Vintage Dress Cleaning and Care

Antique and Vintage Dress Care

Ask yourself these questions:
  1. Is the dress going to be worn or is it for display purposes only?
  2. How old is the dress?
  3. What is the fabric of the dress? 
Display Purposes Only Dresses
  • If the dress is for display purposes only, Rare Designer or Museum Costume pieces should be kept out of direct sunlight or any UV light. Handle with cloth gloves instead of your hands. When not on display, put away in a dark, moisture, and dust free environment.  For example, historically rare quilts are sometimes so large they are stored folded in acid free cloth and put away in large metal drawers in a dust free, environmentally controlled area.  
  • Dust, moisture, UV light and your own hands can cause the degradation of textiles and antique fibers.
  • For Example, if you are collecting beaded dresses made before 1930, these dresses should not be cleaned or dry cleaned until you have found out if the beads are made of gelatin.The beads and sequins found on dresses prior to the 1930's were often made of gelatin which dissolves in water and under extreme heat.  Beads and sequins were not "widely" manufactured out of acrylic until after 1940.  
Excellent reference book, that I use often to determine fibers when I'm testing fabrics.
Vintage Fabrics, Identification and Value Guide, Judith Scoggin Gridley, Joan Reed Kiplinger and Jesse Gridley McClure

Ready To Wear Vintage and Antique Dresses:

Disclaimer:This information is from my own research and experience, use at your own risk. 

  • If a vintage dress is to be worn, it should be cleaned to determine if the fibers are stable.  Cleaning will show if any fibers are rotten or seams need to be repaired.
  • Animal Fibers, such as silk and wool should be dry cleaned.  This will kill any insect infestation and it will show any moth damage that will need to be repaired or patched.
  • Rayon is a man-made fiber first invented in 1928.  There are different types of finishes and I refer you to the reference book listed above.  Have rayon dry cleaned by a knowledgeable cleaner.  
    • Note: Early rayon dress fibers from the 1930s and 40s were highly flammable.  
  • Cotton is vegetable fiber: Dresses that are 100% cotton can be washed by hand.  I use various cleaning materials to remove stains. 
    • As a rule, I start with a mild cleaner, such as Woolite.. Evaluate the condition of the dress or the skirt for seam separation or holes after soaking.. 
    • Before trying to remove really stubborn stains, make sure the dress fibers are stable and seams are stable before moving any further.
    • Next, I use small amount of Biz to remove stains and soak in a tub of cold water for several hours.  If any seams are going to separate or fibers dissolve due to rot, it's going to happen at this point.  
    • Rinse dresses thoroughly with water to remove all soap
    • The following references are excellent for textile care and cleaning.
Reference Book: Vintage Fabric Identification and Value Guide copyright 2006 Joan Reed Kiplinger, Judith Scoggin Gridley, Jessie Gridley McClure
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