Vintage Condition and Care

Vintage Condition

When shopping anywhere for vintage, the description of the clothing will include its condition.  To help your searches, here is how each type of condition is defined:
  • Mint means flawless.  As perfect and pristine as it was originally, to the point that it may never have been worn.  Tags may still be attached.
  • Near Mint shows only the slightest of wear in an otherwise perfect garment.  This means it may have only been worn once or twice.  For this reason, you will often find wedding suits, cocktail dresses, and gowns for special occasions in Near Mint condition. 
  • Excellent condition means totally sound in structure and appearance.  Any wear is the result of having been worn occasionally, but it’s clear that the garment has been well cared for and stored.  No buttons missing.
  • Very Good condition means wearable with some minor flaws. The flaws could be stains, torn seams, or a fallen hem, for example.  Buttons may be missing, but ideally there are still some to either match or inspire a replacement. It’s often possible to take a garment you find in this condition and mend, alter, or specially treat stains to turn it into a garment in Excellent condition. Many of my own dresses are in this condition. Overall the garment is good, and any flaw still standing doesn’t prevent you from wearing and enjoying it.  
  • Good means wearable, but the dress is no longer in pristine condition.  In this case, you normally couldn’t achieve excellent condition even if repairs are made.   That said, often if you love a piece, you will just accept the flaws.  These are often vintage clothes that were simply well loved and thus well worn in their day.  Other times it may be a case where the garment just wasn’t stored very well.

Even with garments in Excellent and Very Good condition, you should expect to at least dry clean and do minor repairs on each garment before it is worn.  Stains are often found in vintage and it's up to you how much you want to try and remove them.  Consider that the more aggressive the treatment, the greater the odds you may do damage to that otherwise beautiful garment.  Sometimes it's not even possible to remove it.  Honestly, a few stains here and there on vintage doesn’t bother me.  I truly only see the artistry of the dress, and trust me this is pretty much the case for everyone who will see it.  You buy a dress because you love the dress, and just do what you can to improve and then protect its condition.

I encourage you to embrace clothing that is in Very Good condition as it can be made spectacular so easily.  You might find a dress that has a couple stains that only requires a little specialized attention to them, based on the fabric and type of stain.  You might find a dress that just needs its seams reinforced to make sure its structure remains sound; after 50 years, you can’t blame the thread for becoming a bit weak.  There are often only minor repairs that are needed to make a garment Excellent.

Vintage Care

How you care for your vintage garments depends almost entirely on the fabric itself, and then on the condition it's in.  You can use the following as a very general guide for caring for your wardrobe.  One disclaimer:  Do NOT use this guide for any piece that you think is historically relevant, i.e. for museums, archives, or auctions.  Those pieces will require the involvement of restoration professionals.

Machine wash
  • Cotton
  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Lycra
Machine-washing your vintage clothes is the most economical option, and the good news is that so many garments are wash and wear.  This is especially true of polyester, an extremely popular fabric in vintage clothes.  Polyester will appear as fabrics that feel like cotton, that feel like silk, that feel like jersey.  I really can’t sing its praises enough.  Comfortable, won’t wrinkle, and retains its shape.  Perfect for the modern working woman.

When I wash my own clothes, I separate my vintage out…there is a dedicated load for whites and another for colors.  I always use the most delicate cycle, cool water, gentle laundry detergent like Woolite, and I turn the garments inside out before putting them in the machine.  I also never put my dresses in the dryer and instead hang them to line dry.  This usually doesn’t take long because of these particular fabrics.

If you’re nervous or unsure about washing any of your own vintage clothes, I recommend taking them to your dry cleaner first.  Even some dresses that were originally wash and wear and have a label stating as much may now be too delicate to do so.  Always better to test slowly.  On that note, I also recommend wearing garments around a bit to test their strength before subjecting them to the washing machine.

Hand wash
  • Silk
  • Rayon
  • Lace
Hand-washing your vintage garments is another option, but of course it is a little more labor intensive. Delicate fabrics can be hand washed in a tub of cold water with a gentle detergent such as Woolite.  In order to dry, place on a clean towel and roll up the towel to soak up any excess water.  Then hang or lay flat, just making sure to keep the delicate fabric out of the sun.

It should be noted that although you can hand wash these fabrics, dry cleaning them may actually help them last longer.

Dry Clean
  • Suede
  • Wool
  • Acetate
  • Velvet
  • Anything with decorative embellishment
Dry cleaning refers to a process where clothes are cleaned using solvents rather than water. It is the most expensive option for cleaning your vintage garments, but will most likely make them last longer. Thankfully, there are now plenty of green dry cleaners, which means friendlier to the environment and your clothes.


Unless you have a tailor that you absolutely love, go to a dry cleaner who is also a tailor.  First, being a tailor naturally makes the person more in tune with textiles and they will probably have a greater understanding of how to treat your vintage garments.  Second, in five minutes you can have them do some very easy alterations—bust, waist, hips, hemline—that will make you look unbelievable in a  garment that’s now custom-made for you.  Fit is everything…whether it’s with new or vintage clothes.  Proper fit can make a lesser garment seem great.

For even more detailed information on cleaning vintage clothing, visit Fashion Era's packed site.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...