Preserve Your Vintage Clothing

How to refine and protect your clothes collection.

June 2016

Perhaps you’ve inherited the contents of Grandma’s attic. Or maybe you’re a savvy consignment shop regular with an eye for timeless designs. Wherever you found your precious threads, learn how to preserve and protect them.

Collecting vintage clothes

Knowing what type of a collector you want to be will guide how you shop. Investing in vintage fashion to resell for a profit is usually a long game. It’s wisest to buy couture from a previous era, then wait until that designer or decade is especially hot. But most vintage collectors are simply curating a closet of unique styles for themselves. Estate sales, consignment shops and even flea markets have hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

What to look for

Don’t pay attention to the size on the label, as sizing has changed drastically over time. Try on what looks like it might fit instead. Examine every garment carefully for problems like stains, tears, and missing buttons or beads.

Unfortunately, imitation designer labels are prevalent, so choose reputable dealers to make sure high-end pieces are authentic. Certain brands are especially desirable—and increasingly rare—in the vintage collector’s game. Favorites include the sleek tailoring of Yves Saint Laurent, the sophisticated silhouettes of Christian Dior, the romantic gowns of Oscar de la Renta, and, of course, the iconic suits by the beloved Coco Chanel.

Beyond brands

Don’t assume vintage has to be couture. Vintage doesn’t necessarily mean it was once on a runway. The industry generally defines vintage as anything that’s at least 25 or 30 years old. So if you find a beautifully constructed '50s empire dress that looks perfect for an upcoming event, buy it, even if you don’t recognize the brand. Cultivating your unique vintage style should simply mean plucking your favorite classic fashions from bygone eras, whether it’s cloche hats or denim bellbottoms. 

Preserve and protect

Store vintage garments in cool, dry places. Use padded hangers for coats and dresses, and make sure all zippers and buttons are fastened. Store anything heavy or beaded in flat boxes lined with acid-free paper. 

When you need to launder something, don’t drop it off at your run-of-the-mill dry cleaners; choose a shop that offers specialty vintage cleaning. Finally, work with a vintage fashion consultant for proper valuation of high-end pieces, and be sure to insure any especially valuable garments.