donderdag 18 mei 2017

Modemuze collaboration: How to care for your vintage

In this second blog I'm writing for Modemuze (you can find the Dutch version here) I'll go into how to keep your vintage treasures in good shape and get maximum wear out of them. Of key importance is to be aware of their age and handle them conciously of that.

Tips for caring for your clothes from a women's magazine, ca. 1940-45, mending thin spots before they become holes.

Wearing vintage
Where museum pieces may never be worn vintage is something that can be used on a daily basis. Wearing vintage however requires a different mindset towards garments as when you are wearing modern pieces. This does not mean you can't do your everyday chores in a vintage dress, though there's always a chance of things getting damaged. Working with museum collections has made me more relaxed when wearing vintage through the knowledge that truly expetional pieces are being preserved in these institutions.

Tips for caring for your clothes from a women's magazine, ca. 1940-45, hanging out your clothes instead of throwing them over a chair
It is a good thing to check how strong, water risistant or special clothing is and to keep this in mind when planning what to wear it for. A wild party in a fragile dress that can hardly be cleaned is not a good idea. Also when putting on a dress with a side closure some care must be taken as they tend to be less easy to put on. You have to more or less 'dive' into them whereby you should avoid any sharp accessoiries getting caught and keep lips with lipstick on it tightly pressed to avoid damage. Because we've gotten used to stretchy fabric it can all feel a bit tight-fitted, which is a thing you have to get used to.


Illustrations from a booklet with washing instructions (ca. 1937), washing carefully, rinsing with vinigar, rolling into a towel and drying on a hanger.

Most old clothes are not made to be washed frequently as they used to harly wash them at all back in the day. The Dutch fashion jounalist Constance Wibaut advised women to wash their nylon underwear once a week, even if it was black, in 1958. And that's underwear, the layers that came on top were hung out and only washed if they were really dirty.

You can wash a lot of vintage but just like grandma's old dishes can't be put in the dishwasher you'd be wise to wash your vintage by hand. Instructions from the period are often handy when figuring out how to do this. They unanimously advise to check if the color will bleed before washing first. This may be done by rubbing a wet piece of cloth over a piece of the fabric in a place where a stain would not be visible. If there's a lot of color on the cloth washing has to be done carefully and rather quickly. To reduce colors from bleeding vinigar or salt can be added to the water.

Another important point is to use water that is not too hot and to take care the water for washing and rinsing is of the same temperature, to prevent shrinking. Rayon crêpe is prone to shrinking but can be pulled or ironed back into shape. Washing is always a gamble though. When in doublt or with dresses with a lot of embelishment it is better to go to a good dry-cleaner's. Be careful with early plastic zips and sequins though, they can melt when being dry-cleaned (sequins may also dissovle in water).

Body odour

Add for deoderant from 1939, showing that it's use was all but common, Odo-ro-no add from 'Het Rijk der Vrouw'

Because clothes were not washed as often and deoderant was not at all generally used clothes smelling of sweat is a common problem. I smell the pits of clothes before I buy them but the smell can also only become noticeable through heat (from wearing or ironing).
Washing or dry-cleaning does not remove old sweat most of the time. There are some cheap trics to tackle the problem like treatments with vinigar and/or baking soda. More extensive descriptions on how to do this can be found in two blogs I've written a while ago (see links at the end of this blog).


A large tear in a vintage dress is mended with several shades of embroidery yarn. Back and front of the fabric.

As vintage is often in need of repair it is handy to have basic sewing skills. Popped seams for example are very common but as the fabric isn't broken (only the threads are) it is solved by stitching it back togehter on the original seam. Darning is unkown to many of us but it can save many dresses with wear, holes or even tears. Especially when the fabric has a print many things an be mended almost invisibly. When the fabric is thin putting a piece of fabric underneath can also prevent the forming of actual holes.

I'm very careful when altering a piece of over 60 years old and won't do anything that will drastically change the original design or cut away any fabric. In the back of my mind are all the lovely 30's dresses I've found that were cut short in the '70's.

Because clothes were made to measure there's a good chance they will not fit exactly. This may not always be a problem but sometimes alterations are benificial. Taking things in is not that hard especially when there are darts already. Taking things out is more of an effort and can be visible, but because seams were more generous at least there is more fabric to work with.

A dress has been taken in by adding darts at the back and a sleeve has been laid out by adding a gusset from extra fabric that has been cut away from a seam.

To conclude this blog I'd like to stress that you should enjoy wearing vintage and not be affraid of things getting damaged. Something can always go wrong but they are only clothes after all, and with some common sense a lot can be prevented.

In previous blogposts I've described washing and mending in more detail:

From frump to fab: mending and washion a vintage dress

Cleaning my summer coat: how to use baking soda to remove body odour

More information on caring and cleaning can be found on the website of The Vintage Fashion Guild

In the next and last blog in these series I'll discuss my personal style, etiquette and styling rules from the 30-50's and how to compose an entire vintage look.


woensdag 10 mei 2017

Modemuze collaboration: How to recognise Vintage

Three dresses with typical silhouettes from the 30's, 40's and 50's

For the Dutch fashion platform Modemuze I'm writing a series of three blogs on vintage that will be published in Dutch on their website and in English here.
These blogs explore the themes I've addressed in a reading for the programme that coincides with their exhibition at the OBA (public library of Amsterdam). This first blog will deal with buying and recognising true vintage pieces from the 20's to 60's
For more information about Modemuze and the Dutch version of this blog:

Buying vintage:
One of the questions I'm most frequently asked is where I find my clothes. The answer is not simple but it starts with a lot of searching. I started buying and wearing vintage when I moved to 'the big city'  (Amsterdam) for my studies in 2008. My first and best place to buy vintage was the stall of Maaike at the Waterlooplein flea-market, that sadly closed only a few weeks ago. But I think Amsterdam is still a good place to buy vintage for a reasonable price.

There are several vintage shops that sell carefully selected vintage in Amsterdam, like Laura Dols and Bis Vintage, prices are fair, especially compared to what I see om websites like Etsy. Some chains with multiple stores within the city, Episode and Marbles, sell older vintage for even lower prices next to an abundance of 70's-90's stuff. At places like this it is key to know what you are looking for. Below you can find some tips on what to look out for.

For all my vintage shopping addresses you can look at the vintage shopping guide to Amsterdam, a blogpost I wrote last year. It contains detailed information an little maps with routes you can easily  walk:

Shopping at the Waterlooplein flea-maket

Recognising vintage:
First and foremost you can recognise vintage by the style of a certain period, like a dopped waist for the '20's, puffed sleeves for the late '30s and 40's and cut on sleeves with wide long skirts for the 50's (see first picture).

Fashion plates and photographs can be helpful, but this is only a first step because styles were often recycled. The 70's and 80's saw many revivals of 30's-50's fashions. It is also good to realise certain styles were worn over a long period of time. This is why I always use the most recent element of a design to determine it's age. This is often found in the details for which you have to develop a certain eye and feeling. There are, however, several things that can help you when you are just starting out.

A lot of vintage garments from before 1960 don't have labels, especially in Europe. Clothes were made at home or by a seamstress. Ready to wear did have small size tags but not always a label (sizes were different though a vintage 40 might feel like a modern-day 36). When there is a label it might help to google it for more infomation about the brand. Other types of labels have to do with production standards, like the Brittish 'CC41' utility labels used during and after the Second World War and American labels that guarantee fair working conditions. Because these labels were only used during a certain period they can help dating a garment. You can sometimes even find the name of the original owner sewn into a dress, this might well indicate the dress traveled with them to a home for elderly people.  

Labels: clockwise Alexon in a Brittish utility coat, name tag, American 'recovery act' label used between 1933 and 1935, (European) size tag

Natural fibers like cotton, wool and silk were and still are being used and say nothing about the age. Other fabrics are more specific for a certain era. Rayon, for example, was a much used fabric from the 20's through to the early 50's that came in many varieties.

Several kinds of 1940's rayon crêpe

Nylon was patented just before the war but did not come into general use until the early 50's and is quite specific for that era.

Nylon floral fabric, mid to late 50's

Dresses from the 30's-50's typically have a closure in the sideseam. It can consist of buttons, hooks and eyes or poppers but from the mid 30's onwards metal zippers came into use. A dress with a thin nylon zip at the back is almost certainly from after 1960. There are exceptions but in general this is a good way to detemine age.

Fastenings: buttons, poppers, metal zip

Looking at the inside of a garment can tell you a lot about how it is made. Seams were finished differently than what we're used to today. When something was homemade seams were not finished or finished by hand. Other finishings are hemming, pinking and a zig-zag stitch. Nowadays most seams are serged and garments that are finished this way are usually post 1960. But here too there are exceptions: (knitted)underwear was serged much earlier on.

Seam finishings: clockwise handfinished, unfinished, hemmed, pinked, serged, zig-zag stitch

The infomation in this blog may be useful when you are looking for vintage but it does not guarantee that you will find it. Older vintage is getting harder and harder to find so be prepared to invest time (and enthousiasm) in your search!

In the next blog I'll go into how to care for your vintage treasures. Wearing, mending and -very important- washing vintage is quite different from what we are used to.