The Dresser's Room

Personal blog of Jade Halbert, style director of The Dresser

Looking After Your Clothes – Part I: To Wash or Not to Wash?

So, you’ve read the introduction to this series, yes? And now you’re horrified about all the things you have hanging on wire hangers and the red wine stain on your vintage dress? Not to worry, I’m here to help.

One of the things about buying and collecting vintage and antique textiles is that they can sometimes be damaged and that’s a factor in the price. Of course, if we all had the budget we’d be shopping at Kerry Taylor Auctions and buying museum quality couture. When your budget is more Oxfam and vintage fair than Sothebys, however, you need to be slightly less discerning about your purchases which means that sometimes you’ll buy things that are less than pristine.

This is a bit of a double edged sword – you get bargains, but you need to take into consideration the damage and whether it can be restored or if cleaning would destroy it.

For example:

*conservators, curators and those with a squeamish disposition look away now*

A girl once came into my shop and handed me a parcel. She said it was found in an old wardrobe and it was probably beyond saving, but she couldn’t bear to just throw it in the bin and would I like it? When I opened the parcel I found an early 1960s ivory silk cocktail dress and coat, THICK with nicotine. Honestly, when you touched this thing your hands came off covered in sticky, black nicotine. The smell was revolting.

That aside, it was a gorgeous little suit, and, thinking if we didn’t try something it would be straight for the bin, we decided to bring out the big guns.

*conservators, seriously, stop reading*

The dress and coat went into buckets filled with water, Vanish and Stain Devil. We left them for about four days, took them out and rinsed them. Not much change. So, then we put them in the washing machine and they came out a little bit better, but still horribly stained.

So, they wen’t back into buckets, this time filled with a mix of water and white spirit and we left them for a couple of days. Again, they came out a bit better, but not great. Back in the machine. Out, again, not much improvement. AGAIN, back in the buckets, this time full of water and white vinegar. Out again and another level of improvement, but still not perfect.

On a last ditch attempt we treated all the very stained bits with Vanish and Stain Devil and then back in the machine. I should say that throughout all this, both garments were incredibly strong; any signs of real distress and we would have stopped. It didn’t even shrink.

Finally, after all that, it came out pristinely clean and I sold it to a very happy customer. So we rescued the outfit and the gamble paid off and all was well.

Another gamble was a 1930s white chiffon wedding dress with some staining and foxing (foxing is the little brown spots you sometimes see on vintage clothes). This one was delicate just by the very nature of the fabric, so required specialist cleaning. I put it into a dry cleaners and hoped for the best. I’m not a fan of dry cleaning at all; especially not for vintage. Apart from being generally unsuccessful and bloody expensive, the chemicals they use are far too harsh for antique textiles and will more often than not completely ruin your garment.

Anyway, the dress went in, pretty clean apart from some yellowing under the arms and a couple of tiny brown spots around the skirt. It came back pretty clean apart from some yellowing under the arms and a couple of tiny brown spots around the skirt. And I had £20 less in my purse.

The decision was taken again to wash it; a huge gamble but a necessary one if it was to be worn again. This time, however, we used kid gloves.

We laid it flat in the bath and very gently used the shower attachment at a trickle to soak the dress in clean, tepid water (pretty much cold). We then used a specialist silk detergent, only a tiny amount, around the armholes. We didn’t rub, massage or otherwise over handle the fabric. We soaked a very soft sponge in water with some detergent and sponged, very lightly, around the area. We left that for around half an hour then rinsed, again with the shower attachment on a very low pressure. The dress was obviously vulnerable at this stage, the weight of the water etc. could have destroyed the delicate fabric.

Somehow, we got it out of the bath right onto clean, white cotton towels we had laid on the floor. We then very gently pressed more towels on to it to remove as much excess water as carefully as possible. It was then transferred on to more clean towels, arranged neatly and left to dry flat, away from light, heat, dust, pets and people for a few days.

It came out clean, however, where the little spots of foxing had been on the skirt we now had small holes. This might sound like a complete catastrophe, but actually, it was a risk worth taking. The volume of fabric on the skirt meant that we could stitch tiny darts to close the holes up without damaging the surrounding fabric or compromising the integrity of the dress at all. One thing, however, we have a massive stock of threads and haberdashery items from the 1920s onwards (all my mum’s, she’s been buying these kinds of things up forever) so the thread we used was as close to the original threat as you can get. A modern thread might have been obvious.

So. To conclude this enormous essay I would recommend you consider treating stains, only, however, if you can answer yes to all of these statements:

I am incredibly patient

I have all the appropriate tools and washing fluids to hand

I am as gentle as a baby dandelion on the breeze

I will not be completely devastated if this goes wrong and it ends up ruined

If you can answer ‘yes’ to all of those, go ahead, proceed with caution and good luck!

A word of warning: I am not a conservator and anything I’ve tried with my collection has been pure, amateur, haphazard luck, although I always do as much research as possible before I go ahead with anything really precious and if in doubt, don’t.

Here’s some pictures of both the items, after they’d been washed. I wish I’d taken ‘before’ pictures, but at the time, I was running the shop and I didn’t think there would be any need!

The coat of the suit. We obviously removed the fur collar before washing. We just rubbed bicarbonate of soda into the fur with a slightly damp cloth, left it for a few hours then brushed the bicarb out. We then left it to air for around two weeks and it was fine and stitched back once the coat was clean!

The dress of the suit. You can see how clean it came up, if you had seen it before you wouldn't have recognised it!

The wedding dress. This isn't the best photo as it was slightly too big for the model around the shoulders, but you get the general idea.

And from the back

I think next week I’ll do knitwear, considering we’re in a deep freeze at the moment! And maybe fur, too, although really the best advice I can give where fur is concerned is take it to a furrier, they know what they’re doing!

Looking After Your Clothes – An Introduction

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!

The Dresser Personal Shopping & Styling GIFT VOUCHERS

This time of year is always really busy for me, with lots of clients who want their shopping done before Christmas.

It’s also really busy with people looking for gift vouchers for shopping sessions. In the past I used to hand make these, but even from the end of October I realised that it’s not really feasible to keep doing that, going by the number of enquiries.

So, I’ve had some shiny lovely new ones printed up from moo.com. I absolutely love them, thery’re so chic and the sort of thing you’d want to keep. I also ordered some gold envelopes to go with them and they look great too.

If you’re thinking of buying a gift voucher for someone, please get in touch, even right up to the last minute; I can hand deliver them or post them next day delivery. Gift vouchers are available for either full day shopping and styling sessions or for half day shopping and styling. They’re both really popular gifts, especially for women who have everything, but never seem to have anything to wear…

You can either get in touch by emailing me on style@the-dresser.com or calling 07980 969 954.

Here they are! How gorgeous?

Interior View

I’m moving into a new flat early next year so I’ve spent a lot of this week looking at interior design books, paint charts and online antique auctions.

The problem is this: I’ll just be custodian of the flat, it actually belongs to my mother, and gorgeous as the flat is, it’s the place where magnolia paint went to die. I cannot abide magnolia paint and whenever I challenge my mother on this she says things like, “It’s NOT magnolia, it’s Treasured Oyster Shells!” or something along those lines.

So, while she keeps telling me I can do whatever I want to the place, secretly I know she’s going to be horrified when I’m finished with it and it looks more like an explosion in antiques shop with more clothes than is strictly required for one person.

Actually, while describing some ideas to my boyfriend his response was: “It sounds a bit like the National Gallery.”

YES! EXACTLY THAT! THE NATIONAL GALLERY! I’m being serious, the National Gallery, except with a really good bathroom.

Or maybe a mix of Sir John Soan’s house, Dennis Severs’ house, the National Gallery and London Dungeon.

Anyway. Really this post only exists for me to put up lovely photos. I seem to be having a navy moment, so excuse that!

The Dresser Personal Shopping & Styling…an Update!

Over the last few years, since the shop opened, blogging about The Dresser, my first and most loved business, has been non-existent. So, I’d like to apologise for that, and to everyone who came to the blog looking for styling and personal shopping and was faced with rows of vintage dresses – sorry!

The Dresser launched early in 2008. Within half an hour of the website going live I had my first client on the phone and it’s never stopped since.

I really believe in The Dresser; it seems at first glance to be something of an extravagance, but when clients come to me confused about their wardrobes, their bodies and themselves then leave confident, excited, happy and relieved I see what a huge difference it makes to them.

It is not a case of ‘shopping’. This is a confidence overhaul.

Whether clients are super busy and need me to go and sort out their outfits for the week, or just had a new baby and aren’t sure about their shape anymore, if they’ve lost or put on weight, if they’re starting a new job or a new life – clothes are an enormous factor. When you’re wearing the right clothes (the sort of clothes that make you feel special, confident and happy) you project a much sunnier attitude. It attracts the right sort of people into your life and paves the way for new opportunities.

The Dresser website will be undergoing a bit of a makeover itself early next year. In the four years since its inception a lot has changed and I now understand so much more about what my clients expect from me and what they need.

One of the key changes is to the personal styling sessions. In the past, a full day shopping session was just that – seven hours of intense retail therapy. After a few months I realised I was sending clients home with bags of clothes, but not bags of good, solid styling advice. So, rather that seven hours of shopping we now have around four hours of shopping and three hours at home, styling the new clothes, blending them with the existing wardrobe and taking photos of every single outfit, which I supply on a disc so that clients have a full digital library of everything in their wardrobe. They can see, at a glance, what goes with what and how to get the most out of their clothes.

There will be lots of clearer differences when the site changes next year, however, if you’re thinking of booking a session and not sure that any of the services suit you, please get in touch for a chat and we can work around your requirements.

There’s so much to catch up on, I can’t believe I’ve neglected telling you all about the exciting news and developments at The Dresser. We’ve been in so many magazines and newspapers including Glamour Magazine, The Herald, The Evening Times, The Daily Record, The Scotsman…We’ve hosted huge styling events with Braehead, including the Jean Genie and Little Black Dress events. In short, The Dresser is thriving and there’s even more exciting news to reveal in January.

In the meantime, here are some photos from the past year or so that have appeared in the press and online; I’ll get round to scanning all the press clippings and put them up too.

My assistant Cara (the glamourous blonde one) and I at the Braehead Little Black Dress event last month

 

Some promotion for the Braehead Jean Genie event

 

A feature in The Herald with a client, Lesley

Closed for Holidays until 6th SEPTEMBER

 

 

 

 

Just to let you all know that we will be closed from 18th of August and will re-open on 6th of September.

I’m off to the south of France to hang about on the beach with the pigeon above.

The closing down sale will really get going when we’re back, so lots to look forward to.

See you in a few weeks!

 

Bargain of the day! 1920s vibrant beaded evening bag, was £50 now £30

 

 

The pick of today was actually supposed to be a black velvet beaded Victorian cape with lace trim, which is down from £125 to £70, but I’m an absolutely awful photographer and after an hour of taking terrible pictures I gave up!

 

A Trip Down Memory Lane

We’re shutting The Dresser’s Room doors for the last time very soon, which is sad, but let’s remember the good times! Here are some of my favourite things sold in the shop over the last two and a half years! The shop is still bursting full of clothes, textiles, jewellery and accessories of this standard and quality, but super cheap, so help us go out with a bang and come in and fill your stylish boots!

The incredible 1920s fully beaded flapper dress that only lived in the shop for an hour and a half before it got snapped up!

 

A window from last summer, was especially in love with the leopard print...

Loved the 1920s silk velvet and gold lame evening wrap on this mannequin

The butter soft heavy silk 1930s bias cut wedding dress everyone wanted

Colour coordination!

 

Monochromes

 

THAT 1950s dress, took two people to fit it to the dummy, it was a ton weight!

 

Shot from the Herald of our champagne coloured 1920s evening gown, festooned in beads, absolutely beautiful.

 

The chiffon lemon delight as featured on the cover of the Herald magazine...was £125 now £60!

Our bargain £10 corner, some things that were £35 are in this corner now for a tenner!

Even better, the £5 corner! Is that a cheeky little Celia Birtwell print I see peeking out there?

We’re sorry to announce…

Since we announced the sale lots of people have emailed and got in touch on facebook, or come into the shop to ask if we’re closing. Unhappily, I’m afraid to say we are.

We’ve been here for two and a half years now, and considering we opened in the depths of the recession, I think that’s pretty good going! We’ve had an absolute ball over the last few years and met loads of amazing people. I’d like to thank all our customers for being so loyal and supportive to The Dresser’s Room, we couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you.

The sale will run until everything is gone, so when I say it’s a good sale I mean it’s a REALLY GOOD SALE.

I’ll be selling off pretty much everything in the shop from the mannequins to the heaters, display pieces, pictures, everything must go (I’m keeping the mirrors and most of the furniture though!)

Would love to see lots of you in here over the next wee while (I’m closed for holiday from the 18th August until 6th September) but planning to stay open until everything is gone. There are lots of pieces from my own collection too, all important 20s and 30s pieces at amazingly cheap prices.

We’re open from 11am everyday except Sunday and Monday.

Again, thanks to you all for reading the blog and being such incredible support!

Cheers, Jade x

ENORMOUS! GIANT! HUGE! CLEARANCE SALE!

 

 

 

Very late notice, but just wanted to let you all know we’re having an absolutely huge sale as of tomorrow from 1pm, open until 9pm!

The sale is truly huge, there are some amazing bargains, some things down from £200 to £50! The sale will keep going for a week or so to clear as much stock as possible, so hope you can make it along and grab yourself some bargains; especially if you had your eye on an expensive piece, if it’s still here it’s sure to be massively discounted!

Thanks, Jade.