December 29, 2011

In Memoriam: David Evins, Shoe Designer

Twenty years ago today shoe designer David Evins passed. He designed exquisite shoes for celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Ava Gardner.He dressed the feet of every First Lady from Mamie Eisenhower to Nancy Reagan.

This elegant example of Evins' style is a classic 1950s snake skin stiletto, each scale tipped in gold. Evins gained popularity among wealthy stars by focusing on comfort and lightening the weight of shoes during the 1940s, while creating beautiful designs in high-quality materials.

Ask The Vixen: Antique Dress Display

Q: I recently received a dress that belonged to my great-great-great grandmother. I would like to know the safest ways to display or store these items. I was thinking of having it put into a large frame. What do you think would be best?

A: To display the dress, you could have it framed with two caveats - first, make sure there's only indirect light (at most) if it's going to be displayed every day. Light destroys fabric over time, by weakening it as well as fading it. Second, make sure the frame is not airtight, and that you can gain access to the dress fairly easily if need be. Natural fibers need to expand and contract with changing temps, so airtightness is bad.

On the other hand, pests can travel into a frame that's not airtight, so it's helpful if you can "evacuate" the dress should it ever attract pests. If it's clean of body oils & other residues it should not be a particular attraction to pests; silk & wool are more predisposed to pest damage than cotton or linen, but with an occasional visual inspection you should be fine.

Additionally, you should affix the dress to an acid-free backing by hand-tacking it with unbleached cotton thread. Distribute the weight of the dress by having a strategy for spacing the sewing before you begin.

Ask The Vixen: Preserving Vintage Wedding Gowns

Q: I recently acquired my grandmother's wedding gown and head piece. It's in ok condition, there are a few holes through out but that is all. It is over 50 years old and made of silk. I was wondering if you had any suggestions as to how I can store it properly to keep it from being damaged any further.

A: You wrote us with interest in preserving your grandmother's silk wedding gown and veil. The first thing to do in preparation for long-term storage is to clean the gown. A dry cleaner who is experienced with antique and vintage clothing would be ideal; some who advertise "wedding gown preservation" may be good, but others may not be especially well-educated in the area. J. Scheer and similar companies are renown for their expertise, though this high quality has a corresponding cost.

After it has been cleaned, handle the pieces with clean dry hands, or ideally, with plain white cotton gloves on. Buy a small amount of acid free tissue, enough to pack the gown inside to give it some amount of shape. Usually we pack the bodice and sleeves and roll the skirt and train gently up into a sleeping-bag type roll. Rolling avoids unnecessary creases.

The headpiece should be packed to maintain its shape and the veil rolled similarly. Get a large cardboard box (or even better, an acid-free box) and line its bottom and sides with acid free tissue, and place the gown in first with the veil above it. Make sure the box is large enough that it won't be crushed when closed. The box should not be air tight, because natural clothing fiber like silk has to "breathe" (i.e. expand and contract) with changes in temperature and humidity. Do check on the box after you've stowed it away, every 3 to 4 months. I hope this helps!

Ask The Vixen: Vintage Clothing & Space Bags

A customer's inquiry from Send us your clothing care questions!

Q: You said on your site not to store clothes in bags. What about Space Bags?

A: We do not recommend storing vintage clothing in plastic bags for a few reasons. First, if the clothing is made of natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool or silk), it must be able to "breathe" (expand and contract) as the room temperature changes, and an air-tight bag will not allow this. However, even if you were storing clothing made from all-synthetic fibers, sealing a bag of clothes can hold in moisture which could mildew, and any odors will seem intensified when re-opened.

As I understand it, Space Bags require you to pump out air, which will also make you iron or steam everything once the bag is re-opened. This becomes a trade-off between saving space and spending time. I hope this helps!

Ask The Vixen: Valuing Vintage Clothing

Q: Dear Vintage Vixen: I have visited your site on numerous occasions and am a fan. I am writing to get advice from you regarding clothing. I lost all of my clothes (and belongings for that matter) in a water back-up/flood situation and am currently negotiating a settlement with my insurance company. They are claiming that the depreciation for apparel/footwear is in the neighborhood of 80 - 90%!

My clothing is high quality, i dabble in clothes collecting as a hobby, and take good care of my clothes. As you are an expert in clothes preservation i was wondering if you would either review my list and give an estimate with regard to depreciation or if you could refer me to an article, guide or other source/expert on clothing deprecation.

A: You wrote that you're seeking info on estimates of your clothing that has been damaged in a flood situation. I've not had particular experience with depreciation, though generally stated with vintage clothing, the older and rarer it is, the more valuable it can be. By degrees, this removes the garment from the sphere of used clothing and nudges it toward the realm of antiques and collectibles. This is totally backward to the average insurance company, who often assumes a garment is a garment. Thus, if a year-old garment is worth half price, a 50-year-old garment must be worth pennies. So I have sympathy with your dilemma, but I'm not certain how much help I may be.

If you got estimates of retail values on your vintage clothing by having them appraised, then the insurance company may be willing to look at your clothing's value as -collectibles- instead of garments. There can be a great difference between clothing that is a purchased collectible, as art, not a worn (and presumably worn out) garment. I don't know whether the insurance co will see this, but I do. However, even if they do see it, they might then assume you would have gotten special insurance on the clothes alone if they're of that much value to you.

It's also a bit of a dilemma to have items appraised after damage has occurred. There's no guarantee on the appraiser's part that the items were really mint condition (or whatever's claimed) beforehand.

For other info on apparel depreciation (apart from the collectibles world), there's not a lot I've seen. One book that does discuss it is pretty pessimistic. It's called "Taking Care of Clothes" by Mablen Jones, and it says that clothing even a year or two old is only worth a fraction of the original, discussed in the context of a dry cleaner losing or ruining a garment. You might try looking up similar books for info in this area.

Ask The Vixen: Green Metal Gunk on Vintage Collectibles

Q: I have a 1924 vintage girdle in a box and it is in good condition. The only problem is that some sort of green residue has built up around the metal fasteners and has spotted some of the fabric.

A: The green residue is a chemical reaction that occurs over time from the metal fasteners of the girdle. Just as iron can rust and leaves a brown mark, this metal corrodes to green. Because it's green, it makes me think there is some copper in the metal, but it could be some other metal's reaction.

We see this kind of "dreaded greenie" on vintage jewelry, as well as purse hardware and sometimes on girdles like you're describing. The easiest remedy for the hardware itself is to rub it away with an ear swab. Sometimes this works better with a soft toothbrush dipped in water. Remember to use a new ear swab or freshened toothbrush as the residue lifts away.

On purse hardware and girdles the green corrosion usually just lifts off. On vintage jewelry, it's often more stubborn, probably due to a different metal alloy.

For the fabric itself, I would look at rust removers or even a calcium-lime-rust type product. These may not be the right chemical "fighters" to work against the green build-up, but you'd have to know the metal's composition to determine what exactly would counter it. Whatever product you try, it would have to be diluted and applied sparingly, and rinsed well afterward, as rust removers are harsh.

Ask The Vixen: Red Clothes In The Washer

Q: I washed a pair of jeans and I had a RED shirt in there, and it stained my jeans I've got these pink spots on my jeans there anyway to get rid of it?

A: You wrote that you've washed a red shirt with a pair of jeans and transferred red dye onto the jeans. I understand how frustrating this is!

If you heat dried these jeans, they are most likely set and the dye won't be removed. Otherwise, rubbing alcohol may remove the dye, but you'll need to soak them probably repeatedly in straight rubbing alcohol. OxiClean is a good alternative though it also requires repeated straight soaks. Make sure to follow the instructions proportionally on the OxiClean box or it may fade the jeans.

You could also try a commercial dye remover (from the grocery) but dye removers are a very harsh option and could also lighten the jeans. I hope this helps!

Ask The Vixen: Body Odor in Vintage Clothing

Actual emails from customers. Send us your clothing care quandary!

Q: I have a 1950s suit jacket that is smelly from someone's use. Should I use Febreze
on it? I have dry cleaned it, but the stain is still there.

A: You wrote that you have a 1950s suit jacket with body odor. Since you have already dry cleaned the jacket, it's important to know whether the cleaners steamed the jacket dry or heat-dried it in any way. If they did, the odor is probably set, even more so than by the amount of time the odor was left in the fabric.

