Caring For Vintage Clothing – Ultimate guide

I have always loved clothes but it took me many years to learn how to look after them properly.

I have on several occasions found one of my most treasured possessions munched through by moth larvae, I swore I would never be a victim of this again; I have seen favorite tops and dresses irreversibly stained by deodorant and sweat and learnt the hard way that dress shields protect against this. 

Protect from light, dampness, heat and dust.  When storing lay flat to avoid creasing or bending fibers where possible.  Silica gel sachets on hangers to dehumidify,  acid free tissue paper in storage helps absorb dampness and supports weight of garment, alleviating stress on fibers.  Dress shields protect garment from perspiration.

Working in the fashion industry I saw the damage that UV and fluorescent light does to the fabric of a garment and understood I must store my garments carefully.  

In this post you’ll learn all my secret insider pro tips to taking care of vintage clothes.

Protection When Wearing

Obviously if an item merits being called a vintage piece, it has the distinct qualities that guarantee longevity, quality that is worthy of our protection and respect.  Despite being decades old, natural fibers can continue to be beautiful and if cared for properly can give many more wears of pleasure.

A well composed garment will maintain its shape and form, embodying the standards of the house within which it originated.   

One of the wisest choices to make when wearing any garment is to select the correct foundation clothing which helps the individual to present their assets in the best possible light but there is another important aspect which is often overlooked in our modern attitude towards one wear one machine wash; the advantages that dress shields and slips can provide both the wearer and the garment.  

Underarm Protection

Dress shields, once a common precaution against unsightly underarm perspiration rings which damage and discolor natural fibers, are now an almost forgotten preventative measure and safeguard. 

Those onstage performers who struggle with this common problem of underarm sweat, exasperated by stage lights, adrenalin and pressures of performance know, thanks to their savvy costume designers and wardrobe assistants, the advantages of this discreet surety against the embarrassment of armpit stains.  

Antiperspirant Damages Fibers

Unfortunately many antiperspirants cause a chemical discoloration on clothing, caused by alcohol or aluminum content, which is not only an unsightly telltale sign of sweat but also a distinct challenge to clean. 

Choosing a deodorant with neutral pH or lower aluminum will certainly help protect your garment from damage, as will allowing the deodorant to dry completely before dressing so as to avoid contact. 

Over time, however, chemicals in deodorant weaken the integrity of fibers causing tears as well as holes if the garment is not cleaned immediately after wear.  

Padded Protection

A dress shield discreetly eliminates the issue of unsightly sweat rings and helps protect fibers from the damage that deodorant chemicals can cause, anyone can use this protective garment innovation, though many celebrities, performers and others who live their life in the spotlight rely on the advantages of such protection.  

Where To Buy Underarm Pads

Modern lightweight, soft and flexible absorbent pads are ready available from online sellers through eBay or Amazon or fabric stores and are not thick, bulky and ineffective wads of cotton such as those which may have been used in the past, but are rather thinner, more absorbent and more comfortable. 

Today’s choice of underarm shields are also specifically designed to protect a variety of fabrics from clingy lycra to fine silk.  

What Type Of Underarm Pad To Buy

Washable armpit sweat-absorbent pads are available in a variety of styles to fit short sleeves, long sleeves and it is even possible to buy a sweat-absorbent short sleeved vest in a flesh color to contain the pads which can be bought on eBay and Amazon.  

The Disposable Underarm Dress Shield

One-time-use applications know as disposable sticker shields or single use shields can be applied to the inside fabric of a dress or any close fitting garment. 

These disposable shields stick to virtually anything but I am not an advocate of them for finer more delicate fabrics as removing the pad can be a quite hard on more delicate  seams and threads.  There is also an argument that the adhesive can be damaging on the cloth fibers over time.

Reusable Underarm Protection

Another popular choice is the sew-in-dress-shield or reusable re-washable shield; environmentally friendly and my personal preferable option, it is a gentler answer to protecting those precious pieces that you adore.  These liners are typically made from layers of cotton with a vinyl barrier inside to provide extra protection against perspiration.  

It is also possible to use the previously mentioned flesh colored short sleeved spandex vest to house the pads as an undergarment.  Another alternative is to buy pads that come with adjustable shoulder straps which can be attached comfortably to a bra.  

The Silk Slip

The steadfast reliable and much overlooked slip, now deemed completely unnecessary has in fact not been popular since the 1950s when it was considered a fundamental component of indispensable foundation wear.  

I personally feel modern day fashionistas are missing essential elements from their ‘armor’ and do not believe that something as glamorous as a silk slip should be relegated to the past.  

The slip functions best produced in silk, the natural properties of which absorb body oils and moisture.   Cut on the bias, the silk slip aids and supports the structure and composition of any garment and helps to protect the outer garment from undue stress, friction and wear. 

Having a slip means that your vintage piece is protected and will not need to be cleaned as frequently.  The less an item is cleaned or washed, the longer it will last and just think of the kindness you are demonstrating to the planet and how miniscule your carbon footprint as a consequence! 


