It is the number one thing that people always talk about when you mention vintage; that smell. A heady mix that is both sweet, sour and musky, you can almost taste it. But what the hell is it?
If you are about to eat, or are of a nervous disposition, walk away now. I have warned you.
That funky little malodour is a rather gross cumulation of years of sweat, oils from skin, dead skin cells, dirt, pollutants, food, perfume, storage……..basically anything you can come across. And that stench is being produced by tonnes of tiny bacteria, feasting away on all that human juice and creating little farts. Look, I never said vintage was glamourous ok.
Remember watching those crime programmes and they always say that the smell of a dead body stays and you can never shift it from your clothes and your nose. That is because the molecules of human oils, fats and sweats that are emitted when the bacteria start to chow down can permeate fabric, and the microscopic gases literally hang about in your nose holes.
The New York Times did a feature on vintage clothes and sent some away to
Proctor & Gamble to have the scents analysed, and the compounds that came back were described as: sweet, sour, oil, herbal, fatty, whiskey, nutty, cheesy, sweaty, stinky feet, fermented, bready. * Most found were derived from ‘bodily soils’. Yes, it is gross.
But, it happens. We wear something and pop it in a closet without washing it. Decades go by while it sits and gathers dust. It then gets donated where it sits jammed in a plastic bag with other long forgotten clothes, getting warm and damp which is perfect breeding ground for that stink making bacteria. Then it is pulled out, warmed up with a steamer and shoved on a hanger. Which is why charity shops, kilo sales and bad vintage stores have that funk.
So, how do we shift it?
Well, I think there is going to need to be a whole other blog post about this, as traders tend to pick up tricks and tips as we go. Sometimes you become desperate and will try literally anything….I know I have. But the basic principle is that you have to ‘change the molecular structure of the odour that is attached to the fibre’ (Mr. Mahdessian, P&G, NY Times), which sometimes a simple wash will not do.
I mean, if I knew I would need science so much in a fashion job I would have tried to understand it more at school!
What is the worst smell you have ever come across when vintage shopping? Tell me below in the comments!
*Getting to the bottom of the Thrift Store Smell, NY Times, Jolie Kerr, June 21st 2018