Storing vintage clothing
This past weekend I decided it was spring enough to pack up my winter woolens and bring out my summer silks and cottons. Storing vintage clothing is only slightly more complicated than storing new textiles; instead of just shoving it in a closet or box like I might otherwise do, I take the extra step of folding it with sheets of acid-free tissue into archival garment storage boxes. This may or may not be a total scam on the part of The Container Store, but I figure I spend a lot of money on my clothes, so it would be a shame if I cheaped out on storage and something got ruined. Large garment boxes are $35 each (ugh I know) and come with enough acid-free tissue to wrap whatever you can fit in there, 8 sheets.*
Before storing off-season clothing, be sure that each piece is clean and free from lint, hair or anything else unsavory. I have the best luck cleaning unlined wool (or wool lined in natural fibers like silk or linen) by soaking in tepid water with Eucalan, which works beautifully on wool and silk, no rinsing necessary. You can find Eucalan on Amazon or at Joann Fabrics. For special wool pieces that are lined in a synthetic like rayon crepe, dry cleaning is usually best. For cotton and linen, I love Retro Clean and Retro Wash, though any sodium perborate or percarbonate will do just as well, followed by a wash with either Eucalan or a plant-based textile soap (I like Ecover’s delicate wash). Basically, my rule of thumb for pieces made before the 1960s is if nature didn’t make it, nature probably can’t clean it. I have heard stories of people soaking rayon and acetate and it turning out fine, but I have also heard stories of it not turning out fine and I’m paranoid. I generally let things soak for at least a few hours, more if there is any staining, then dry on a mesh drying rack to allow air circulation.
Once all your pieces are clean and quite dry and ready for storage, you can start folding them in with the tissue.
As you can see, the process is pretty straightforward, sort of like assembling lasagna. A layer of tissue, a layer of clothing, a layer of tissue, fold over the clothing, and so on. I also place in a cedar and lavender sachet in each box (did you know I include one with every domestic purchase from my etsy shop?).
This is perfectly fine for storage over a single season for clothing that isn’t beaded or particularly fragile. Longer term storage for older or intricate beaded or couture items requires a bit more care.
But for everyday stuff from the mid-20th century, that’s it! Since the boxes are not airtight (nor should they be – you don’t want to trap moisture inside), they are best stored indoors, not in an attic or garage.
*For a wider range of archival textile box sizes and materials, see Gaylord Archival. I just didn’t want to wait for shipping.