Learn how to store vintage clothing like a pro!
I’ve already written an article about how to take care of vintage clothes but this is a more in-depth piece. I’ve consulted with textile conservators and costume collectors, and hope that this post will answer most, if not all, questions about the do and don’ts for storing vintage clothing.
- Un-dyed cotton or muslin fabric.
*I also use 100% natural and undyed linen fabric but all textile conservators I’ve spoken to, use cotton and muslin.
Always wash the fabric you are going to use for storing vintage garments. The product recommended to me by several textile conservators is Orvus W.A soap. You can buy it from preservationequipment.com or a saddlery shop.
- Tyvek (1623E) material is pH neutral and lint-free. It’s also very soft tear-resistant and breathable. Protects against pests, dust and light.
You can buy it in a roll and cut it to the desired size and shape. You can also purchase ready-made Tyvek Garment Covers which come in different sizes.
- Needle-punched (made without any adhesive) 100% non-woven polyester felt is great for the lining of drawers.
- Acid-free unbuffered tissue paper is the ideal wrapping material.
Don’t use buffered tissue paper as it’s damaging to silk and wool!
You can buy the acid-free unbuffered tissue paper in sheets or rolls.
*I always buy mine in rolls.
2. STORING VINTAGE IN A BOX
- Archival cardboard box.
Many of the archival cardboard boxes available online are NOT acid-free. If you have the option between choosing a buffered or an unbuffered box, always choose the latter. Otherwise, wrap your vintage garment in unbuffered acid-free tissue paper.
- You can also use an archival plastic box, which means that it doesn’t contain any additives.
*Every antique textile collector I know uses archival cardboard boxes.
NEVER store your vintage clothing in a non-archival plastic box or an air-tight plastic bag!
- “No wire hangers, ever!” Said Faye Dunaway’s character in Mommie Dearest and right she was! After all, you don’t want to end up with rust on your precious clothes.
- Don’t use wooden hangers as they exude harmful materials that will be deadly to your vintage clothing.
*I’ve learned it the hard way by damaging a Victorian garment which I left on an antique wooden hanger.
- Don’t use plastic hangers either as they can be as harmful to vintage clothing as wooden ones.
If it’s possible, don’t use hangers at all or buy only conservation hangers. Unfortunately, they cost a fortune and take a lot of space in the closet. You could make your own but the materials required for the padding is not cheap either.
* I use velour hangers, mainly padded, which I wrap in either the Tyvek material or the unbuffered acid-free tissue paper. Only time will tell if it’s a good idea or not. My garments are not in direct contact with the velour so I’m optimistic.
On a separate note, my dream walk-in closet would consist only of drawers!
NEVER hang vintage garments that are made of; heavy fabric, embellished with sequins, beads or made of very delicate fabric that will easily tear.
4. Rolled Storage
Some, not all, vintage garments can be stored on a roll.
You can use an archival acid-free storage tube that comes in different sizes. Always use unbuffered acid-free tissue paper when starting the rolling process to protect your vintage garment.
*I have neither space nor patience to roll my vintage garments. I always opt for storing as many pieces as possible in a drawer lined with Tyvek material. I also put acid-free unbuffered tissue paper between garments.
- It’s crucial for vintage garments to be stored properly in order to prolong their life!
- If your budget permits you to buy only one of the mentioned materials I personally would choose a roll of Tyvek. It’s ideal for the lining of drawers and for making garment covers. Remember that vintage clothing shouldn’t have direct contact with wood, plastic or metal.
- I can’t imagine my wardrobe without acid-free unbuffered tissue paper. It’s definitely money well spent!
- ALWAYS make sure that your vintage clothing is clean before you store it. Dust can actually cut fibre!
Q & A with Barbara Czaja, textile conservator at Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanow
- What materials do you use to protect historic textiles in storage?
Barbara Czaja: To store historic textiles we use boxes made of acid-free cardboard. Flat tapestries such as rugs are stored on acid-free cardboard rollers or perforated plastic rollers, wrapped in acid-free paper or Tyvek.
- Is there a preference for the use of materials needed for the storage of historic textiles? Undyed cotton, muslin or perhaps Tyvek, Marvelseal or Melinex?
Barbara Czaja: We use Tyvek as well as acid-free paper. We avoid using any type of fabric that would have direct contact with antique textiles. The reason behind it is rather simple, cotton or linen could catch the threads of the antique fabric e.g. metal embroidery threads. We do not use Melinex because it doesn’t let air circulate and may cause moisture to accumulate in the storage box.
- Is natural un-dyed linen suitable for storing historical clothes in?
Barbara Czaja: There’s always a risk with linen that it will catch decorative elements on the fabric.
- Is Orvus W.A soap popular in Poland amongst textile conservators?
Barbara Czaja: We don’t use Orvus W soaps. For removing impurities from historic fabrics, as long as they can be immersed in a water bath, we use Pretepon G.
*Pretepon G, a detergent commonly used in the textile industry, consists of the sodium salt of sulphuric acid ester and cetyl alcohol.
- How do you protect historic garments from moths?
Barbara Czaja: We use anti-moth paper and of course, we keep a close eye on the antique textiles that are in our collection. Also, before we start any conservation work, textiles are placed in the fumigation chamber in which they are exposed to Rotanox gas. Gas neutralizes most microorganisms, it also has a destructive effect on moth eggs and of course for larvae and adults.
Prevention and Conservation Department
Textile Conservation Workshop
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanow