I recently purchased a vintage 1980s Italian designer silk chiffon dress with matching belt and jacket, in rather fragile condition. I want to keep the dress cute, but I also want to dress it up. How should I proceed without spoiling it in the couple’s attire? Is there a way to get it back? And is there a way to wick sweat away from the thin fabric so I can wear it more places? Abigail, Alameda, California.
You’ve identified one of the biggest issues in the current conversation about the virtues of vintage: condition and wearability. It’s nice to talk about how important it is to keep clothes in circulation, how important the resale market will be in the future, and how great it seems that Gen Z (or part of it) seems to be drawn to used rather than new clothes. But if those resaleable garments aren’t actually reusable, all of this potential is expected to remain more theory than practice.
So it is worth recognizing that while vintage shopping is a commendable and sometimes very satisfying practice, one is also full of the promise of unique and unexpected finds – a mystery of what to discover! – It is best to do this by understanding what you will be involved in and what commitment may be required. Not to mention a slightly different way of thinking about exactly what you’re buying and its role in your life.
In general, the older the garment—the more legitimately “vintage” it is—the more delicate it is. When I asked Cameron Silver, owner of the OG Vintage Decades boutique in Los Angeles, what he advised, he noted, “Chiffon is an especially fragile fabric, regardless of age.” But, he said, “A little restoration can really help extend the life of a silk dress.” He added, if the intention was to wear the garment rather than to keep it as a collectible, then such a restoration was justified.
(Vintage shopping for collectibles is an entirely different matter with a different value proposition.)
First, said Mr. Silver, consider “gently reinforcing the seams of the garment by hand.” If the piece has leather on it, try taking it to a leather repair shop, which can help spruce up the details.
Amy Abrams, owner of The Manhattan Vintage Show, suggested finding a dry cleaner known for handling wedding dresses. “They are experts at cleaning and repairing clothes for maximum wear,” she said.
Then, said Mr. Silver, consider “thoughtful undergarments such as a slip dress and natural deodorant, because if you wear a vest, apart from injecting Botox into your armpits, your potential sweating would be a huge liability.” Ms. Abrams also recommended a natural deodorant.
Then think about where you wear the dress. Perhaps, said Mr. Silver, choose “permanent events, not dinner parties.” Or, as Ms. Abrams suggested, save it for cooler temperatures.
Finally, it is possible to think of the imperfections in older clothing that come with wear and age—and related repairs or additions—not as imperfections, but simply as another kind of customization and customization, the kind of changes that give clothing a longer story and make it more unique; Right for once.
And you know what we also call one-off clothing designed for one person? Fashion design.
Answer your questions about your style
Each week on Open Thread, Vanessa answers a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can submit to her anytime via e-mail or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.