Buying a Vintage Chenille Robe? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Thinking of buying a vintage chenille robe and unsure where to start? Want to know more about the chenille bathrobe you already have? We’ve got answers for you!

As many of you know, too much chenille is an impossibility. Once you get one spread or one robe or one’ve just got to have more. Sound familiar?

We get asked a lot about what to look for in a vintage chenille bathrobe- most commonly, what to expect in terms of durability, longevity, and comfort. So, let’s get started answering all your questions about buying vintage chenille bathrobes.

Retrac vintage chenille robeMost Common Types of Chenille Robes You Can Buy

True vintage chenille robes,

  • Still available in an impressive array of fabric weights, textures and patterns – just like the vintage chenille bedspreads of the same era.
  • Most common finds are from the late 1930s into the 1950s period.
  • Very often fitted, you can easily spot the completely different silhouette between a true vintage chenille robe (or many other garments for that matter) and one manufactured today, more on that below…
  • If you’re fortunate enough to come across an original vintage chenille bathrobe that still has its sewn-in cloth tag, you might see names like Crowntuft (earlier label…not the cheap newer ones – see example photo here), Everwear, Art-Rich, or Blue Ridge. Many more will have no tag at all, or just a small tag bearing the size such as “36” or “34.”

Newer chenille robes,chenille luxury robe

  • Very often a cotton blend (50/50 cotton/poly) and notably different in terms of texture and fit than a true vintage robe.
  • Your typical finds will be from the late 1970s through the early 2000s.
  • Most robes they’re calling “chenille” these days are nothing but China-made 100% poly junk so we’re not even going there in this post.
  • Newer chenille robes often bear Canyon Group, Stan Herman or Herbcraft, Victoria’s Secret, Amanda Stewart, or Mark Travers for Supertex (Australia) labels.

What to look for: Beyond the obvious difference in texture because any cotton/poly blend fabric is going to feel significantly different than a 100% cotton true chenille piece from the 1940s…you’ll again want to look at the silhouette.

Some manufacturers like Canyon Group did an 80s/90s – does – 40s style ala their “The Nanny” style wedding cake robes that Fran Drescher wore on her now-infamous sitcom. On those, you’d see a silhouette closer to the originals, as the example here from our private collection shows.

Most more modern robes, however, have a far less “fitted” appearance – think of the following comparison to help give you a visual here: Your typical 1940s Hollywood Glam screen siren like Joan Crawford or Ann Sheridan all dolled up in a fitted, flowing chenille robe versus a roomy, fit not unlike the spa robes offered at your favorite luxury hotel.

vintage chenille bathrobeHandmade chenille robes,

  • May be constructed using a true vintage chenille bedspread – or from newer chenille that you can buy by the yard at your favorite fabric retailer.
  • There are no hard and fast rules here for “identifying” a handmade robe per se – other than the obvious. Since by nature these are handcrafted – either stitched by someone on a sewing machine or even by hand, you will at close inspection notice the stitching is not “factory perfect” the way a mass-manufactured counterpart robe would be.
  • Some handmade goods will feature tags, others do not or they were removed at some point. Newer handmade labels can often have a nice, high quality appearance; older labels (and the ones you’re probably thinking of) are often more standard such as “Stitched by Mary” or “Made with Love by Mom”…


Buying a Chenille Robe: Cotton or a Cotton Blend?

When it comes to which chenille robe is the “best” to buy – my answer is simple: Like anything in life, it boils down to a matter of preference.

