How to Care for Vintage – with Laurie Callsen

October 7, 2013

Hi everyone, my name is Laurie Callsen, and I’m so excited to be Goodwill’s guest blogger for the next few months.

I write the fashion blog Retro Reporter, where I focus on my love of vintage fashion. My passion lies in the 1940s and 1950s, and I try to live every aspect of my life inspired by these eras, including cooking, cleaning, music, home decor, and – of course – looking the part.

Edmonton has some great vintage stores, but honestly Goodwill tops my list as one of my favourite places to shop. Not only have I been able to find some beautiful vintage pieces, the price right and all the money goes towards helping Albertans with disabilities find meaningful employment. As a bonus, dressing in second-hand clothes is very eco-friendly. Everyone wins!

One of my mantras that I have picked up over my three years of wearing vintage is “Make Do And Mend.” This attitude came forth during WWII from the British Ministry of Information, encouraging people to take care of their clothes and to mend them instead of replacing them, which also used up precious ration tickets.
1. Wash with care

Before washing, check for tears, broken seams, lost buttons etc. Repair the garment if needed before washing it.

To err on the side of caution, I wash anything that was made before the 1970s by hand. Washing machines can be incredibly tough on clothing, so to save myself from heartache, everything gets a hand wash, including woolen items and silk.

For most of my hand washing I use detergent specially designed for delicates, like Soak Wash (which can be found at most knitting or lingerie stores) or Nellie’s All-Natural Soda (which I bought at Homesense. I find it doesn’t sud up, so I drip in a bit of Soak too, because that stuff is expensive). Lots of vintage wearers use Woolite. Make lots of suds in lukewarm water – unless you’re washing a knitted garment, then cooler water is better.

I always hand wash a vintage or second-hand item before wearing it the first time. Sometimes, for really grimy items, I need to soak it with OxyClean to get out odours and dirt before washing it with a gentler cleaner – but never soak rayon. Before washing, always test to see if your garment is colour fast, and always wash with like colours and like fabrics, or one at a time.



Instead of using my tub, I use a rubbermaid tote to wash my clothes in, simply because my tub isn’t always the cleanest place for my clothes.

Squeeze the garment to get the soap through it, concentrating on any trouble spots if necessary.

If your garment is bleeding wash it by constantly moving it around in the water, squeezing the suds through the garment.

If your garment is knitted or wool: try not to move it around too much, as it can felt the garment. Don’t let it soak for longer than 15 minutes. Be sure to dry it flat without too much stretching, as this can change the shape of the garment.

To dry garments, rinse them with cold water, squeeze out any excess water and then lie them on a towel and roll the towel up, squeezing as you go. I lay everything flat to dry on a laundry rack.

If a garment smells even after washing, vinegar, vodka or baking soda diluted in water and sprayed on the clothing can help get out odours.

If you need to whiten something, try to lay it out in the sun rather than taking bleach to it.

If you do need to dry clean something, contact your local vintage sellers to see if there is a dry cleaner in your area who specializes in antique and fragile clothes (especially if you want to dry clean a vintage wedding gown).

2. Store with care

Wool/knitted garments: Once dry, I always fold my sweaters rolled up in a drawer – hanging them can cause the shoulders to stretch. If you find that a sweater went wrinkly, iron it inside out on the lowest setting without any steam or added moisture.

Cottons/rayons: Hang up after drying. Iron rayon when it’s slightly damp, stretching it (gently!) if it shrunk, as rayon is wont to do.

Ironing garments: If an item is wrinkly, you should steam it (either with a garment steamer or a good hot shower). But if it really needs to be ironed, I use the iron on the lowest setting, with a pressing cloth as a shield between the iron and the garment. Even then, sometimes I press the garment inside out, just to be safe. Do this with new garments too, as a test. I scorched a brand new dress last week because my iron was set too high.


3. Mending

If you don’t know how to sew, don’t buy something that will need mending or altering unless you absolutely must have it! Even though I know how to sew, there’s been plenty of things that I’ve bought with intentions of mending or altering that just hasn’t gotten done.

I strongly recommend anyone who is interested in second-hand or vintage clothes to learn a few hand sewing skills, like blind hemming, slip-stitching and how to sew a button. For more in-depth skills either take a sewing course, or find a tailor who knows a lot about vintage clothing.


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for next month’s instalment where we learn a little bit more about dating and determining what is vintage clothing.