A lots happened in life since I posted about my adventures hunting down the vintage unicorn known as The Betty Draper Dress in 2019. This highly sought after dress was first featured in the 1959 Montgomery Ward catalog and then came to fame on season 1, episode 2 of Mad Men. Worn by the character Betty Draper, this dress became quite the garment to hunt down and is still very popular today. Since my original posting, this dress has also popped up in the latest season of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel being worn by an extra in a scene but it’s impossible to miss. I’ve loved having this dress but can you believe I have never washed her, even though I’ve had her for over two years. I normally wash all my new vintage garments but I was too excited by this one and took some photos straight away. Alas, earlier in the year, sometime in January when the weather was very hot, I decided I’d finally give her a wash.
My Betty Draper dress was pretty dirty; she had a few stains on her, especially along her blue cummerbund. She also had some yellowing under the armpits which was going to be a challenge. To begin with, I did a bit of research to find out what material she was made out of to ensure I wash her correctly. I found out she is made for a taffeta blend so that meant I could soak her for a little while which is what I did. For vintage garments such as this one, I normally soak them in the bathtub as it’s wide enough for the dress to be laid out and it’s not cramped or bunched up like it would be if I put it in a sink or bucket. January in Australia is very hot so I often wait for the perfect sunny day as anything overly hot can damage your vintage, personally, a 31 degree day is my ideal. Eventually that day rolled around and it was officially wash day.
I filled my tub with cool water and then I added two scoops of Nellie’s Oxygen brightener and a sprinkling of Retro Clean. These are the main laundry powders I use for washing my vintage but I’m always keen to discover new brands. Unfortunately, most laundry powders that are recommended for vintage are only available in the US and shipping to Australia is only for the very wealthy. So Retro Clean (very sparingly) and some Nellie’s is all I need. I gently placed the dress in the water and pushed her under. Within minutes I could see the water change colour and of course, if you wash a lot of vintage, ‘that’ smell appears.
The worse part of washing vintage is the smell; sometimes these garments haven’t been washed for decades so thats a lot of dirt, dust, cigarette smoke, pet odour and sweat to wash out. I very gently massaged and pushed the dress around in the water. On the heavily stained areas, I used my Exit stick and gently rubbed it on the stains. I concentrated the most on the underarm stains and slowly rubbed the stick over the stain and then massaged it in. I would let the stick residue sit on the stains for a while and then I would massage it underwater and repeat the process. Slowly but surely the stains began to lift.
The first soak, the water was a gross green shade and very strong so I drained the water and filled the tub back up for the second soak. I used the same amount of powder and kept swirling the dress under the water. I left her for about an hour in the water before I drained it and stated soak three. After another hour of soaking the water was starting to look better and cleaner so I drained the tub and gave her a very very good rinse. I could already see that she was a different colour and her stains her gone.
As gently as I could, I squeezed as much water out of the dress as possible and then I took her outside to dry. I was going to use my drying rack but lately, due to her age, the coating is starting to crack and expose the metal underneath. It’s began to rust and after one laundry day, I noticed rust stains were left on the shirt I just washed and let me tell you, by golly rust stains are difficult to remove so I didn’t want to risk my clean dress. Instead, I just laid her across the old wall mounted drying rack (which is also falling apart) and I let her dry. In the heat of the day, she took about an hour and a half to fully dry and I did turn her over half way through.
She looked so much better! She was brighter, lighter and smelt so much better. I noticed some of the flowers looked a little faded but they were mainly on areas where the dress would be rubbed a lot (like under arms) so I guess it wasn’t as noticeable when dirty. When washing vintage, the first thing you need to do is research what material your garment is made from; by finding this out, you can really ensure you proceed with the best possible way of washing your vintage without damaging it. I was really scared to wash this dress as there’s always a risk of damaging the garment but it’s always a “deep breath and dive” kind of deal.
I often get questions on washing vintage garments so I might start a mini series explaining how to wash different vintage garments and objects. As soon as I start that series I will link it for you here.
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