If there has not been any heat setting, and if the jacket is washable, try some long soaks with baking soda in water, or with a pre-packaged odor neutralizer (like Stain Devils) from the grocery. I haven't used Febreze myself, but you may have luck with it as well. Just remember that Febreze would likely leave residue on the sprayed surface, which itself could become a stain with time.

If the jacket is not washable, you can place it inside a closely fitting container alongside an open box of baking soda, or an unsealed plastic bag of charcoal. Then stow it away for a few weeks with the lid closed, and evaluate the odor afterward. Just make sure the baking soda/charcoal isn't easily jostled as it could stain if it contacts the fabric.

Ask The Vixen: Crushed Spots on Velvet

Q: I wore a velvet dress recently, and I get flattened marks & crushing on the fabric. I cannot tell where these come from. Please help!

A: You wrote us with a question about crushed spots on velvet. The standing fibers of velvet will flatten if any serious humidity or water gets into the velvet -and- if the velvet is
pressed flat with your hand, your body, or anything else while wet.

Probably the droplet sized spots are from rain, a lawn sprinkler, the condensation of an iced drink cup, or even sweat drops (if you sweat in any 'healthy' amount). You really have to be standing guard when you wear velvet, if you want to avoid these mishap types of spots. If you think it might be sweat, you can try wearing a body stocking, a close-fitting camisole, anything that fits up under the arms to see if they stop appearing. A little detective work can go a long way to avoid these altogether.

To get them out, there are two options. Dry cleaning will help, since dry cleaning actually isn't "dry", and the liquid solvents they use will let the velvet stand up again where it's crushed. They should also steam the garment afterward, which is the easiest way to quickly remove these crushed marks. Note that if your dress has any staining (apart from the crushed areas or within them), you need to dry clean it without a doubt. Velvet cannot be washed in water.

Some crushed velvet, if it's severe, will not stand up again if steamed. You can also steam at home, with a handheld or travel size steamer, they are the least expensive ($10-20 at a big box store). But be careful... the steam from a steamer will saturate a garment quickly, so after you steam (from the underside of the fabric), be certain not to touch the outside of the velvet until it's completely dry once again. Let it hang in mid-air on a hanger, touching nothing.

Also note that some velvets crush more easily than others, and some stand up again more easily than others. It depends on what they're made of (silk, rayon or some other synthetic).

One last thing - Velveteen sounds like velvet, but it's a different fabric and has much shorter standing fibers (usually made of cotton which isn't so sensitive), so it's hard to crush.

December 27, 2011

The Most Thoughtful Gifts Of All...

This holiday you might not've gotten what you wanted, but consider yourself lucky. In December 1963, this Vogue advertisement suggests "the most thoughtful gift" for the average woman would be a multi-speed liquidizer or the deluxe automatic roast-ryte.

These kitsch appliances are more suited for a Suzy Homemaker museum nowadays!

In case your most thoughtful gifts are not vintage toasters but vintage clothing, our post-holiday sale runs through Thursday 12/29/11. Get it while it's hot, vixens!

December 24, 2011

Vintage Wedding Trousseaus

The word "trousseau" translates from French to mean "bundle" in English. The notion of gathering a collection of clothes in preparation for marriage is rather antiquated in today's society, but once upon a time, a woman's trousseau was a very real part of the wedding ritual.

Here's an example:

This exquisitely charming silk nightgown was dated and described as worn by Aunt Allie on her wedding night - October 12, 1928.

We've posted more beautiful finds and interesting trousseaux trivia on our site's vintage clothing glossary today. Enjoy!

December 21, 2011

Vintage Winter Wonderland ca. 1964

Shopping in a mall in the 1960s was as much about spectacle and kitschy attractions as some of today's malls are! And Christmas gave mall-goers even more reason to visit.

Here's a pictorial of a Christmas department store display called Wonderworld, set up in the Cherry Hill Mall in Camden, NJ in 1964, full of moving animatronic dolls and trippy scenery in a psychedelic montage:

The entrance to Wonderworld. Here a smiling belle in a felt-scalloped hat collects admission from thrill-seeking kiddies. Her fairytale costume is purple, lime green, turquoise and blue.

The Christmas Village on display, complete with Santa's Marvelous Toy Machine set at the lower right.

Wonderworld takes a turn for the kitsch with a rotating dragon display... part of the 'Magic Mushroom' exhibit.

