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My Plus Size Vintage Dress Adventure, Part One: My Brush with 1940’s Rayon

1940's Rayon Embroidered Butterfly Dress

1940’s Rayon Embroidered Butterfly Dress

I’m reviewing two dresses today, but I had enough pictures and things to talk about that I’m splitting it up into two blogs. This one will cover my experience washing and dealing with 1940’s rayon, while the other deals with novelty prints

I’ve always loved the beautiful 1940’s and 1950’s vintage dresses that I’ve seen on Etsy and other vintage blogs, but I’ve also heard enough horror stories about vintage dresses to make me wary of trying one. I’ve heard of scary smells, dresses that literally dry rotted off of people while they were wearing them and dresses that were just truly un-washable. I wanted to branch out and try some true vintage based on how much I loved it, but I wanted to take some baby steps. I was also afraid of looking a little matronly – lots of plus size vintage is handmade and was worn by older women who tended to be a little larger, so I wanted to avoid looking like a less than fashionable grandma.

I bought two dresses, both at price points that were not going to kill me if I somehow messed the dresses up or they just fell apart. I also bought from two sellers who I knew people had previously had good experiences with, to lessen the chance of something going wrong. Both were dresses that could be worn year round and that I truly loved. This black 1940’s rayon dress with the pink butterflies caught my eye, but what made me fall in love with it was the gorgeous pintuck details as well as the bow and ruffle on the neckline. This one is from EmilysVintageVision on Etsy. This dress measured 44-38-46, which is slightly above my regular measurements but gave me some breathing room since there’s no zip on this one.

1940's Black Rayon Butterfly Dress from EmilysVintageVision

1940’s Black Rayon Butterfly Dress from EmilysVintageVision

The dress arrived quickly and in perfect condition – to my delight, it looks barely worn and all the seams are rock solid. The sleeves are even lined in a pretty pale pink color! Since it had a higher neckline I was worried it might look matronly, but it really felt like my dream dress once I slipped it on. It’s supremely flattering and a wonderful wearable piece of history.The butterflies really gleam in the right light.

1940's Black Rayon Butterfly Dress from EmilysVintageVision

1940’s Black Rayon Butterfly Dress from EmilysVintageVision

I did encounter one of the issues that plagues even the best kept vintage – that storage smell. This is pretty common and you can find lots of resources on how to deal with it online, but I was still nervous since it meant I’d have to try and clean the dress somehow. I tried spritzing it with vinegar and water and leaving it out in the sun for half a day, which helped but didn’t kill the issue completely. I then asked around about the dreaded subject of washing vintage rayon, which is controversial. Some people told me that rayon can’t even get wet, while other people I knew claimed to have handwashed rayon with no issues. It doesn’t help that most vintage dresses have lost their care labels or never even had any if the piece was handmade, so it’s all guesswork. I eventually decided to take the plunge (quite literally here) and threw my dress into my handwash bucket with some leave in delicates soap. I then sat around and prayed that I hadn’t ruined my beautiful new dress.


I got lucky that my dress didn’t shrink – if it did, it’s not noticeable to me. I don’t think this would be the case with all rayons, which are definitely a wash at your own risk kind of proposition. That said, I wanted to go on record as someone who did get a vintage rayon dress wet and didn’t live to regret it. All of these pictures are post-wash, so you can see it definitely didn’t effect the look of the dress. Would I do it again anytime soon? Probably not. I’m going to spot clean it when needed rather than submerging it again, but the dress and my nerves did survive the process.

I’m a huge fan of both vintage dresses featured today and I’m definitely in the market for more in the future.


  1. Beautiful dress! What a great find! I’m so glad that washing it did not ruin it! <3

  2. Oh another thing you can try for odors is half water half vodka… I took a class in theater costuming and this is what they were using for the costumes that were unwashable. I’m not sure if you would want to try it on rayon but just thought I’d put it out there. 😉

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