True Quality CleaningStraight talk about caring for fine garments & household textiles from an expert who calls it like it is. In plain English.

Cleaning and restoring vintage garments: what you need to know before you buy


beaded bodicebeaded gown


At RAVE FabriCARE, we clean and restore hundreds of vintage pieces every year for private individuals, vintage dealers, museums and historical societies. Everything from an aqua colored 1950's custom-made silk coat to the 1944 summer uniform belonging to Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (for additional examples of our work, enter the phrase "cleaning and restoring" in the search engine at the top right corner of this page).

Today, vintage is hot. So much so that many fashionistas have added selected, high-quality vintage garments to their contemporary wardrobes. Some have even selectively retrieved long-forgotten vintage garments from the far reaches of their own closets and storage facilities.

The problem for anyone considering the purchase or retrieval of a vintage garment, however, is generally not in the selection or the purchase. It's getting the garment ready for use.

You see, very few vintage dealers clean their garments prior to sale. Fact is, the garment that you just purchased has probably been worn a number of times, may never have been cleaned before, and may have been improperly stored over the years. As a result, the garment might have a musty smell, might be stained in various areas, and the strength of the fibers may have deteriorated over time.

Under these circumstances, it's appropriate to consider all issues relating to the cleaning and restoration of a vintage garment prior to purchase.

Here are some issues to consider:


  • What type of exterior (shell) and interior (lining) fabric(s) have been used in the construction of the garment?
  • What is the overall condition of the fabric(s) used in the construction of the garment?
  • Is the fabric "separating" in places if gently pulled with both hands?
  • Do the seams, particularly the underarm, side and seat seams, show any evidence of separation or tearing?
  • Do the areas of folding or creasing (hemlines, pleats, collars, cuffs, etc.) show any evidence of separating or tearing?
  • Are any areas of the fabric or fabric(s) scuffed, pilled, frayed or torn in any manner?
  • Do the fabric(s) show any evidence of yarn slippage (distortion in the symmetry of the vertical and horizontal threads), particularly in the underarm areas?
  • Do you see any evidence of insect damage such as moth holes in the fabric(s) or "near holes" created by insects feeding on the surface of the fabric(s)?
  • Are any areas of the fabric(s) faded due to exposure to artificial or natural light?


  • Does the garment have a musty, stored-in-a-humid-basement smell?
  • Does the garment have a body odor smell from perspiration and/or body oils?
  • Does the garment have a "fabreeze" smell (often used to disguise the above mentioned smells)?


  • Is there any evidence of water-based stains (perspiration, soda, juice, beer, wine, etc.) on the garment?
  • Is there any evidence of oil-based stains (food fats, food oils, creams, lotions, cosmetics, etc.) on the garment?
  • Are there any old yellowish or brownish stains which might be difficult-to-remove oxidized oil stains or caramelized sugar stains?
  • Is there any evidence of dye bleed if the garment has 2 or more colors? What about dye bleed in the underarm areas?
  • Are there any rust stains from metal components such as buttons, hooks, eyes, zippers, metal trims and embellishments, etc.?
  • Is there any evidence of mold (small dark gray or black spots)?

Trims and Embellishments

Are there any trims or embellishments (beads, sequins, pearls, rhinestones, lace, bows, buckles, embroidery, appliques, etc.) on the garment?

  • Are the trims or embellishments sewn on or glued on?
  • If the trims and embellishments are sewn on, are they tightly sewn on or are there loose or broken threads?
  • If the trims and embellishments are sewn on, is each piece individually sewn on or is it sewn on using a chain stitch (a single thread, that if broken, will cause all the trim such as beads or sequins to unravel)?
  • Is the color of the trims and embellishments intense or have those colors faded or delustered over time?

These are a few of the issues that should be considered prior to purchase.

At RAVE FabriCARE, we understand the delicate nature of vintage, heirloom, antique and museum pieces. Cleaning a vintage, heirloom, antique or museum piece is a skillful process that involves great thought and care at every stage of the cleaning and finishing process.

At RAVE FabriCARE, our strength is our personalized advisory service. When you bring in or send in a vintage, heirloom, antique or museum piece we will:

  • Examine the piece carefully
  • Identify the challenges presented by the piece
  • Discuss the areas of risk
  • Explain our recommended restoration and/or cleaning process
  • Identify the results that we believe you can expect from our work.

Specifically, we will discuss the problems and/or conditions of manufacture, use or storage that may limit whether such items can be safely cleaned and still yield satisfactory results.

RAVE FabriCARE is your source for expert cleaning, restoration, repair and preservation of vintage, heirloom, antique, and museum pieces in the Southwest. You can trust our experts to maintain and preserve the integrity of your precious and valuable items. 

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