Psychedelic scene of Asian dolls and larger-than-life mushrooms. Notice the hovering teapot above the
largest mushroom... it's pouring tea into a tea cup on the mushroom's "tabletop". Far out!

The "Wonderworld Guard" is much more traditional in appearance and style... trip over? Not quite yet.

No visit to Wonderworld would be complete without a peek at Santa's workshop. Dials whirring, lights flashing, and all controlled by a bearded animatronic doll!

A very tired Wonderworld boy and his dog now asleep, waiting for Christmas morning. The dolls were
contrived to appear as though they were breathing under their vintage quilted cover.

What a long, strange trip it's been...

Have a very kitschy Christmas!

Reference: Display World Magazine, August 1964

December 18, 2011

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Mod Vintage Suede

What was it about suede in the 60s? Some of the best coats & jackets we showcase from this era are butter-soft suede in the most interesting hues. Check out this pink one for example:

And here's a very similar look with a Pop vibe thanks to its very different hue:

Check our site for more vintage suede outerwear and get your Mod on! What's here at Vintage Vixen today is gone tomorrow, shipping to vintage-loving Vixens all over the world.

December 15, 2011

Vintage Holiday Fashions

What to wear for the holidays? Novelty-themed vintage clothes & jewelry are such a festive choice!

These young ladies are a-glow with Christmas cheer. The pant set is trimmed in fringe, and the swagged skirt set is all-satin. Circa 1957.

Here's a few of the conversation pieces at Vintage Vixen with a holiday spark:

View more charming holiday finds and wrap up any last-minute gift lists! Feel free to contact us with any questions.

December 13, 2011

Ban-Lon, Shirt-Jac, Perma-Prest, What-Next

Ever see a Ban-Lon label and wonder what that means? What's a Ban, or a Lon, for that matter?

1960s Ban-Lon was soft and comfortable, better quality and very popular in casual shirts.

Clothing companies have been creating names to distinguish themselves since branding began. In the 1950s & 60s, branding clothing started getting really popular, so that sometimes even the fabric itself was branded and marketed as its own selling point.

Combined with the urge to make names quick & snappy-sounding, marketing folks began cutting words short and adding them together. The result was hyphens galore.

A 1965 advertisement for display forms ponders the conundrum of a jac-shirt.

With these abbreviated marks, you could (sometimes) decipher their meaning by unpacking the word portions. With Ban-Lon, however, it's not so clear. The shirts themselves are polo style or ring-neck style with banded sleeves & waist for a crisp casual look. We knew the "Lon" part stands for nylon, because that's what Ban-Lon is made of. Maybe the "Ban" means the knit bans wrinkles?

A little digging found a less obvious answer. "Ban" stands for Bancroft, the company that developed the knit. The shirts are pretty wrinkle-free as well, so maybe using "Ban" was a one-two punch in the marketing department.

The jac-shirt becomes a shirt-jac in this 1966 Sears ad. The two names were interchangeable.

Here's a few more examples, unpacked and written out, of kitsch vintage clothing labels:

Shirt-Jac = Shirt Jacket, a shirt tailored enough to wear open as a jacket (AKA Jac-Shirt)
Pla-Jac = Play Jacket is our guess, as it usually is seen on athletic style jackets from the 60s

Perma-Prest = Permanent Press, a cotton blend idea developed in the 60s that attempted to eliminate ironing

What's in a name? A lot during this hyphenated heyday. And we're sure there are more... Write us if you think of another!

December 09, 2011

Used Clothing Shopping Tip

When I was a teenager, I was so into vintage clothing that I spent my spare time at the library reading stain guides. No kidding.

Here's a general rule I picked up back then:

Water-based stains (like juice or dirt) will be held by natural fibers (linen, cotton, wool, silk) and repelled by synthetic fabrics. Oil-based stains (like greasy food or lotion) are held by synthetic fabrics and repelled by natural ones.

It's come in handy time and time again, when I'm shopping for vintage clothes and need to know whether some stain will likely disappear with a bit of effort. Some stains are merely on the surface, as the fiber is relatively impenetrable to the stain. Others have soaked in and will need soaking in turn.

Then there's also the combination stain, like perspiration or lipstick, which contains both oil-based and water-based components. Most stain types can be figured out with a bit of thought & common sense.

Ladies dancing in vintage dresses, likely cotton or rayon, in the 1950s.
The perspiration created from dancing so gaily would be
combination stains if not washed out - both body oil and water from sweat.

There are plenty of other questions surrounding this principle, such as how to identify stain types (is this dust or dye transfer?) and fiber content (is this silk or rayon?). I'll work on tackling those topics in another post.

Until then, Vixens, happy shopping!

Woman: A Celebration, edited by Peter Fetterman

December 06, 2011

Why Are Men's Buttons Opposite Women's Buttons In Clothing?

It's an age-old question! From our fashion history background, the default answer was always this:

Men dressed themselves, and conventionally they buttoned their clothes left-over-right, meaning the buttonhole side of the fabric lapped over from the wearer's left. But women had servants to help them dress, and because the servant was facing the wearer, they needed an opposite closure to match their opposite perspective.

Claudette Colbert dressing herself quite easily in Clark Gable's pajamas, circa 1934.

This doesn't quite hold up when you realize men had butlers, but maybe those man-servants never attended a gentleman in his dressing quarters. Also, when I use my own hands to button or unbutton a garment as a servant would (whether the item is men's or ladies'), I don't feel a preference either way. But maybe that's just me. And this custom doesn't account for left-handedness, but in the days of its origin, I doubt many people were accounting for that.

Also, consider the fact that, at various points in history, women wearing obvious closures of any kind were considered to have looser morals, because that line of buttons showed just how to gain access to what was underneath. Why make it easier to undo a blushing beauty's buttons by placing them in a convenient way for her paramour, especially in times puritanical?

I checked through my references here at Vintage Vixen for any notes about buttons, but I couldn't find any. I have several books on male & female differences in fashion, but they omit this fundamental difference, which I thought was interesting. It also seems to indicate that this was a custom created out of a functional need, not a sexual differentiation.

So I looked around online. There are many ideas about this historical conundrum, and in addition to the theory above, here they are in summary:

  • Men needed their coats to close with opening toward the wearer's right, because they pulled their sword from their left hip. If the coat opened to the left, the butt of the sword could get caught in this opening.
  • Women tended to carry a child on their left hip, and they nursed by opening & closing their blouses with their right hand, so they needed an opening to match.
  • People's clothing was once so similar in style (not sure which era they're describing here) that the differences in buttons was the primary indicator of gender.
  • The difference was due to some religious or moral reason, possibly to hide/show more skin depending on the viewer's perspective.
  • Buttons in the back of a ladies' garment were easier to do/undo by oneself as well as a servant if placed a certain way.

The ideas keep coming. Like the chicken and the egg, no one really knows which came first. Or why.

Personally I'm still wondering - do you have a preference if you're buttoning up someone else's shirt? Or do you think the servant answer is simply a reason given to placate the curious?

Photo: The Language of Clothes | Yahoo | Life's Little Mysteries | Fun Trivia | Snopes

December 04, 2011

Fashion History, Vixen Style

Back in September we redesigned our site from top to bottom. In the midst of the transition, our beloved fashion history pages went by the wayside.

Just wanted to let you all know they're back! This link was a mainstay for vintage fashion enthusiasts 15 years ago, when first started. It's still here and still helping out thousands of costumers, students and fashion folks around the globe.

We'd like to embellish them soon with decade-specific graphics, fabric care tips, and anything else you want to see. Let us know what would tickle your fancy!

November 29, 2011

Buy This, Not That: Christian Dior

Christian Dior is such a haute label, you'd think vintage versions from this fashion house would be sky-high in price, right?

Not necessarily.

Here's a $9,800 lambskin coat by Dior featured in Vogue's December 2011 issue.

Now take a look at some of the offerings from Vintage Vixen -

Circa 1980 and a fraction of its original price!
We have it for $120.

On sale at a magnifique $37.50!

A haute power suit look with Dior insignia, only $36.

View all Dior labels and happy shopping, Vixens!

November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks To You!

We at have so much to be thankful for, most of all our wonderful (and wonderfully stylish) customers! April, Michelle, Shane, Lynne and Darien want to wish you and yours a very Happy Thankgiving.

