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Storage or What To Do With All This Stuff Now!

Storage. The bane of everyone’s existence with vintage clothing is having enough space to store it properly. I can’t help you add a room onto your shop or home, but I can tell you organization will make a huge difference.

A few thoughts about the storage area: be sure your storage area has good air circulation and keep it swept up and clean. This will help enormously with mold and insects. Never store your vintage (or any other) textiles in attics or basements. Or unheated and un-air conditioned spaces. The temperature changes and moisture will cause and contribute to quick decay. And water leaks and vermin will be hard to spot.

Ideally, the temperature range of your area should be 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit and have a relative humidity level of 45-55%. But since we aren’t museums with fine climate control, a good rule of thumb is that if you are comfortable, it probably is as well. If you are too hot, the textiles are as well. If you have trouble with high humidity, a dehumidifier will help. Fans can assist with air circulation.

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Continued exposure to light is to be avoided as well, so cover your racks. Note: if you display items, do so out of direct sunlight and strong lighting and rotate your items. You want to avoid ultra violet light and heat.

Hanging Space

If you have enough closets to hang your collection – you are way ahead. If not, sturdy racks will help. Spend the money to get a rack that won’t fall down or lean over under too much weight. If you hang pipes from the ceiling or on walls, be sure to hit some studs. Clothes get damaged when racks fall down. If high enough, a wall or ceiling pipe does have the advantage of letting you double hang a second pipe underneath and you can use all the available ceiling height to extend your hanging storage.

The salesman rolling racks are great – these are sturdy and have rollers. And they fold up and fit in your trunk if you need to go on the road. If you use racks, whether in a home or shop, do cover your textiles with clean sheeting to protect them from dust and light.

Some storage areas black out the windows. This may be a extreme for the private collection, So consider two covers – a white one for cleanliness, and a black over that to block out all the light.

What is it safe to hang?

You can safely hang garments that are in good repair, sturdy and have strong construction, and show no signs of shoulder damage or stress. Also, very lightweight dresses with little strain on the shoulders can be hung.

If you hang – get padded hangers. For the shop owner of seller, purchasable padded hangers will be fine a as long as they are not perfumed. Hopefully, you will be turning over your inventory quickly enough that you won‘t have to think in terms of long term storage.

To the collector who will be storing long term, you can make your own padded hangers. Use a plastic hanger as a base. You want a hanger that has the same shoulder shape as your garment and isn’t too wide. If too wide, it will poke out the sleeves of the garment over time. Wrap the hanger with layers of non adhesive poly or cotton batting. Then cover this with washed muslin and secure it with large hand stitches as needed.

Never, ever use wire or wood hangers. Wire rusts, causes distortion and tears and doesn’t support properly. Wood is acid and eats the textile.

If the garment is heavy, support the waist with cotton twill tape tacked to waist band or seams in large loops. Use this as a hanging loop to the hanger to take the weight. If the garment has a train you might suspend a covered and padded roll from twill tape and lay the train over this for support. Sleeves may need acid free tissue stuffing to keep their shape.

Loose muslin hanging bags for fragile garments are a good way to protect them. This is also effective for garment with sharp or fragile elements that might damage the hanging items on either side.

Do not store in plastic bags. Many plastics are chemically unstable and will react with the textile inside. If sealed, plastic will also trap moisture and help mold grow. And, if the worst happens, and insects get in, they may not be able to get out.

Flat Storage

This is what many dry cleaners, etc. call “Preservation”. Most garments will respond well to flat storage. It is imperative you use archival supplies. Again, regular paper, cardboard, tissue (especially that blue stuff) and wood are to be avoided. Acid free boxes come in a wide range of sizes and prices.

Flat storage is best for anything that is at all fragile, has hanging stress on the shoulders or waist, is beaded or heavily trimmed, bias cut, or strapless. Start with a acid free box. Place a piece of tissue in the box that can act as a lifting aid when you need to take the garment out of the box. Ideally, the garment will not be folded. But realistically, most garments have to have some folding. Use acid free tissue paper crumpled up in rolls inside the folds to prevent creasing.

I stuff the bodice and sleeves as well. Avoid creasing the garment along fold lines that are already creased in. If there are metallic threads or parts, use tissue to keep these from touching other areas. Pad any folds you have to make to fit the garment into the storage box.

Now if you have to use what space you have, and have cedar chests and the like available, or if you are going to be buying boxes and tissue over time, then adapt what you have. You can use heavily washed cotton sheeting (light colors – no dye!) or washed muslin to line drawers and chests. Be sure to cover every bit of wood and have enough muslin to cover the garment after you have placed it in inside. You can use scraps of muslin to pad the garment and folds.

If the garment is not too big, you can store more than one like colored item per box. Place the heaviest item at the bottom. I don’t have more than 3 items in any box. And they are thin ones. For example, 1920s beaded dress at bottom, medium weight 30s dress next, lightweight cotton lingerie dress on top. Large bustle dresses, ball gowns and the like will take up a box of their own.

When you have placed the garment in the box and closed it up, do not seal it and don’t put it in a plastic bag. You want some air circulation.


Acid free boxes all look alike. If you start to acquire a collection of any size, you will have no way of knowing what is in each one. And you will disturb the contents searching through every box hunting for the one item you need.

Be sure to label your box with the contents. Use pencil, and note the inventory number you assigned it, a short description and list in order the garments that are stacked in the box.

You may want to make a plastic sleeve and tape it to the box and slide your label into this so you can change the label easily in the future. If you are being very thorough, you can label the box on both the top and the side so you can easily see the label no matter how you store these.

If you are a dealer who is storing some items as investments or for a period of time, please consider some of these techniques.

You certainly don’t want to invest in acid free boxes for your entire inventory, but clean washed sheeting to line plastic and card board boxes would be a great start to preserving that investment. Padding folds will help you get a dress out of boxed storage in far better condition than smashed flat.

Shoes and Hats

Stuff shoes lightly with tissue. These can be stored in boxes as well or if you have shelving that is protected from light you can cover the shelving with heavy acid free tissue or washed muslin.

Hats should also be lightly stuffed and stored either in boxes or on shelves as well. Again – avoid stacking hats. If the hats have fragile feathers or metal components, consider using acid free tissue to make a roll that will support and protect the component.

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by Hollis Jenkins-Evans