DIY

Restoring A True Vintage Dress

I managed to find some BEAUTIFUL vintage treasures while on holiday in the USA just a few weeks ago and one of my favourite items was this stunning dress from New Orleans.

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When I bought it, I knew I would need to soak it as the skirt was slightly greyish in colour and there was what looked like dirt build-up on the flocked flowers. I had no idea just how gorgeous it would end up looking by the time I was done with it!

Firstly, I asked for advice on a local vintage lovers Facebook page since I’ve never soaked vintage before. I was warned against soaking or even washing the velvet as there is not only a high risk of the colour running, but also the velvet can be ruined if washed.

I decided to remove the velvet bows on the back of the skirt since that was easy enough and try just soaking the skirt to see what it come up like. The top didn’t look nearly as dirty so I hoped that I might be able to get away with just soaking the skirt and not needing to do the top.

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To make sure that the velvet didn’t get wet, I hung it up to soak. I had initially worried that the water could soak and travel up but because the fabric is synthetic, it’s not super absorbent but be wary if you are doing this with anything like a cotton.

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The first soak was with RetroClean and it was pretty mind-blowing. Within minutes the water had turned a icky shade of yellow and the smell was disgusting- like 50 years of cigarette smoke (which it probably is!). I let that soak overnight before removing the dress, mixing a fresh batch with Sard Oxyplus Soaker (I’d used all my RetroClean in the first soak) and put the dress in for another 12 hours. I repeated this process once more, making it 3 soaks total on the skirt.

By this time, the water was mostly clear and the skirt was looking AMAZING! I couldn’t believe how white and crisp it was and up against the bodice (remember that I’d initially thought this looked ‘clean’), which now looked like it needed to be soaked too… and that left me with a bit of a dilemma regarding the velvet.

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I decided to take it down to my local seamstress Janette at Silver Needles who has a wealth of experience and also knows about vintage. She unpicked the velvet at the bust since I didn’t trust myself to do it and I took it back home for further soaking.

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I made a paste with the Sard Soaker and applied it to the yellow stains on the inside and left it there for 30mins before popping the dress in to soak. It only need one long soak and the whole top looked a million times better especially with the yellow staining gone.

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I quite liked the look of the dress without the velvet but played around with different ways it could be put back on. I felt like the original two velvet ribbons and off-centre bows were a little bit busy and so I ended up asking Janette to just add one single velvet ribbon and a centre bow.

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The ribbons and bows were actually a little stained themselves which we only noticed when I took it all back in after soaking. Janette didn’t think that getting them wet would be a problem like I’d been warned against and so gave them a wash herself- They survived and looked a million times better, the colour brightened up and the velvet was lovely and soft.

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I LOVE the look of it, the soft pink is so divine and I couldn’t be happier with the end result! Of course I had to wear it to the Blue Moon Ball on Saturday night, it was the perfect occasion!

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Categories: DIY, True Vintage

22 replies »

  1. What a gorgeous vintage dress!!! I wonder if PUG Evelyn was inspired by a style like this. I’m so glad you were able to get it cleaned–so beautiful on you!!

  2. This is beautiful, I so covet this dress! It’s ggggggg-GORGEOUS! You did such a great job restoring it and thank you so much for sharing “THE HOW TO” on this, as I run into this issue every now and again!!

  3. So beautiful and what an amazing result! I love the final ribbon placement too. BTW, did you know that cheap generic brand soaker has exactly the same active ingredients at the same strength as the ‘Brand Name’ one? (coming from a long-time devotee of the original ‘Napi-san’).

  4. Wow, amazing transformation! This would be awesome as a YouTube tutorial… just saying… 😉

    Thanks for another great blog post!

  5. Now that is a true treasure find!!! You did a phenomenal job restoring it to its original beauty!!!!!
    May I ask, did you find it in one of the vintage clothes shops in New Orleans? I live across the lake and go to shops here ,but just haven’t seen anythings out of shops in the city, to know if it would be worth the trip.
    Thank you

  6. I thought it was a vintage dress in your post yesterday. You look beautiful wearing such a lovely dress. Thanks for sharing the cleaning process, it is always a worry how fabrics will react but you did a great job.

  7. I can not believe the difference! I have just soaked mine in detergent, and they have never come that clean!! It looks so beautiful on you, especially with this pink gloves. Very ingenious of you to remove the velvet and make it perfect for you. The original owner is undoubtedly smiling knowing someone so lovely is wearing it.

  8. Wow, I always wondered how good vintage shops on etsy managed to make their item look so crisp, since I always have trouble cleaning my thrift finds – they never come out completely clean. But that’s because we do not have any soaking products in france ! Tadaaaaa. So I ordered some on amazon, and I’m going to try them this summer.

  9. Is there a stockist of this in NZ? My daughter has a stunning vintage silk satin wedding dress we want to smarten up for her to use xx

    • For Retroclean? I heard about one in Hamilton but to be honest the ingredients are the exact same as the Sard soak I bought from the supermarket for $6… 2 out of the 3 soaks I did were with Sard anyway!

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