Expert tips for storing vintage clothing and costumes so they don’t get damaged.
Vintage clothing and costumes are central to a surprising number of events, from film and live productions to school plays, weddings, themed parties and festivities surrounding special days like St Patrick’s Day and Halloween.
Once the productions or celebrations are over and the dust has settled, it’s likely you’ll want to store these outfits, for future use or resale. Taking a few simple steps at this point can help ensure that even fragile costumes and accessories stay in good condition.
How to prepare vintage clothing for storage
When stored in optimal conditions, clean dry garments can survive unscathed for several years. As a result, your first task is to ensure the clothing is free of stains, dirt and odours before it’s packed away.
Different fabrics require different cleaning techniques but a general rule is to follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s label.
Vintage costume cleaning guide
Alternatively, you can check out our quick cleaning guide based on the type of material:
- Cotton and linen: machine wash on a cold water setting and air dry.
- Wool: handwash with a gentle detergent, such as Woolite, and lie flat on a towel to dry. Avoid direct sunlight.
- Silk: spot clean with a mild detergent and hang in a well-ventilated room to dry.
Top Tip: Vodka – either straight or mixed with a little bit of water – is a powerful odour-buster. Lightly spray the solution on the offending area and allow it to dry naturally. You’ll have a fresh, odour-free garment in no time at all.
Best Practice Packing Techniques
When packing away vintage clothing for the long-haul, the golden rule is ‘protection and padding’. Ideally, you want to protect the garments with reams of tissue paper or loosely fitting garment bags.
Heavily embroidered or beaded items, or garments with fragile shoulder areas or long trains, are too heavy or frail to store on hangars.
Pack Heavy Items Horizontally
Instead, they should be carefully folded with layers of tissue paper acting as barriers to prevent the formation of patterns or blemishes on the underlying fabric, and packed horizontally into packing boxes.
Ensure you fold the garments loosely to allow the air to circulate and the fabric to breathe. All other garments can be stored on padded hangars in store-bought or home-made linen garment bags.
Top Tip: You can prevent the formation of permanent fold lines in the fabric by padding the sleeves and waist areas of the heavier garments with muslin or netting.
Cardboard or plastic packing boxes?
A frequently asked question is whether to store delicate items of clothing in cardboard or plastic packing boxes. Most experts recommend cardboard boxes. Although they do contain harmful chemicals, you can easily get around the problem by lining the boxes with layers of muslin.
Plastic: lids off!
If you do opt for plastic packing boxes, ensure you leave the lids off or at least partially open. The main quibble with plastic is that it promotes moisture build-up. Leaving boxes unsealed allows air to circulate, to help keep the packed articles dry and mildew-free.
Top Tip: We recommend refolding garments at least three to four times a year. This will arrest the development of permanent creases in the fabric.
Vintage clothing storage tricks
- Scatter cedar chippings between the boxes and garment bags to prevent the infestation of silverfish, moths and beetles.
- Raise the boxes off the floor by stacking them on wooden pallets.
- Add a few silica gel packets to each box to ward off the damp.
- Store small accessories – belts, fans, gloves and costume jewellery – in one clearly labelled box.
- Nest several hats or bonnets together in one box with a layer of protective tissue paper between each piece.
- Store your collectible clothing in a clean, dry and dark storage unit.