Looking After Your Clothes – An Introduction

by @style

How long would this gown have lasted crammed in the back of a cupboard? Brocaded Satin, c.1740


Since the shop closed I’ve been finding it difficult to come up with the enthusiasm to update the blog. Clients, usually, aren’t up for before and after stories on here, so in my head I just don’t see the point in coming on and waffling.

However, I’ve decided to start a new series of posts about how to look after your clothes. It’s amazing how many people have no idea about how to wash, store, maintain and protect the clothes they buy with their hard earned money.

All this started a few months ago when I put a 1950s baby alpaca jumper (it was soooo lovely, really, really lovely) in the washing machine on a cold, delicate cycle with no spin, thinking it would be fine. Of course it wasn’t, it came out three sizes smaller and slightly felted. By no means totally ruined, but I was absolutely furious at myself. Turns out, baby alpaca needs really special, delicate handwashing involving baby shampoo and a wooden spoon.

I’m in the middle of a masters degree at the University of Glasgow on Dress & Textile Histories and our current semester’s teaching is the care and exhibition of dress and textile collections. On Tuesday we spent the whole day at The Burrell Collection re-packing dresses from the 1860s. They had last seen the light of day around 30 years ago and were crushed two and three to a box. Our job was to re-pack them using acid free tissue paper to make ‘sausages’ and ‘donuts’ to take the pressure off the fabric while it’s in storage. Regular readers will know I was in my element. There’s nothing so satisfying as seeing these very old gowns freshly cocooned in paper and placed into new boxed (one box each!).

The costume curator explained that it is the role of the museum to preserve objects for as long as they can possibly be preserved. This involves all sorts of technology that you really don’t need to go into in your own wardrobe, however, I learned so much. I was totally horrified at the way my own collection of vintage and antique clothes and textiles is stored (mostly on hangers or folded).

Vintage has been a huge trend over the last few years, although I think its popularity is waning. What will happen to all the vintage that’s been sold to people buying into a ‘trend’ in the last few years? I really hope it won’t be treated like old bits of Primark and left crumpled in a drawer for years until it’s thrown out. The only reason there is such a volume of vintage going around is because people really used to take care of their clothes and they survived so many years.

So, the point of this waffle is that I’m going to start a series of how to look after your vintage and preserve it for the next generation. More than just giving the clothes and their history the respect they deserve, surely it makes economic sense too? Who will want to buy a 1930s dress in 20 years time if it’s spent years on a wire hanger and the shoulders are shredded? If it’s been treated properly, preserved and looked after with care it will be worth a great deal of money. A little bit of care and attention now will pay off in years to come.

I think the first blog will be washing and stain removal. That’s the hardest part, to wash or not to wash? If you have any specific questions about caring for your collection or how to store, just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to come up with an answer!