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i found my dream vintage skirt. it came with a stubborn stench
air out the anno domini. rinse out the renaissance.
I’ve been on an online vintage shopping kick for old western styles with a victorian flair. Think rancher’s daughter meets westworld saloon girl meets little bo peep. One night I was sitting with my laptop in bed scouring Etsy, eBay and Gem with search terms like “vintage slip skirt” and “victorian/edwardian skirt.” When I saw the thumbnail image for this skirt, I gasped.
eBay photos are notoriously bad. With online vintage shopping you learn to see past the bad lighting and musty looking backdrops to assess the potential of the piece. I recognized the potential immediately. The subtle bell shape of the skirt! The pleated ruffle hem! The BLUE BOWS!
I skimmed down to the garment information. Measurements checked out. Bingo. This was THE skirt.
I set a reminder to bid on this item. eBay auctions can be extremely cutthroat, but this was one was alright—my strategy is to enter my bid with :30 seconds left to go and it worked. I bought the skirt for $68 and waited patiently for its arrival.
One thing you can’t predict at all when buying clothes online is its smell. You can see all the photos, get all the measurements, the fabric composition info, and yet if something arrives and smells strange or foul even - that’s not going to be covered by PayPal protection. It’s usually not returnable. I am quite scent sensitive and there have been times where the clothing smells so strange and incompatible with my body chemistry I’ve had to resell it.
When the skirt arrived, I took it out of its packaging. It was a little stale, but not bad—pretty standard for vintage clothing. I decided to give it a wash on the delicates cycle and let it hang dry.
It seemed that the initial rinse of water unlocked a truly decrepit stench. Straight from the crypt. The kind of stench that really conveyed to me how old this garment might be and how many decades of smell it probably absorbed. If it was actually from the Victorian era that means it was around from 1900. It made my skin crawl imagining what medley of ancient detritus was baked in the fabric.
Fossilized skin flakes of a victorian lady with tuberculosis??
Dormant cell samples of bubonic plague??
I was very worried. The design and fit of the skirt was perfect. I had already dreamt about our future together: the place it would hang in my closet, how perfect it would look with my sandy liang mary janes. I had to find a way to get the smell out.
And reader, I think I did.
It’s not completely odorless, but it’s inoffensive enough to wear.
Vinegar & Baking Soda Soak
When you google “how to get smell out of vintage clothing” the most common answer is to soak it in a vinegar and baking soda mix. I filled a metal bowl with water, Heinz white vinegar and baking soda. The chemical reaction is so satisfying. I stuffed the skirt into the bubbles of the mixture and left it outside for a day. Swirled it around like witch tending to her vat of potion. Every few hours I checked on it and gave it a quick sniff. Still pretty musty but mentally I felt better knowing a long soak would only help cleanse whatever was trapped in the fabric.
Bomb Cyclone Power Wash
California was enduring a bomb cyclone genesis storm the week I got the skirt. In summary, it was pouring rain, wind that felt like small earthquakes, with occasional lighting in the skies. It was nature’s power wash cycle. So I draped the skirt outside on a chair and let it ventilate in the storm. I know vintage clothing usually needs more gentle treatment but I was at my wit’s end. It was left overnight.
Aesop Deodorant Hotbox
After it air dried, the smell wasn’t that bad. But it was wrinkly so I ironed it (managed to set up the ironing station outdoors). Unfortunately the hot steam cooked the odor and augmented it. It felt like we were back to square one. I aired it out for 8 hours. As I did my last minute packing for LA, I tossed it in a tied up Baggu and hoped maybe I could still wear it on the trip. Once Ethaney and I got to the hotel, I unbagged the skirt. Ethaney agreed it had a little dankness to it but suggested spraying a lot of Aesop deodorant on it and trapping it in the Baggu again, like a deodorizer hotbox. I left it like that for the first day of our trip. When I took it out, it was much more tolerable. I believe the deodorant really did the trick.
Styling the skirt for a tattoo day
I loved how this outfit turned out! Worn with a white Nu Swim one-piece, black Ozma bandana, southwestern style belt borrowed from Ethaney, and Sandy Liang mary jane pointe shoes.