I’ll Be Darned!

A guide to vintage clothing care & repair

What ho and bonjour dear sirs and madams!

I suppose I should tell you just what my intentions are for the space upon this page?  Over the coming issues I plan to guide you through caring for a vintage wardrobe (well, the contents anyway. I am certainly no carpenter!), tackling those conundrums that can often have one scratching their heads, and answering a few questions sent in by you lovely lot along the way! But where exactly should we start…?

Whether you are male or female, tall or short, sporting or leisurely, I can take a safe guess that you often wear some sort of clothing. Am I correct? Aha, I KNEW it! You may be wondering how exactly I came to this conclusion with such accuracy.  Well, it is simply an assumption made upon the knowledge that it is really quite frowned upon to go nude in the general public.  Plus you’d be rather chilly.
Now we’ve established that we all have the wearing and keeping of clothes in common, let’s tackle exactly what we should do to maintain the condition of said clothing.


First and foremost, we want to keep away those pesky moths that like to chomp on the delicate fibres of our most prized garments.  Moths are a vintage-clothing wearers worst nightmare, and have a penchant for causing havok! They really like natural fibres the best, so woollens, cotton and linens tend to be their main meal source.  And they like dirt and grime (anyone who has hand-washed a 1940s dress will know this is engrained in fabrics to a level you’d never believe until you see that icky grey water).  All this means that vintage clothing is best kept stored in a wardrobe that is enclosed, out of sunlight and kept clean. Hoover or dust inside your wardrobe regularly, and try to keep your clothes fresh and happy.

Moth hole in a woolen jacket
Moth hole in a woolen jacket

Readers questions

‘How do I know if I have a moth problem? And what the heck do I do if I find them?’

These little pests can be tricky to spot.  It’s the stealthy little larvae that do damage to clothes, eating away at fibres and disguising themselves so as to remain undetected.  Check items such as woollen garments regularly for new holes appearing, as this likely means the beasts have moved in.  If you use pheromone traps then any fully grown moths will become stuck to these and therefore will be easy to spot.  If you are unlucky enough to discover moths living in your wardrobe then be sure to act immediately to prevent the problem getting out of control…after all, we don’t want them to win this war!  Freeze garments that have been affected for a minimum of 12 hours, before defrosting and drying, as the eggs and larvae won’t survive the chilly temperatures. Wash or dry clean anything else, and be sure to thoroughly clean your storage spaces. Fingers crossed those little blighters will be eradicated before they get the chance to really take over and chomp on your finest tweeds!

he lost battle against moths
The lost battle against moths


Many people associate vintage clothing with that rather pungent whiff of moth-balls, but lets break that stereotype!  Instead, place cedar balls, dried lavender and cloves into small cloth bags and hang on rails/pop in drawers.  This will help to put off moths and keep your garments from smelling musty to boot.  But alas, these alone will not deter the moth so be sure

to purchase some moth traps (generally pheromone strips) and hang these amongst your collection too. These attract any bothersome males that have been hanging around, and then they can’t mate with the ladies and will hopefully pop off! Now, with any luck you won’t have the displeasure of meeting them, but the above are preventative measures to decrease the chances that you might find these clothes-chomping little pests squatting in your home!


If, like me, you’ve enjoyed the frankly tropical English weather we’ve been having over the Summer and early Autumn, you might well be secretly harbouring a collection of rather whiffy garments caused by the darned inconvenient habit of perspiration that comes with such weather.



Readers questions

‘How do I remove the smell of mothballs from my clothes?’

Oh those little critters ears must be burning! Not only do they like to munch on our clothes, but they are also the reason why so many ill-advised traders and desperate collectors end up engraining the almighty smell of mothballs into their best vintage clothing. Washing the items simply will not do the trick in these instances and this result often causes panic, but fear not! The very best antidote to a mothball stench is sunlight and warmth. Honestly, simply lay or hang items out in the sunlight on a warm day and after a day or two the scent should have dissipated leaving you free to enjoy your fur coat or wool slacks without that terrible smell following you around.


I am also quite sure that any collector/wearer of vintage garms has come across that truly awful ancient underarm smell that makes ones stomach churn and hairs stand on end. The sort that makes you feel like you may never get to enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass again…ever. If you haven’t, then you should consider yourself incredibly lucky!

Let’s think about some tips that will help you to banish those smells from your clothes and avoid any embarrassing social situations involving old smells being attributed to your questionable personal hygiene. Because sometimes a spot of Febreeze just won’t cut the mustard.

If an item has a bit of a smell, but nothing too strong or concentrated then a spell outside on the washing line for a good airing can really work wonders. Sunlight and a good breeze act as a natural deodoriser, so choose a day with a bit of sun and a gentle breeze; if the wind is too strong then be prepared to find your breeches strewn across neighbouring gardens! For those of you not lucky enough to have any outdoor space (so that’s most of us Londoners, right?) then worry not, as a similar result can be achieved by hanging your items in a bathroom for a few days where the moisture and heat from the bath/shower can take effect. Add a splash of vinegar to a tubful of hot water and leave in the room for added neutralising power.

For the really pongy, you may need to take a more no-nonsense approach! White vinegar or vodka diluted with water and placed in a spray bottle is a good thing to have in your armoury. Spray either of these mixtures onto the stubborn areas such as those questionable underarms and leave it to dry of its own accord. As the mixture evaporates from the garment, in theory so should the smell. Although you can use either vinegar or vodka, I know which I prefer (and not just because it is less scented, but also because it is far more enjoyable to drink that remainder which is not needed for the task at hand) *hic*.

If you are in possession of an item which stench is mightier that even the power of the vinegar/vodka method then you need to bring out the big guns! Head to your pantry (otherwise known as that kitchen cupboard full of stuff that isn’t really food) and find that half used tub of baking soda and a packet of bay leaves.


Readers questions

‘I want to travel and have some vintage clothes that I fear may make other things in the case smell. What would you suggest for avoiding this?’

Ah! A conundrum the avid traveller might come across fairly regularly! For whiffy items, I would advise folding them neatly, wrapping them in tissue and placing them inside a bag of their own (a vintage pyjama bag or laundry bag perhaps?), with bay leaves and lavender. If you have a compartmentalised suitcase then maybe keep the pongiest items in their own section of the case to stop cross-contamination of the smell. Placing scented drawer liners or small lavender bags into your suitcase will also help with the overall smell, as will unpacking and airing your clothes when you reach your destination, especially if you are lucky enough to be headed to sunny climes!


Then grab one of those many saved carrier bags you swear will come in handy one day. Take the malodourous artefact and place into a carrier bag, sprinkle dry baking soda into the bag, add a few bay leaves and tie a knot in it to seal. Shake it about and leave for a few days or so. The baking soda will absorb smells whilst the bay leaves will impart a nice light scent and is also a deterrent to those naughty moths we discussed last issue. Et voila….hopefully!

If after trying all these methods on any one piece of clothing it is still breathtakingly pungent then it perhaps deserves an award for the most tenacious odour of all time. And a new owner who is without a sense of smell.

Well, it certainly was lovely to meet you all, but now I really must be off! Next issue will see me tackling another common wardrobe issue, which often leaves us in a muddle and answering more of your questions. If you have a query you think I could help solve, please do mail me electronically at and I’ll do my very best to investigate.

Pip pip,

Rosie Alia


Rosie Alia is a seamstress that spends her time breathing new life into old clothes. She also makes rather splendid ladies hair accessories under the label Rosie Alia Designs: