Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Caring for Vintage 1960s Beaded and Sequined Garments

1960s sequined dress

I recently received an email from Couture Allure fan Michel.

"I have been collecting vintage pieces for a couple of years now, and I am addicted to the beautiful beaded pieces done in Hong Kong in the 1960s.  My collection is becoming a bit embarrassing in its vastness.

How should I care for these pieces?  Can the wool shell tops and cardigans (the vast bulk of what I have) be very gently hand-washed?  
I have been very pleased with my dry cleaner (local folks who have been in business for years) as they have cared for other vintage pieces, but they have been reluctant to tackle the beaded stuff, beyond a nice steaming, and they have warned me that dry-cleaning can damage sequins.  Surely the lovely ladies who wore these things back in the 60s had some method to clean them ... 

After I have cleaned my lovelies, how best to store them?  At present I have them wrapped in acid free lignin free tissue paper, inside moth-proof bags (plastic) from the cleaners.  They are lying flat in plastic storage bins, under my bed.  Is it OK to have them in all that plastic, or do they need something that allows them to breathe more?  Any tips for keeping the moths away, other than the moth proof bags?  I do also have a few of them in a cedar chest."

Michel graciously agreed to allow me to answer her questions here on the blog so I can share the information with all of you.  She sent along some photos of her lovely collection for you to see.  There are lots of questions to deal with here, so let's just jump right in!

1960s sweater with beads and paillettes

Michel, I would advise against hand washing any of your lovely 1960s beaded garments.  While I can understand your dry cleaner's reluctance to clean them, my cleaner has had excellent results with cleaning the beaded and sequined garments I take to them.  Eda, my cleaning expert, tells me that older sequins from the 1950s and 60s were much better made than modern ones and most will not fade or chip like the new ones do.  Eda does treat my sequined and beaded garments with care, always placing each garment in a separate bag and cleaning it on a gentle cycle.  I've only had issues with a couple of garments getting damaged through this process, and it was on garments that weren't made very well to begin with.  As long as you trust your cleaner, I would take a leap of faith with one of your garments (perhaps one you wouldn't feel too bad losing) and let her try putting it through the cleaning process.  I think you'll both be happy with the results. 

Detail of above sweater
There are several reasons to NOT wash these garments at home.
-     The wool knit base is likely to shrink a bit and blocking the garment back to the original shape will be difficult with all the sequins and beads.
-     All those beads and sequins will make a wet wool garment very heavy and it can easily stretch out of shape.
-     Rhinestones and silver lined beads do not react well to water and are likely to discolor.
-    Rayon should never be washed at home.  It will shrink!

1960s beaded lace and wool sweater
As for how to store your garments, folded and flat is ideal so they don't stretch.  Please don't store your treasures in plastic!  Wrapping them in acid-free tissue paper is a great idea or unbleached, un-dyed muslin will work too. Instead of plastic bins, your collection deserves to be stored in acid-free storage boxes like these.    Always be sure your garment is cleaned before storing for a long period of time.  The 4 watchwords for clothing storage are Clean, Cool, Dark, and Dry.  Avoid storing garments that have not been cleaned.  Keep them in a cool, dark place.  And be sure they are not exposed to humidity or dampness that will encourage mildew.

One final word of warning:  Sequins on older garments from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s should never be cleaned.  They are often made of gelatin and will melt when exposed to water or other liquids.

I hope that helps, Michel.  Thanks for asking and for sharing your photos with us!


ThomsonHall said...

1960s sequined dress is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Hello, just found this blog and wanted to comment, though I'm a bit late, on the cleaning of beads and sequins. There is a significant amount of discussion about this on the internet, but it is dominated by a group you may not have thought of: Oriental dancers. "Belly dancers" have to become pros at cleaning heavily beaded/sequinned costumes. Try including that phrase in your search, and you may find some useful tips from places like the Bhuz forums! Princess Farhana has a blog post here: http://princessraqs.blogspot.com/2010/01/raqqin-retro-vintage-belly-dance.html

However, wool backing may be tricky. Most dance costumes are made with a base of lycra, spandex, silk, chiffons... but not wools. Assuming that the base fabric can be washed safely, here are:

Some tips:
* Hand washing garments flat in a bathtub or other large basin can be done carefully. As mentioned here, weight can be a problem so don't drag it out of the water by a corner. Rather, drain the water then gently roll the garment, lift it while supporting as much as you can, then roll it in a towel to absorb excess water. Lay flat to dry.

*I have seen suggestions of using cool water only, mild baby shampoo, ultra mild dish soap, or a gentle detergent like Woolite. I have not personally tried dish soap, and it worries me a bit as detergents can be quite strong. Avoid solutions with dyes! Often water alone is enough to remove the dust and restore shine. Whatever you do use, be sure to rinse it well. Soap residues remaining on the fabric can speed up aging, just like residual sweat can.

* Quality of sequins and beads does matter. Luckily, as usual, vintage often means higher quality as things were made better. As mentioned here, metallic-lined beads can lose the coating in the channels easily. Modern holographic sequins also don't seem to wash as well.
If sequins begin to chip when you wash a test spot, there's always the method of using a dry Q-tip to go over each one to remove dust and restore the original shine. Painstaking, but it may be worth it...

If you are making a new garment with beads and sequins, you might try painting the attached decorations individually with a clear coat of nail polish to protect against chipping and wear. Again, painstaking, but so was the beading process!

Best of luck!

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

Thank you for your comments and suggestion Teophania. Most of the sequined dresses and tops I've seen from the 60s have either a wool sweater knit base or a rayon or acetate base. None of these is a good candidate for washing at home, which is why I recommend dry cleaning.

April said...

I have a dress very similar to this that was my grandmothers. Does anyone happen to know the value?

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