Unless you’re shopping at high-end vintage stores that have ruthless quality control and equally brutal pricing, you’re unlikely to come across vintage clothing in perfect condition. So when you’re trolling the racks of thrift shops and happen upon a great piece with flaws, it’s tough to know whether it’s a dud or diamond in the rough.
â€œTextiles are a tricky thing,â€ said Jim Kirby, restoration expert with Drycleaning & Laundry Institute International, â€œthey can have many problems, and there are different dyes, different optical finishes… some can be restored nicely, but the consumer has no way of knowing.â€
But if you’re just looking to add to your day-to-day wardrobe, and not, say, stocking an exhibit at the Met, some items are better bets. Here are six flaws common in vintage clothing, with an expert opinion on when to pounce and when to pass.
Underarm stains: Possibly Pass
Three things lead to underarm discoloration: Deodorant or antiperspirant stains, which are white and powdery; perspiration stains, which are brown or yellow; and gas fading, a chemical reaction that can cause some black, navy and other dark colors to become reddish-brown. Deodorant and perspiration stains can often be removed, so pounce if this is the major flaw in an item that you love. Because gas fading is a chemical reaction to the fibers of the fabric rather than a stain, there’s nothing you can do to fix it without re-dying the entire garment. If you’re not into getting up close and personal with a bottle of RIT, pass.
Stains to the body of a garment: Possibly Pounce
Depending on the price of the item in question and the extent of the spots, it may be worth a shot. If it’s a washable fabric, you can try spot removal at home before moving on to a dry cleaner.
â€œIf it’s just a question of wearable clothes… regular cleaners can get out many stains, and will charge regular cleaning charges,â€ said Kirby.
There are specialists who have the knowledge and processes to remove complicated stains, but the priceâ€”from $80 to $300 per garmentâ€”may not be worth it.
Ripped fabric: Possibly Pounce
If the rips are at the seams or on or near a hem, pounce. Any tailor can mend tears at a nominal cost. If the tears is to the body of the fabric, pass. Some fabrics may be too fragile to mend; even if it can be repaired, the re-stitching will show.
Yellowed fabric: Probably Pass
â€œIf you see an old vintage white lacy blouse that’s got yellow stains, it’s going to be a tough process,â€ said Kirby, â€œThere’s not much a commercial dry cleaner can do about fabric yellowing, and even restoration pros can’t always reverse the damage.â€
If you’re still set on an item, there are plenty of home remedies to try for washable clothing â€” like soaking it in a mixture of white vinegar and water â€” if you don’t mind experimenting and aren’t afraid of ruining the garment, though you’re pretty much out of luck with silk and linen.
Moth Holes: Pass
You may deem one or two inconspicuous moth holes irrelevant, and buy and wear it anyway. But if an item is riddled with them, leave it on the rack. If you’ve got a vintage piece with sentimental value or an otherwise pristine, designer item, it may be worth a pricey repair. Reweavers, like Without a Trace, will reweave the fabric, rendering the holes virtually invisible. That kind of detailed work doesn’t come cheap: $30-$40 per hole.
Smells: Probably Pounce
If an item is mildewed, pass; it’s incredibly difficult to remove. Otherwise, pounce. Most other smells can be laundered out.
1. Fabric Rip: Vintage Vixen
2. Sweater Hole: Without a Trace
3. Perspiration Stain: Dorthea’s Closet
4. 1940s Cocktail Dress from VintageVixen.com
5. 1960s Cotton Skirt Suit from Vintage Vixen.com
6. 1930s Organza Dress from Dorthea’s Closet