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Before You Buy Vintage Clothing

Damage to watch out for


Moth Damage

Example of wool severely damaged by moths

Image Courtesy of Melissa Dimock
Most vintage, though old, is of a better quality than our disposable clothes today. However, they most likely have had a lifetime of being warn, so it is important to make sure the items you buy are still wearable and don’t look old or worn.
Here is a check list of problems you should look for before you purchase a vintage item.

Be sure to inspect the item thoroughly and in good light:

  • General Wear and Tear - Check elbows, knees, backsides, cuffs, collars, hems, and armpits for excessive wear as they are the parts of clothing that endure the most stress.

  • Fading - You can check for fading by turning the item inside out and looking at the seams. The color on the seams will probably be a darker shade. If the fading is minimal or completely even on the outside of the garment, then the item should be ok to buy.

  • Sagging, Drooping, and Stretching – Since Lycra was not part of the fiber content in every garment produced like it seems to be today, well worn clothes ill have possible sagging or stretching from wear and tear. Try the item on to determine if such wear is noticeable while on. In some cases the wear may improve the fit, in others, it may make the item look overused.

  • Stains - Some stains on vintage items are possible to get out, especially more recent ones. Stains that will not come out include mildew and some perspiration stains. Use your discretion depending on the size of the stain, its location, etc.

    Learn more about how to remove stains.

  • Odors – Vintage clothing may not have been washed for some time, especially those from thrift stores. So there will likely be some sort of persisting odor on an item. With a good wash, that odor should diminish or disappear, and many of the odors could be removed at home. Just be sure to use the appropriate cleaning method for the garment’s age and fabric contact.

    Learn more about removing odors from vintage..

  • Tearing (other than in seams) – Tearing in any other area except on the seams of the item are irreversible and not always easily masked. Use your discretion when buying an item with known tears.

  • Deterioration - Fiber deterioration is common in old pieces made from natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, etc. Look for signs of felting and shattering, pilling and treadbareness.

  • Moth Holes – Moth holes are irreversible in almost all cases. Moths prefer dark colors, so be sure to double check items that are darker. Use your discretion depending on the extent of damage and location. If you chose to buy an item with moth damage, be sure to have it dry cleaned or wash in hot water immediately to prevent any moth larvae from infesting the rest of your wardrobe.

  • Mildew - All signs of mildew are irreversible. Do not purchase a garment with any sign of mildew damage.

  • Hardware and Fastenings – Be sure that zippers zip properly, buttons are all attached and move smoothly in and out of the button hole, and that snaps all have both pieces and fit together.

  • Decorative Details - Pay special attention to any garment with beading, sequins, applique, embroidery or lace. Make sure decorative finishings are attached securely and are not missing an undesirable amount of pieces. All find out if there are any matching ties, belts, etc., and if they are accompanying the item.
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