Care & Cleaning, Uncategorized

How to Safely Store Vintage Clothes in Your Closet

Whether you’ve got a closet full of true vintage dresses or just a few special pieces, there are some extra bits and bobs that will help you care for the vintage clothes in your closet. After all, since pretty much every piece of vintage clothing can be considered “rare” to some degree, many of us view ourselves as stewards of these pieces of woven history. I won’t go into how to clean vintage here, this is more about the peripherals.

Hangers are probably the second most important thing in a closet, right after the closet rod! Oh, and the clothes.
  • Hangers – Yeah, I know your closet already has hangers in it! As much as you may want all the hangers in your closet to match (I know I do!), the fact is, not every type of hanger is suitable for every type of garment. I like to use velvet covered hangers for most of my dresses and shirts because things don’t slip off of them, plus they are narrow so I can fit more into my tiny mouse-sized closet. Heavier dresses and jackets do better on shaped wooden hangers as they are sturdy and won’t crease the shoulders. Tiered hangers with clips are great for skirts – and most hang 4-5 pieces in the space of a single hanger. I’m all about that space saving! I don’t recommend hanging sweaters, knits, or beaded garments, but padded hangers can work for these if you must hang them. And, as we all learned from Joan Crawford, no wire hangers! Ever!
  • Garment bags – While we’re talking hanging clothes, let’s take that one step further with quality garment bags. These are not super necessary for the pieces you have in constant rotation and wear with some frequency, but for for those special vintage party dresses you only pull out once every year or so, they provide an extra layer of protection from rustling around and gathering dust and possibly becoming a snack for pesky insects. They’re also great for velvet, lace, and other dust-magnets you don’t want to shuffle off to the cleaners every time you want to wear them. Speaking of cleaners, their garment bags are AWFUL and should never be used for vintage clothing storage! Look for garment bags that are good quality cotton or linen with full coverage and a zipper, plastic and other non-breathable material should be avoided as they can hold in damaging moisture just from the humidity in the air.
  • Cedar blocks – Cedar is a natural pest deterrent and much safer than moth balls and other pesticides. My dream closet would be lined with cedar, but my actual real-life closet isn’t, won’t, and can’t be! Hanging cedar blocks can be set on shelves or hung on hangers, and they can be found in most home organization stores. You can lightly sand them when they need to be refreshed and they’ll last a long time. Depending on your climate and home, you may need something more intense to keep the bugs at bay. I tend to start with the most earth-friendly pest control and work up from there if needed.
  • Steamer – A handheld clothes steamer is one of those things I went without for decades and when I finally got one all I could do was kick myself for not getting one sooner! What was I so afraid of? How easy it would be? How quickly I could get rid of wrinkles? How (relatively) foolproof it was to use? See? my delay was silly. If you don’t have one yet, pause here and run to the store and buy one. I’ll wait… Okay, now that you have your steamer, there are a couple things to note. First off, always (always, always) use distilled water; I buy it by the jug at the grocery store for under $2 and it lives on the shelf next to my steamer so it’s always ready to go. It’s easiest to steam a garment that’s hanging (vs just being held) on a hanger or dress form if you have one. If you’re able to steam from the inside, or even turn the garment inside out, you’ll often have better results. Finally, know your fabrics! Not everything can, nor should, be steamed. Leather and fur, for example, should be taken to the pros, as should very delicate and fragile fabrics; test for colourfastness if you’re not sure how the fabric will respond to water in case the steamer sputters out some water droplets. Oh, and one more thing! Be careful. You’re literally dealing with boiling water here and you don’t want to get burned, not even for the most beautiful vintage dress!
A gas-powered iron. I can only assume it sounds like a lawn mower in use!
  • Iron – You probably already have one of these, so I won’t go into too much detail here. I will say that you’ll want to pay close attention to the type of fabric you’re ironing and follow the heat settings on your iron. When in doubt, start on a low heat and turn it up bit by bit as needed, and test on an inside seam or other inconspicuous spot. Keep a spray bottle of water handy to gently steam out tough wrinkles; ironing cotton dresses while still slightly damp works great as well. A white cotton or linen pressing cloth will protect more delicate fabrics.
  • Boot shapers – Gravity likes to make tall boots flop over when your legs aren’t inside, and over time that will create creases wherever they naturally fold. Boot shapers hold the shaft upright and prevent the flop and associated damage. They can also be kind of expensive, especially if your boot collection is extensive. Pool noodles to the rescue! That’s right, You can cut foam pool noodles down to the right height (I find a serrated bread knife works best) for all of your boots, whether they’re calf-high or thigh-high!
  • Acid-free tissue paper – Tissue paper has all sorts of uses in a curated vintage collection, though the “acid-free” part is super important so it doesn’t do more harm than good! You can use sheets of acid-free tissue paper between folded garments to protect them from snagging or catching, especially on beaded or embellished sweaters, and to prevent dyes from darker clothes bleeding or rubbing off on lighter clothes. You can used large crumpled sheets to keep the shape of handbags while they’re not in use. You can crumple it further to hold the shape on shoulders of hanging garments, or to shape the toes of delicate shoes. Heavier acid-free paper is ideal for lining the bottom of dresser drawers.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive – I mean we didn’t even cover emergency spot-cleaning and mending essentials – these are definitely things I consider must-haves for any collector of vintage clothing. And I’d venture to say the larger and more varied the collection, the more nuanced this “must-have” list could get! What do you think is most important in caring for your vintage clothing?

Want to add more true vintage clothing to your closet? I got ya covered.


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