Image courtesy of
Gratitude courtesy of all us Vixens! :)

November 23, 2011

What's Under Your Tree?

It's a magical time of year, and a wonderful season of giving! We're sharing the wealth at Vintage Vixen with a fabulous deal on gift certificates:

  • Buy $25 - Get $10
  • Buy $50 - Get $25
  • Buy $100 - Get $50

There's no code needed, but hurry! This deal ends like Cinderella's ball, at midnight on Cyber Monday 11/28. Season's Greetings, vixens!

November 15, 2011

A Suit of Clothes

Once upon a time, a gentleman did not wear a suit. He wore instead “a suit of clothes”. This rather elegant phrase was abbreviated only with the rush and bustle of the Industrial Revolution. And beginning early in the 20th century, ladies borrowed the idea of a man’s suit for themselves.

The look was powerful, wonderfully sexy, and ever-fabulous. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are a few of the many beautiful suits and designer labels we’re to post in the next day or so:

Incredibly fine Lilli Ann, circa early 1950s.

A full view of Lilli Ann suit.


For a cougar on the prowl. This suit is all-silk and simply sumptuous.


A beautiful black cocktail suit by St John. Just add martini!

This update includes high-end labels like Chanel & Gucci, loads of St John and classic-to-kitsch business wear with many a “suit of clothes”. We have added links to these beauties. Click to view!

November 11, 2011

Girl Friday

After a usual week of steaming, linting, de-pilling and miscellaneous repairs, this desk needs a serious clearing off. Lynne's our order prep gal, and this is her corner of the Vintage Vixen workspace. TGIF!

October 30, 2011


Autumn's in full swing, and that means long sleeves & woolly coats are in high demand at Vintage Vixen! One of the most charming things in vintage-inspired fall fashions are the folkloric ideas and artisan styles made so popular by indie designers, especially on Etsy's global marketplace.

In our little corner of the world, I particularly love the woodsy autumnal feel of Alpine designs we find for our vintage clothing inventory. Here's a sampling:

This last one's a gorgeous Norwegian ski sweater, authentic vintage from the 1950s and perfect as we head toward the holidays. Here's to a winter of fabulous fashion!

October 28, 2011

We Like Ladylike

Vintage gloves are one of the simplest ways to add vintage femininity to your modern wardrobe! They're pretty, functional and effortlessly ladylike. Here's a few of the most recent ones we've posted on our vintage clothing website:

...There's many more to browse in our Gloves department. Whether you're an Audrey Hepburn type, a Marilyn Monroe fan or a Mad Men addict, there's something for every vixen!

October 27, 2011

Ready For Halloween In Vintage Style

Halloween is drawing near, and our last shipments of Halloween costumes have just left Vintage Vixen. Using vintage clothing for a Halloween outfit is a fun and creative endeavor, and this year we've helped more folks than ever find their retro-minded style for October 31!

We just wanted to say Thanks for choosing us to help make your costume ideas a reality. Happy Haunting, Vixens!


October 18, 2011

Difference Between Fibers, Weaves & Fabric

"So this dress is really pretty, probably silk, or satin maybe". I hear it for the millionth time and I wonder - Why is fabric so confusing to people? It was confusing to me too, at first, but perhaps due to my home-ec teacher grandma, I learned at an early age that:

Fiber + Weave = Fabric

We talk to lots of vintage collectors online, and even seasoned vintage folks can be confused by this, or simply unaware of it. I understand, and I want to help if you're among the mystified.

Here's how it works. Fibers are like ingredients. Weaving them is like cooking. Fabrics are like the recipes, because they're both the instructions to weave them, and the end result.

Just as tomatoes can become marinara sauce or ketchup or many other things, silk (the ingredient) can make satin (the recipe), or taffeta, or a wispy pongee. It just depends on what it's whipped up into.

A silk fabric will behave and wear very differently than a polyester fabric, regardless of what fabric it is. It's important for us vintage hounds to know, not only for investing in quality but also in terms of caring for these beautiful old clothes.

Until next time, happy hunting! And write if my analogy doesn't work for you; I'll try to cook up another... ;)

October 16, 2011

The Vintage Leather Coat Conundrum

“Long hair minimizes the need for barbers; socks can be done without;

one leather jacket solves the coat problem for many years; suspenders are superfluous.”

-Albert EinsteinSolve your coat problem and other chilly dilemmas
with our recent update of vintage coats & sweaters!

October 08, 2011

How To Block A Sweater, Vintage Style

It's sweater weather and our cozy woolies are coming out of the closet! That means soon enough we'll be hand-washing and blocking sweaters once they've had a wearing or two.

What does it mean to block a sweater? Blocking means laying it out while wet, after washing, and shaping it and/or stretching it into the silhouette you want, with (hopefully) the measurements you want. To describe how to do this, I'm taking the liberty of quoting at length a favorite clothing care guide by Mablen Jones. In her words (with my notes in *asterisks*):

Blocking, the process of setting of altering the shape of a knit, is usually done after cleaning or laundering while the garment is still damp. It may be done at home by hand or by steaming with a steam gun at the dry cleaner's. Blocking can change the shape of a garment but not restore the number of shrunk inches. *Unfortunately once a knit is shrunk, it's shrunk.* If you or the cleaner makes a sweater wider in blocking you lose some of its length at the same time.

If your label says "tumble-dry", do not block the knit if you have tumbled it. Many synthetics not only do not need blocking, they also require the tumbling of machine drying to allow the fibers to return to their original heat-set shape. *If your knit is a loosely-woven one, however, put it in a mesh bag before drying. The tumbling action of a dryer is a likely place for snags to happen*.

  1. For all sweaters that need to be blocked after washing, make a heavy paper pattern from shelf paper of a brown paper bag before you wash the sweater for the first time. Lay the sweater down on top of the paper on a firm, flat surface and draw an outline around the shape.
    *We have almost always skipped this, though if you love the fit of a sweater, this is the way to preserve the exact silhouette.*

  2. After you have washed and thoroughly rinsed your sweater, pick it up out of the wash basin with both hands so that you evenly distribute its weight and don't stretch any one side or part. If you have machine washed it, remove it soaking wet before the spin-dry part of the cycle.
    *Here in Florida we sometimes spin-dry thick sweaters before removal, otherwise in our high-humidity climate the sweater will seemingly never dry. Better a spun sweater than a mildewed one.*

  3. Lay it flat on an absorbent towel and blot or roll it. You might use several thicknesses for heavy knits and also change the towels several times to remove more water and to speed drying. Although variety and department stores sell mesh sweater dryers for this purpose, I generally put my towels down on a plastic-webbed lawn chair that has spaces in the webbing.
    *Clever idea re the lawn chair! Those mesh sweater dryers are vintage items of their own at this point, since Ms. Jones was writing decades ago. Might want to check Etsy for one. They are convenient.*

  4. When the sweater is no longer dripping and partially dry, place the paper outline pattern on a table covered with toweling or on a padded ironing board. Lay the sweater on top of it and shape it gently with your hands. Draw together the waist and wrist ribbing, button cardigans closed, roll collars into position, and straighten out and extend the sleeves. Ease in edges or stretch them out to fit the paper pattern.

  5. Insert rust-proof straight pins (into warp knits only) upright (at right angles to the sweater surface) every 3 or 4 inches. If the knit pulls or buckles between pins, you may have to put pins closer together to avoid getting a wavy line along the edges.
    *This is done along the edges of the sweater. Basically you're making the "cookie" (the sweater) fit the "cookie cutter" (the pattern you made). When we block without a pattern, we just shape it smoothly without any pins. Pulling & buckling only happens if you are trying to reset it to a pre-defined shape, or set it to certain measurements. On that note, if you want to change its shape, be mindful if it's lined, that you are working within the lining's (non-stretchable) limits.*

  6. Leave the sweater pinned until it is dry. If you have blocked a pure-wool hand knit in this manner at the very first washing, you don't have to repeat the whole pinning procedure. When you wash it again, just dry it flat on a towel unless you have stretched it during rough handling.

Watch our site for an update of sweaters & outerwear posting in the next few days. Until then, enjoy those snuggly long sleeves!


Jones, Mablen. Taking Care of Clothes: an Owner's Manual for Care, Repair, and Spot Removal. New York: St. Martin's, 1982. Print.

Images from a wonderful World War II scrapbook. These were magazine prints, clipped and saved by a sailor as his version of 1940s cheesecake. So quaint!