Collectors of vintage garments know the value of the pieces they have, and they know that care should be taken when storing them. The way you clean, package, and store your vintage textiles can determine if your precious fashion pieces will last through the years, or if they will (literally) fade away. If you can’t take all of the steps required when storing vintage clothing, then do as many as you can. The better you treat your textiles, the longer they will last.
Take an Inventory of Your Textiles
Knowing what vintage garments you have will make it easier to store them. It’s also important so that if you ever need to find an item, you’ll know where to look and how it has been stored. A collection journal of your vintage textiles should include the name of the item, a brief description, the date you purchased it, and whom you purchased it from. “Additional information supplied by the vendor or obtained by you should be added to the description, especially information on provenance,” recommends Linda Ames. “The collection journal will be used for insurance and estate purposes.”
Clean and Prep Your Vintage Garments
Storing your vintage textiles in their best condition will help ensure they stay in good condition while they are stored. When you wash the garment to remove stains, it’s important you carefully follow the guidelines on the label that describes how to clean the item. “When in doubt, consult a clothing conservator. The general rule to follow: do not make changes to a garment unless necessary to make it safe,” Ames says.
If the garment is free of stains, but it has a musty smell to it, you can use a clothing steamer to freshen it up. “When it comes time to display or photograph a piece, steaming is always preferable to ironing (which might burn the fabric, cause permanent creases, or shiny spots,” Vintage Connection’s Kristina Harris advises. “If you must iron an old textile, iron on the wrong side of the cloth, on the lowest setting, and preferably with a white dishcloth in-between the iron and the garment.)”
Believe it or not, you can use your vacuum to clean textiles that can’t be washed. “Loose soil and dust can be removed by placing the textile on a flat surface, placing a piece of fiberglass screening between the textile and vacuum cleaner head, and then vacuuming with a weak-suction hand vacuum cleaner,” advises the Division of Textiles at the Smithsonian. “Textiles, such as samplers, painted and embroidered pictures, and beaded work should not be vacuumed, as embroidery yarns and beads can be drawn through the screening.”
Storing Vintage Textiles
If you’re storing your garments long term, find a place that is dry, dark and maintains a cool temperature (not an attic or basement). A great option would be a climate-controlled storage unit. “The greatest danger to all textiles is light, both artificial and ultraviolet (daylight),” Ames writes. “Over time, light causes fading in the colors of the fibers, eventually damaging the fibers themselves.”
Acid-free archival boxes are the best storage option, if you can afford them. If you don’t have access to those boxes, you can line cardboard or wooden boxes and use those for storage. “My favorite way to do this is to first line quilt batting (available at craft and fabric stores) along the bottom and sides of the box or drawer, and then, with thumb tacks, secure white sheets (or washed, unbleached muslin cloth) over the batting,” Harris recommends. “For best results, you should replace the batting every two years or so, and thoroughly wash the sheets once a year.” She adds that if you use metal boxes and drawers, line them as well so sharp edges won’t accidentally rip your garments.
Place your textiles in their storage box in a way that doesn’t require many folds or sharp creases. Separate garments with acid-free tissue paper to protect the fabrics. Vintage textiles need to breathe, so they should not be sealed in plastic bags or in plastic storage containers. “Since fabrics need some air circulation, do not seal the boxes. Once a year, open the storage boxes, unfold the textiles, and then refold them differently before storing again,” Ames recommends.
Storing vintage garments can bring you a lifetime of joy, if they are properly cared for. From the time you take inventory to when you load them into your self-storage unit, taking the proper steps will help ensure your textiles endure through the years.
Subscribe for Free Printables
Join our mailing list to receive exclusive access to free giveaways once a month.