From our years of collecting experience, here are some pros and cons of each:

handmade vintage chenille robe100% Cotton Chenille Robes (Cotton Base Cloth and Tufting)

Pros of Cotton Chenille:
  • These will very often “feel” like your favorite robe of the past, or like grandma’s chenille bedspread, or both (if that is important to you).
  • Cotton chenille robes, when cared for properly, withstand many washings and remain strong for years – after all, just think of how many are still out there today and being worn that are over 70 years old.
  • If you have a keen eye for quality and luxury, cotton often has “the look” of both.
  • More resistant to pilling // annoying little fuzzies // etc. than their 50/50 blend counterpart chenille robes.
Cons of Cotton Chenille:
  • Anytime you get into vintage or antique territory, you cannot expect perfection. If you’re buying a true vintage chenille robe (or bedspread or rug or anything), get used to the fact that there will be various signs of wear commensurate with age and previous lovin’. It’s how it is.
  • Building on the bullet point above, look out for fragile pieces that may no longer be suitable for daily use. Check for thinning and associated wear, clusters of holes, previous repairs that were done shoddily, etc.vintage chenille robe retrac
  • If the garment was stored improperly, it could be suffering from dry rot. On some colors, dry rot is easier to spot than on others – if you’re looking at a picture, I say sometimes the fabric will almost take on a bleachy/blotchy appearance if it’s darker but has dry rot. If that’s happened, forget about wearing it – not for very long, at least.
  • Many vintage robes were often TINY compared to today’s sizing standards, meaning that in most cases, they’re going to fit a pretty limited range of modern sizes.

Cotton Blend Chenille Robes (Usually 50/50 cotton/poly)

Pros of Cotton Blend Chenille:
  • Many people find these to be soft-to-the-touch with a nice “snuggle factor” (is that a real phrase?!). Anyway, the idea is any of these types of chenille robes will typically be super soft.
  • Since these are newer, they may be easier to find – and sometimes, less expensive than a vintage counterpart.
  • Again, since a cotton blend chenille robe is likely to be newer, it may fit a wider range of sizes than a true vintage robe. You may also find the fit to be simply more comfortable throughout.
Cons of Cotton Blend Chenille:

canyon chenille robe

  • Some people find these cotton blend robes to be “thin” and not particularly luxurious. Or as one lovely lady put it, “This feels as cheap as something you’d see at Walmart.” Blunt…but yes it can be true.
  • VERY prone to pilling // fuzziness // nubbies – whatever you call it, this type of fabric is at risk for it. You can use a lint roller if it matters to you, but you’ll never eliminate all the pilling that will happen over time.
  • Can be prone to tuft loss that is more accelerated than one would see on a cotton chenille robe. Look for sections of tuft loss – if you see ones that are already large, expect them to widen more as the garment is worn.
  • You’ll see some manufacturers blaming this sort of tuft loss on rodents – and while it is true that rodents, moths and other vermin can wreak havoc and even destroy your garment – the bottom line is that tuft loss can happen regardless.
  • If you cannot seem to determine whether the chenille tuft loss on your robe has been the result of a pest or of natural wear, I often find that mice and small rodents will pluck out tufting in linear fashion – so you could have a whole good spread but one section will have linear loss to the chenille tufting.
  • Moth damage is obvious and most people will be familiar with this. It goes without saying that should you find droppings or associated signs of vermin in or near where your garment was stored…the damage is likely caused by pests.
  • Bear in mind that pests do not discriminate – they will gladly gnaw away at your cotton robe too – I just wanted to raise this topic here for your awareness.

In Summary, Some Closing Thoughts on Buying Vintage Chenille Robes

Supertex chenille robesIt’s all in what you’re looking for – no manufacturer is going to appeal to every single person. What one person sees as overpriced junk, another will say  it makes her feel like she’s wrapped up in luxury. Only you can make that final determination.

When we sell robes this is the general rule of thumb we try to explain to customers new to buying chenille robes:

  • Robes that are handmade out of Cabin Crafts, Retrac, Bates and similar vintage chenille bedspreads are not going to have much of a “snuggle factor” – meaning, they are very often the most strong and durable, but as far as being fluffy, cuddly, Downy commercial soft…no.<
  • Some Retracs can be super densely tufted and quite soft, but as a rule, spreads like these are going to have a solid color, medium-weight, often muslin-like ground cloth with chenille tufting on top only, very often in a floral pattern or in some cases, a more geometric one. Striking? Yes. Soft? Not so much.
  • Robes that are either true vintage or handmade from an original chenille bedspread that are of the type most people think of when they hear that term are going to be the ones you want if the “snuggle factor” is an important attribute for you.
  • And if the cozy, snuggly, want-to-feel-like-you’re-wrapped-in-a-hug factor is an absolute MUST, you may consider a cotton blend for sure. Most of those should fit the cuddly requirement!

