How do I best restore a WW2-era Navy peacoat?
November 27, 2012 6:28 PM   Subscribe

How do I best restore a WW2-era Navy peacoat?

Years ago, my father gave me his grandfather's service peacoat. I wore it for years as my daily coat during which time it took a little abuse: buttons popped off and the seam at one elbow ripped out. There is also so damage to the liner around the collar. It's also completely covered in years of cat hair from storage in the bottom of my closet (sorry, grandpop).

So, I'd like to get it cleaned, repaired and ready for use again. How do I do this? Do I take it to get cleaned first then take it to any old tailor? Are there dry cleaners who specialize in old garments like this? Has anyone done anything similar? I'd just like to make sure I don't damage the coat.
posted by Loto to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should perhaps chat with some theater folks in your area. They're almost always dealing with reworking and repairing vintage garments. Also, various antique stores nearby probably have vendors who specialize in textiles and/or military uniforms. (Heck, you might even talk to some folks at the American Legion or VFW.)

This multi-page PDF from the University of Kentucky Extension (those folks are always helpful, too) is entitled "Caring For Your Textile Heirlooms." Some info might be overzealous for a stronger fabric like wool, but in general -- until you've gone over it and checked its full condition -- it's better to treat it more gently. The article covers things like cleaning, storage, patching, etc. as well as how to record information about it.
posted by Madamina at 6:59 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was able to buy a replacement set of those anchor buttons on eBay for my own family peacoat.

A dry cleaner can clean it, and a regular local tailor can take care of any tears or worn fabric areas. Be aware that people have seen thousands of peacoats come their way - they're common, they're all differently made (even ones from the same era, due to the use of many different manufacturers to make military apparel at the same time), and they're not viewed as very precious. BUt they can make them serviceable again.
posted by Miko at 8:26 PM on November 27, 2012

Maybe ask at the Fedora Lounge?
posted by zamboni at 9:07 PM on November 27, 2012

I wish you well, but I fear that a dry cleaner won't treat it with the care it deserves. My father's peacoat (WWII veteran of the US Navy in the South Pacific) still hangs in our basement, and I am disappointed to no end that I am a little too large to wear it. (I got my maternal grandfather's tall and lanky build).

I bought a full length wool coat from an army/navy surplus store (a US Marine coat with tags inside it that clearly indicates it came from the US Quartermaster corps from 1942. It has red Corporal stripes on the upper arms). This coat is pretty chewed up (presumably by insects) upon close inspection. I still love it, and I've gotten lots of compliments regarding it, although I've been VERY surprised by the number of former US Marines (young guys) who think I need a beat down because I wear it and was never a US Marine. (The old school guys always appreciate the fact that I wear it as a tribute to their efforts.)

Anyway, I wish I had a substantive comment to make, but my only advice is to be very careful with whomever you entrust to look after your grandpa's peacoat. You could always get another one should things go wrong, but it wouldn't be your grandpa's coat, and that, to me, would be a huge loss.

Best of luck!!!!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:23 PM on November 27, 2012

A lot of dry cleaners are just going to to ship your coat down the street to a tailor and double his price when they charge you. So ask around local forums and find out who is really doing the work and go straight to the source.
posted by COD at 5:33 AM on November 28, 2012

You need a dry cleaner and a tailor. Have the dry cleaner clean the coat, then take it to your own chosen tailor. If you want a good tailor, don't go to the dry cleaner to use their alterations person - find someone who does suits and wedding tailoring.
posted by Miko at 5:48 AM on November 28, 2012

Why not repair it before cleaning it?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:13 AM on November 28, 2012

Because, particularly with old clothing, layers of grime, grease/oil, dead skin cells, and dust damage the fabric and create weird textures and uneven wear areas in certain places, especially cuffs, collars, and lapels. If the coat is already clean, the tailor will be better able to see what areas can be salvaged, what needs reinforcing, and what areas should be ripped out and replaced. If you do it the other way around, you risk losing the good work of the tailor - new stitching may be too loose once the fabric is cleaner and less stiff, and some patchy areas that just wonn't come clean will still be part of the garment, instead of having been replaced by the tailor. The tailor needs to see what condition of fabric they're really looking at, instead of guessing what it's going to be like after cleaning.
posted by Miko at 9:49 AM on November 28, 2012

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