Material girls

Repairing vintage fashion is a delicate business for expert hands. A guest style blogger selects her favourite seamstresses

One problem with finding the perfect vintage dress is the temptation to make it a fail-safe charm that’s pulled out of the wardrobe whenever there isn’t enough time or inspiration to try out a different look.

Keeping these dresses as a sartorial go-to means paying attention to wear and tear. Handing over one such precious garment to anyone but an expert for alterations or repairs is a false economy: a hand-stitched 1930s silk gown is not going to benefit from a machine-sewn hemline. I recently met up with two London-based seamstresses specialising in repairing vintage dresses, who have first-hand experience of how sewing styles have changed over the decades.

Lindsay Rodham, “The lady that does”, has an on-the-spot alterations booth at the wonderland that is Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair. She takes photographic records of any unusual sewing techniques she discovers in the dresses she alters. “It’s a real privilege to see how these garments were made. Some of the techniques are so elaborate you wouldn’t find them even in a couturier’s atelier these days. Last year I worked on 18 wedding dresses. One bride wore an Edwardian dress that was having its third outing, worn twice before on the groom’s side of the family. Restoring a dress to its former glory is a journey I take with the bride. I like to try and impart some history, for example by showing what kind of corsetry was required to create those incredible silhouettes.”

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Nanna Sandom runs Splendid Stitches from her studio in north London. Like Rodham, she is a specialist vintage clothes seamstress and is passionate about vintage fashion. Garments can be customised or restyled to suit the owner, or an old favourite can be copied in a new fabric. “My customers can trust me with their favourite dress – working on something that is cherished is a real pleasure and can feel very personal,” says Sandom.

“Many of my clients wear one or two pieces of vintage on a daily basis – a 1950s silk scarf or handbag, perhaps a 1940s jacket I’ve tailored to fit them perfectly,” says Rodham. She maintains that more often than not vintage pieces are mixed with contemporary fashion – few go for the caricatured period look. This observation rings very true – an art-deco statement necklace over a simple black dress or a 1960s houndstooth cape over skinny jeans.

Repairing a precious vintage item is less about “make do and mend” and more about preserving something of historical style value, and that holds unique memories. Posterity is also important – inheriting an exquisitely tailored vintage dress will mean even more to our daughters, goddaughters and granddaughters than it does to the Net-a-Porter generation. Clothes can be heirlooms, too – they just need the right kind of TLC.

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