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Caring for Vintage Clothing

June 26, 2013

gracekellyWhether you’re inspired by the mod fashions of Mad Men or classic style icons like Grace Kelly, thrifting for vintage pieces can be a fun adventure. When you’ve found the perfect vintage garment, how do you clean and care for it to ensure that your purchase will last for years to come? Charles Mo, Director of Fine Arts at The Mint Museum, offers his tips for buying, wearing and cleaning vintage clothing.


“It is never wise to wash vintage garments in a washing machine,” says Mo. Vintage clothing frequently has different fabrics or dyes, delicate trims and often lack the protective finishes of modern clothing. Mo recommends dry cleaning or hand washing the clothing with a gentle soap such as Ivory Snow and rinsing thoroughly with clean water (distilled if possible). Be mindful of snagging any handwork sewn ornamentation or special stitches while you wash, he notes. When handling delicate fabrics, make sure to wash your hands often as to not transfer grease, make-up or food stains from your hands to your clothing.


When packing away your seasonal wardrobe, Mo recommends wrapping vintage garments in acid-free tissue paper. Regular tissue has been chemically treated and often “yellows,” which may stain a garment. If the garment is durable enough to withstand hanging, pad a non-wire hanger with a layer or two of acid-free tissue for added protection.

Timeless Pieces

If you are looking for a specific item of clothing or period fashion, check back often with thrift dealers—like your local Goodwill store—to see what new merchandise has arrived. Mo notes that men’s suits tend to hold their styles better than women’s fashions, but a wider variety of vintage dresses, skirts and blouses offer unique features—such as elaborate lacing and luxurious fabrics—not found on today’s clothing. Always check for moth holes, discoloration or rips when searching for vintage clothing, Mo adds, and look for garments representative of the top designers of the era. Mo says his dream Goodwill find would be a labeled Christian Dior vintage garment.

Elizabeth Isenhour

Elizabeth Isenhour

Need some vintage inspiration before shopping? Check out the special exhibition Dior, Balmain, Saint Laurent: Elegance and Ease on view at the Mint Museum Randolph through January 12, 2014.

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