You asked for our honest opinion on vintage chenille, so here it is:

vintage chenille robe plushThe bottom line re: true vintage chenille robes: Still, these are very often going to be a 100% cotton ground cloth as most vintage chenille bedspreads were (with the exception of Morgan Jones, Vantona, and some English-made varieties). Many will have nice thick tufting of varying pile heights, from low dense tufting that is as soft as can be, to higher, chubby tufts very commonly seen on 1940s and 1950s chenille spreads.

These are the variety that will take you back to grandma’s or auntie’s house and have you reminiscing about “that spread like grandma had” or the “curtains auntie had hanging in her bedroom.” One lovely lady told us it “feels like I’m being hugged by my nana all over again.”

As a rule of thumb, your average vintage chenille robe (or one crafted from a chenille bedspread in strong good vintage condition) should be durable, strong and pretty soft for you, unless they’ve been seriously pre-loved.

When people ask me about the durability factor, I ask them to consider the concept that most true vintage chenille spreads kicking around are now approaching 70+ years old easy – so I’d say they’re pretty strong.

Seriously though, as the DMZ / Damze / Canyon Group story helps show us, there is chenille that is simply too fragile to be used for garment construction, and that’s the type you want to watch out for if you plan to actually wear the garment. You’ll want to look for the same type of warning signs as we’ve explained in earlier posts – worn/thin fabric that resembles tissue paper, holes that have thin edges, thinning spots or spots that look bald, weak texture to the fabric, etc.handmade vintage chenille robe

The bottom line re: newer and/or vintage style chenille robes: By the way, it wasn’t just Stan Herman, Crowntuft, Canyon Group, and so forth that produced chenille robes in later years. Even Sears and JCPenney jumped on the chenille robe bandwagon back in the 1960s and 1970s and produced some (not very high quality) robes back then.

>What you want to remember with these are two important factors:

1- These will generally be very soft to the touch, fluffy, and if they are of a higher quality, they should feel relatively plush. Many people find these to be a great weight material for a variety of climates because they are typically neither extremely light nor extremely heavyweight, making them a smart choice for those suffering from back problems.

2- These ARE NOT your grandma’s quality of robe. You’re going to see pilling which is typical of this fabric, you will see wear over time if you are consistently using the garment, and frankly, if you’re a connoisseur of textiles like we are, you can tell the quality just isn’t comparable to true vintage chenille.

Typical wear spots are the back of the neck/neckline areas, cuffs (which is true on any garment), and the belt tie area where the loops meet the hips. On all of these areas over time, you may spot some chenille loss and thinning.

iced cake chenille robeA word to the wise! If you have a lighter color chenille robe such as one for instance in the white watermelon or lady bugs Canyon Group pattern, save yourself the time and trouble and wash separately from darker items. If I had a dollar for every person who asked me how to get rid of dark black, blue or brown pilling all over a white or light colored cotton blend chenille robe, I would be a very wealthy woman indeed.

There is no easy quick way to eliminate the pilling if something like this happens to you – you can use a sweater shaver such as Amazon sells, but expect to spend quite a bit of time trying to get off the annoying dark little fuzzies stuck everywhere on your beloved robe.

Vintage chenille poodle robeAnd keep in mind, the reverse is also true – if you have a darker color cotton blend chenille bathrobe – don’t wash and dry it with say, white terry bath towels. It will end up looking like that robe that made you feel so magnificent just a few hours before has begun to age prematurely. You’ll see little white fluff balls scattered about like cobwebs on your darker colored robe.

Do you have a question that isn’t answered here? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We’re a family of linen-loving ladies and we’d love to share our expertise with you.