In my series on caring for vintage, we've come to vintage clothing storage. I am going to write about accessories care and storage in upcoming posts, but this is specifically for the clothes. In case you missed the beginning of this series, I'm working on a section of my upcoming book by testing it out here in my blog. I have gotten some wonderful suggestions, so please don't hesitate to comment if you think there's something missing!


Two giant don’t’s in a book with few don’t’s: Plastic bags and wire hangers.

Wire hangers can be recycled, but not used for your vintage clothing. Remember Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest?

NO... WIRE... HANGERS. What's wire hangers doing in this closet when I told you no wire hangers EVER!?

Those wire hangers can go back to most dry cleaners for reuse, but do NOT store your clothes hanging on them. They can stretch and tear your garments’ shoulders, the hooks can catch on clothes, and eventually they will even leave rust stains. 

I don't want to have to tell you again. :)

Wood hangers are handsome, but I can’t recommend them for your vintage clothes because wood (and some of the stains and finishes used on wooden hangers) can react with and damage fabric.

Padded hangers are friendliest to vintage clothing that can be hung, with the weight of the garment distributed over the shoulders. The padding will also help enforce some space in your closet, so that wrinkles don’t develop, and fabrics have a bit of room to breathe. Padded hangers can be made over plastic hangers, using batting wrapped with plain cotton muslin.

Many a vintage gown has a pair of inner ribbons to loop over the center of the hanger to take pressure off the shoulders and straps from the weight of the dress, and to prevent the dress from slipping off the hanger. Use these.

I find that typical skirt and pants hangers, the kinds with those pinching clips, can put permanent dents in fabric, so I turn the garment inside out to clip the reverse side, and often also distribute the pressure of the clip with padding. Some skirts and pants have inner loops for hanging, much like dresses.

Some things are best not hung at all. Have you ever put on a mini-length knit dress only to find it had become a midi? Welcome to the world of gravity! When you go to store your knits, it is best to fold or roll them and set them on shelves. 

Not that this is beginner’s stuff, but if you have a heavy and delicate, fragile, or very vintage garment (such as a beaded silk dress from the 1920s) do not hang it at all, but let it rest flat, or softly roll it padded with acid-free tissue paper. For that type of precious garment you will also want to invest in acid-free boxes for storage. 



Jean Muir garments stored on padded hangers, with Tyvek storage covers. Photo courtesy of National Museums Scotland

Jean Muir garments stored on padded hangers, with Tyvek storage covers. Photo courtesy of National Museums Scotland

{Cue the Joan Crawford voice again} Do not store in dry cleaning bags or garment bags made of plastic or vinyl. Plastic doesn’t breathe and can trap moisture that nurtures mold and mildew. Over time, plastic can react with fabric and break down. I have seen and felt plastic garment bags that literally adhered to vintage clothes stored inside them. Cotton muslin garment bags (or even just covering the clothes with old cotton sheets) can help keep stored vintage clothing clean and protected against potential damage from closet mates. Tyvek® is also a possibility, and is used to make garment bags. It is pH neutral, acid free, and tear resistant. It keeps water out while allowing moisture vapor to escape.

Do not store any clothing (vintage or new) in sunlight for any length of time. I have seen a printed cotton robe fade within several days of being near a window, so it sometimes doesn’t take long. You might actually have a window in your closet, and this will need to be curtained or shaded. Other times you might hang a gorgeous vintage kimono or evening gown up for display on a wall, but be careful that sunlight doesn’t hit that wall. I’m fortunate that my outdoor laundry line runs through both shade and sun—I use the sunlight for fading and bleaching. Incandescent light, although much less so than UV light, can fade fabric over time. Fluorescent, compact fluorescent, and LED lights are much less harmful to fabric. 

Avoid storing clothing in extreme temperatures and/or humidity. Moisture is particularly damaging to fabric. The rule is that your vintage clothing is going to be comfortable if you are, kept at 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit and about 40-50% humidity. Dehumidifiers come in everything from inexpensive disposable moisture-absorbing pellets to rather costly (but effective and long-lasting) appliances. Basements and attics can have drastic temperature swings that damage fabric, and basements in particular can be damp. Which reminds me: Avoid mildew (and even possibly dye transfer) by hanging clothing in a closet only when it is completely dry after washing. 

Various climates pose various challenges. You can have a bone-dry, dusty environment in the desert, or a hot and humid environment in the lower latitudes. Air conditioning, the same kind that would make you comfortable, would make your clothes happy too. 

Hang up your vintage clothing even if it needs cleaning, and don't wait long to clean. If you have any obvious stains, the sooner you try to get them out, the better, and many stains show only over time. It's a good practice to keep your vintage and its surrounding area clean so there's less chance of attracting fabric-eating pests. (Those pests are coming right up...)


Next time: Harmful Insects