The Joys & Sorrows Of Vintage Rayon Lingerie (And How To Care For It)

One of the first pieces of vintage lingerie I ever purchased was a simple pink rayon slip — not as nice as this one, with its sheer netting and floral trims, but of a similar construction and period.

The classic lines, swishy taffeta-like sound, and inexpensive price tag drove me to purchase it quickly.

Rayon can be dreamy to wear; there’s not much like the fresh, crisp feeling of it on a hot, wilting day… How can you slump or wilt when your slip is so perky?!

You can’t!

But I quickly discovered why many eschew vintage rayon lingerie pieces: Rayon and other vintage taffeta-esque fabrics (including acetate and silk based textiles) may shrink, “shred” or split fibers, lose their color, and/or lose that crisp texture and distort itself into some limp thing you’ll weep over.

Laundering vintage rayon lingerie can be tricky, but several pieces later I figured out a few “rules of thumb” as opposed to being “all thumbs” with vintage rayon.

How To Clean Vintage Rayon

#1 If the piece has that rustle, or that watermark moiré, like taffeta does, have it dry cleaned. Most any dry cleaners can handle it, but I always prefer to take my things to dry cleaning professionals who are experts in handling vintage fashions. Not only is is your safest bet, but it only seems right to reward those who make the effort to know how to properly clean and work with vintage textiles.

#2 If the piece is made of multiple fabrics, say a rayon skirt with a nylon lining, have it dry cleaned (as above). The reason being, if there is any shrinkage in the rayon, you’ll end up with the lining not only hanging from beneath the skirt’s hem, but extra inches of fabric beneath the skirt, causing unsightly lumps.

#3 If the piece is a softer, silkier rayon, like this nightgown, or you got it so cheaply that you consider it worth the risk, you can try hand washing vintage rayon pieces in cold water. Let me repeat: cold water, not tepid or lukewarm; cold only! Gently “swish” it in the water; do not scrub or wring it.

Now to dry it.

Lay a dry giant white cotton bath sheet out and gently lay the wet garment down on it. Cover the garment with another dry white cotton towel. (If the garment is larger/longer than the bottom towel, you may either use more towels to match the size of the garment, or gently bring the exposed bottom half of the garment up over the top towel and cover with a third dry white cotton towel.) Gently pat the top towel to help absorb excess water so that the garment is not soaking-wet.

Gently remove the towels to release the damp garment.

Hang the garment to dry by its most sturdy parts (this may not be the thin shoulder straps) or let it dry flat on a non-porous surface, such as a plastic or metal table top (wood tends to not only invite snags, but it absorbs the water and keeps the clothing damp, leading to a musty smell).

If your dried vintage garment has wrinkles, you may iron it — on the reverse side and with an ironing cloth between the iron and the vintage fabric to prevent scorches and shine. Use the lowest setting possible, avoid steam settings. (I never ever use the steam setting on vintage pieces.)

A Few Other Tips:

If you have a vintage rayon piece that has been damaged, you can try two things to perk it back to prettiness:

A) Try soaking the piece in cold whole milk for a few hours; the fats and proteins often work wonders on split and dull fibers, and sometimes even remove stains. (Then follow the handwashing instuctions.)

B) Take the garment into the dry cleaners; sometimes the professional cleaning can salvage limp and unhappy pieces.

One key to the longevity of vintage lingerie and vintage fashions in general is to keep the laundering & cleaning to a minimum.

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