It is important to remember that keeping your beloved vintage pieces in a moisture free environment will add to the life of the fabric, helping to eliminate mold and musty smells often synonymous with vintage clothing.  

Mold Is The Enemy Of Vintage

Once mold gets into fibers it is dreadfully difficult to remove, a half cup of vinegar with your wash can help eliminate this fungus and you can buy water repellant sprays which are most commonly found in shoe shops or in the shoe polish section of your supermarket, to help counteract any humidity issues.   

Silica Protects Against Mold

However, I would argue that prevention is better than cure; silica protects against fungus on fibers and skins.  Those little sachets of silica gel that you find packaged with your new runners or in a box of Christmas crackers absorb moisture and are an invaluable way of protecting your vintage pieces from the damage that excess moisture can do.  

If you have not already managed to accumulate a ready supply of these little sachets of silica gel, packets can also be easily bought from online sellers such as eBay or Amazon and the advantage of these is that they take in moisture wherever they are placed.  

Chemical Free Tissue Paper

I find it is best to hang silica sachets from little net bags on each hanger or loosely in layers of unbuffered, pH neutral tissue which is sulfur and lignin-free, acid free alone is not enough as it may still have a lignin-content, an organic matter found in wood pulp, which becomes acidic over time and is damaging to fibers. 

Unbuffered acid-free paper is a good choice as its soft finish eliminates the dangers of scuffs and scratches on softer surfaces such as fine silks, laces or skins. 

It is essential to choose an acid free product as if an acid comes into contact with textiles, skins or furs, the acid can drift, causing permanent damage and decay.  

This is why it is imperative to use high quality acid and lignin-free materials for the preservation of cherished possessions.  Careful storage will decelerate the aging process and extend the life of your item.  

Removing Dampness From Your Wardrobe

A dehumidifier is also a popular choice and very effective method of keeping air balanced and dry.  Leaving a dehumidifier to run for approximately 30 minutes three to four times a week, in addition to shaking the garments gently on the hanger and replacing them in your wardrobe or folded storage at least once a week will aid dehumidification.

Charcoal is another material which can assist in the elimination of excess moisture; storing a canister of charcoal in your wardrobe will absorb dampness. 

Charcoal naturally soaks up humidity and can be placed discretely in small containers around a wardrobe, behind a shoe box or adjacent to a chest of drawers, making it a quick easy solution for your closet.

Avoiding condensation

Ventilation is also an important consideration for preventing moisture build up.  Leaving your wardrobe doors open for a day once a week is a relatively easy way to air your whole wardrobe without having to pull everything out. 

Ensuring that garments are stored on shelving such as chrome or plastic coated wire units, which prevent the build up of moisture, will support ventilation.   Packing clothes tightly into shelves or hanging spaces restricts the advantage of air circulation which is vital to avoid moisture accumulation.

Heat And Light Damage Fibers. 

Keeping the temperature as close to a constant level as possible is also important for the life of your garment, avoiding close proximity to heat sources such as radiators or exposure to direct sunlight from a southerly facing aspect are fundamental recommendations which should be adhered to. 

If a fiber dries out too much or is exposed to severe heat, the fabric becomes compromised and can harden, melt or crack.  To avoid such catastrophes it is important to remove an item from such risks, not forgetting to cover from direct light sources as unfortunately UV light  lifts, fades and distorts rich deep shades. 

Moths Love Natural Fibers

Sadly I have felt the pain of discovering a dearly cherished vintage possession punctured with moth holes and have come to detest the House Moth as a consequence.  I view this insect as my enemy and have resorted to many different methods to safeguard my treasures from these pests.

It is not the adult moth that presents the biggest threat in itself but rather the larvae which they lay on a more concealed area of your vintage, which then proceeds to eat through the fiber as they emerge.  

Stop The Larvae Making Holes

I have found bunches of lavender from my garden tied up and left hanging on the inside of wardrobe or drawers to be very effective as has been the advice about using cloves which I understand these insects cannot tolerate and I can attest to this as a very successful method. 

I have also read that cedar and rosemary are also very effective in combatting the house moth but I have not tried these as yet.   

Keep It Clean And Freeze

However, the best advice I have to give is to ensure that all corners of the wardrobe, drawers and shelves are cleaned and vacuumed regularly, clothes that are vulnerable such as those made of pure wool, cashmere, alpaca and silk really should be vacuum packed and checked regularly, shaking, turning inside out and exposing briefly to light. 

Items such as wool hats, should be stored in a Perspex box with lid containing cloves and or lavender in a net bag.  Popping wool or silk items into the freezer for 72 hours can kill the larvae eggs, rotating regularly, keeping a close eye on your cherished possessions will ensure they remain moth free.  

If you consider yourself a vintage aficionado and are committed to maintaining the superior enduring qualities it is synonymous with, then you will accept the responsibility towards maintaining your treasures and don the mantel of conservationist.

Sharon Cunningham

I enrolled in The Grafton Academy of Fashion and Design and studied there for six years before being taken on by a German fashion house with whom I worked for nine years, eventually leaving to return to university to complete my MA.

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