garage sale and this little darling was sheltering amongst them.

Dress 6

It had been scrunched up in a ball, and stored somewhere damp. Long since dried out, it shows scars and stains from its ordeal.

The fabric is a sharkskin style shot taffeta, with a self-spot. Silk or rayon, a crisp fabric that needs to be dry cleaned. Generally I send frocks like this straight off to the cleaner but I haven’t had much success in them getting stains out so I thought perhaps it could go into the garage sale instead. I gave it a good pressing, but soon uncovered more issues.

Dress 1

Can you see the issues? It’s a beautiful and flattering dancing dress from the very late 1940s with a full circle skirt. The buttons are missing their rhinestones and the belt is missing too but this is an eminently wearable dress, even in its current condition – would look lovely with a crinoline petticoat for extra swoosh.

Are you ready? Look carefully for the large watermark stains, tinged with yellow and brown.

Dress 2

Dress 3

Dress 4

I can soak all of those out with an oxywash cleaner – warm water, and repeated soaks and they will come out. I’ll remove the buttons first (they already need their rhinestone centres replacing) and the dress will look much better – except that the taffeta will crease and lose its crispness and the dress might become floppy like a cotton.

However, on looking at these photos, you can see that the dress is already very crumpled after its adventures over the past sixty odd years so maybe it’s a risk worth taking? I’m going to give it a shot.

If you’re wondering why I don’t spot clean it, it’s because I’ve had too many bad experiences with the dye fading under modern products so I always treat the whole dress.

So this is one frock that won’t be going into the garage sale, but there are many more – it opens tomorrow, is only online (not in the salon) and I hope you find something lovely. There are sizes 2 to 18, from a hundred years of fashion and even some menswear all priced to clear. If you’d like to save the shipping you can pick your orders up from the shop in the week starting October 15th – Circa will be closed next week.

Dress 5

I’ll let you know how I go with the dress!


  1. Nicole, it’s great to know we can purchase vintage garments from you, knowing they have been loved & cared for & in expert’s hands.
    Looking forward to seeing the 40’s frock mentioned in this post restored beautifully.
    Have a lovely day!
    Will have to pop in when I’m next in the city.
    Love Suzi x

  2. hi nicole,
    i was wondering if by oxywash you meant oxygen bleach.i get so confused about when it is ok to use oxygen bleach.everything says do not use bleach on the label and i never know if that includes oxygen bleach.i would really appreciate learning more about how to care for my clothes properly.good luck with the dress!!

  3. Hi Rachael, I don’t think it has any bleach – I use a couple of products, mostly Napisan Oxi Action and also a similar Sard product. They work really well on most fabrics (but don’t try them on silks or woollens).

  4. i know there isn’t any chlorine bleach in it but i thought maybe the do not bleach labels referred to oxygen based bleaches too.

  5. Its so rare to find perfect vintage anymore, unless someone like you has taken the time in skillfully reviving it. I recently made the colossal error in spot cleaning an early 1940s frock with woeful results. You live you learn and you have a few heart breaks in the process. Thanks for the post and good luck on the garage sale.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *