Have you ever purchased a vintage garment, that you thought would arrive in one condition, but instead arrived in far worse shape than you had anticipated?
Grading condition on clothing is a very subjective process. A flaw that you would perhaps find unacceptable, someone else might not even notice. Conversly, something that may seem like a big deal to a seller, may turn out to be not such a big deal to you. In example, I once purchased a dress that had several pinholes on the front of the bodice which led the seller to sell it in fair condition. However, I intended on wearing a brooch on the dress which nicely covered the holes, and so it did not matter to me in the least.
On my own listings, I have devised a scale of condition that I feel can tell you a great deal about the garments you are looking at. I also make it a point to try and specifically note any areas of condition issues, their size and location on the garment (as the above example demonstrates, that does matter). Rather than saying, stain on dress, or something else non descript, I try and say 3" light brown stain in a circular patter on bodice" or something that will let you know exactly what is going on with the item. If the seller does not have such specific information, ask ask ask ask ask!!! That avoids any disappointment when the item arrives, and you notice that something is not what you expected it to be.
The condition scale I have on all of my listings is as follows:
Flawless: Mint condition with no flaws at all. There
won't be any stains, tears, discoloration, chips, dings, crazing, cracking or other nastiness.
Excellent : Will show some very minor wear, such as
a washing,a hairline scratch, a small factory flaw, a very very minor ding, a infinitesimal chip or minor, minor crazing where it really doesn't count.
The distinction between "flawless" and "excellent" may be a slight one. These pieces require pretty close inspection to show their minor "flaws"
Very Good: Shows some expected wear for its age,
like some discoloration, some small chipping or very very slight crazing. Handbags may have a a few shallow scuffs or slightly less than pristine interior, Jewelry may have some areas of wear. Overall these pieces are desirable, and useable, displayable and wearable, but not perfect.
Good: There may be a shadow stain on a dress or a
weakening of the leather on a purse. A plate may have some flaws. Still wearable and usable. Always offered at very discounted prices.
Fair: Has some issues.....they will be noted in the description usually, but if they are not, you can expect that this item will be still usable, but may require repair. I try not to offer this quality of an item if possible. (On occassion I will to clear out some inventory, but we make sure to note condition as fair).
As found: Generally, we avoid this type of thing. The only time we will consider listing an "as found" item, is if it is so unusual or unique that despite its problems, it may still be an interesting piece to own.
If your seller does not have such a scale on his or her auctions, or at least something that defines what their idea of condition is, you should ask them to do so. It takes no time at all, and really eliminates a lot of confusion.
If you get a garment, and it is really in need of cleaning, you need to know a few things before you try to address its' issues:
1. Vintage clothing should really never be machine washed. Even if the piece looks like it could take it, seams on vintage are innately more fragile than modern ones. Even the slightest pull on some seams can cause either the stitching or fabric to stretch and retract. Machine washing is especially bad, even on low agitation because the mechanisms can always pull on the fabric. If you must wash (i.e. cannot or do not wish to have item dry cleaned or professionally cleaned), do so by hand but only if you are absolutely certain that the fabric is washable (cottons, muslins, linens, nylons, polys, and other synthetics usually can take it, but you will likely ruin silks, satins and chiffons if you try it-unless you are very experienced with vintage fabrics).
2. If you are concerned about the fact that you would not want to wear something that someone else wore, and that is your motivation for washing it, try instead placing the garment in a mesh bag with a dryer sheet and putting it in the dryer for 20 minutes or so. As a nurse friend of mine always says " not much can live in a dryer for 20 minutes". So you would be doing a mini-sanitizing of the garment by doing so. Make sure the fabric is strong enough to withstand heat. Do NOT do this with anything that has fur or faux fur on it unless you are willing to roll the dice that it will be okay (for me a lot of the time, if I buy something cheaply I am much less fussy about how I handle it than if it was costly)
3. Dry cleaning is great, but you need to make sure the cleaner has a spot/stain checking system where someone actually looks at the garment and what you are trying to get out. The cleaner I use does an inspection upon intake. Do not expect miracles from a drycleaner. Some of the stains on vintage garments have been there forever. They have had ample time to set and so maybe near impossible to remove. Also, they may have a held harmless liability policy when it comes to older garments. Ask about what they do if something gets ruined.
4. If your vintage needs ironing, use a steamer. Why chance a fabric burn or smudge. If you do not have a steamer, try putting it in a bathroom while showering and having the door/windows closed and not using the fan. It is not nearly as effective as a steamer, but will help a little. I like the sharper image steamer (always readily available on ebay). It is much cheaper than others and has worked well for me, and it really makes the garment feel fresher.
Hope this helps! If it does please vote yes, so others can find it. If it does not, please let me know how I can improve it!