The secrets to reviving vintage clothes and accessories revealed

Feb 25, 2024
Discover the clever hacks to revive and rejuvenate your treasured clothing and accessories. Source: Getty Images.

In a world where fashion trends come and go at lightning speed, there’s an enduring elegance in reviving vintage clothing and accessories that resonates deeply with those who appreciate the beauty of bygone eras.

For the seasoned fashion aficionado, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of discovering a hidden gem from the past and giving it a new lease on life.

With that in mind, let us unlock the secrets to preserving the timeless allure of your treasured garments and accessories, allowing you to enjoy the artistry and craftsmanship of your much loved items for yours to come.


To make a metal zipper run freely, run a wax candle up and down the teeth.

If you need to replace the zip, op shops (thrift stores) often have metal zips in their haberdashery section.

Green 1950s dress, with fully operational zip. Source: Joanne Thompson

To remove marks from shoes, bags and leather clothing

Use a slightly moistened microfibre sponge. Be very careful though, as rubbing too hard can take off the colour.

(Cleaned) Gherardini mod designer bag. Source: Joanne Thompson

To reshape a straw hat

Dunk it in water and reshape as you choose. It should maintain the shape as it dries.

1950s/’60s straw hat. Source: Joanne Thompson

To remove body-odour smells

Don’t waste your money on dry cleaning, it doesn’t help with body odour. Only washing helps. Even woollen garments can be carefully hand washed, dried flat and pressed and steamed back into shape. I recently read that people have had good results from hanging the garment in a confined space with a sachet filled with activated charcoal.

To remove and prevent musty smell in bags and shoes

I collect the little air-drying, desiccant, silica sachets that come in boxes of new shoes or bottles of vitamins etc and store shoes and bags with these inside. You can buy boxes of new packets, though. If your bag smells musty, hang it in an open space with the silica sachets inside. Leave the bag open. It may take a few weeks, but the smell will eventually go. Or why not try the activated charcoal!

My collection of silica sachets. Source: Joanne Thompson

Washing a dress circa 1940s

A rayon crepe dress will shrink a bit, but can usually be pressed back to the original size and shape. And a cotton garment can of course be washed. But one of the best tips I received when I was starting out in the vintage clothing business was from Nicole Jenkins of Circa Vintage. She said to always remove the shoulder pads from a 1940s dress before washing it. Why? In the 1940s, during and after the war, supplies were scarce, especially in the UK, and people made do with whatever they could find. Regular stuffing such as cotton wadding was scarce, so all kinds of interesting things can be found inside 1940s shoulder pads. Nicole says she found (clean) bandages in one pair. I found unravelled rope in another! So, just to be sure, remove them first. It’s easy to tack them back in place after washing.

Shoulder pads are easily removed and reattached. Source: Joanne Thompson

To treat and prevent clothing moths

Any new woollen item I receive, including hats, goes in a ziplock bag and then into the chest freezer for at least a week before storing in the wardrobe. Washing or dry cleaning will also kill moth larvae. I make large drawstring storage bags from thrifted sheets and then store all woollen and silk garments in these, either flat or on the hanger. I label my bags for reference, but you could easily attach a photo to help you remember what’s what.

I also hang camphor in the wardrobes, as I find the smell more bearable than moth balls. When I take them out, I hang clothes in the fresh air for 10 minutes to disperse the smell. If you have furs, I also recommend this treatment.

To treat marks on velvet

To treat crush marks on velvet, try steaming and then brushing with a clothes brush.

If your waistband button doesn’t meet the buttonhole

This will only work if the button is not in obvious view (i.e. on the waistband). If you need a little more room, try making a loop from hat elastic (roll elastic) and sewing it next to the buttonhole. Using this loop instead of the buttonhole may give you just enough room to fasten.

Waists certainly were tiny back in the day! Source: Joanne Thompson

If there’s damage to your collar or cuffs

If you are slightly handy with a needle, you can do what our grandmothers used to do and take off the collar/cuffs, turn them and restitch.

I turned these cuffs – good as new! Source: Joanne Thompson

To remove scuff marks from suede

Use a little water on a nail brush and gently brush. You will have to brush the whole item or you will just leave a bigger mark. I’ve done this successfully with bags and shoes but I would not recommend tackling a coat. Vodka is also good for removing marks from suede!

To remove mould and mildew marks

A little vodka on a soft toothbrush works wonders, particularly with removing mildew from black garments. I suspect isopropyl alcohol would also work, but I haven’t tried it yet.

This article was originally published on March 20, 2021, and has been updated on July 12, 2023.


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