Protecting and preserving antique clothing poses a number of challenges. Storing antique clothing correctly is critical to avoid damage to the fabrics, trims and seams. While the specifics of care may depend upon the garment and fabric, some general guidelines can help you care for antique clothing properly, preserving it to be enjoyed for years to come.
How to Preserve Antique Clothing
Decide whether the antique garments should be cleaned or laundered. Vintage white cotton chemises and underthings can be hand washed with a mild soap and laid flat to dry. Many pieces of vintage and antique clothing are much more delicate and should be handled by a dry cleaner experienced in working with antique garments. A product like the Dryel home dry cleaning kit can remove odors, and spot cleaning may be adequate for some items (see Reference 1). Be especially careful with beaded or embellished antique clothing.
Decide how you wish to store your vintage and antique clothing. You will need flat, folded storage in a dry, acid free environment. The best option to preserve antique clothing is a custom made textile box; however, these are quite costly. Plastic boxes are more affordable and an acceptable choice in a dry environment.
Wrap the antique garment carefully in acid free tissue paper or unbleached muslin that has been washed and dried. Be sure to carefully place layers of tissue or fabric in between the folds of the garment and lightly pad any fold lines to avoid creating wrinkles in the fabric (see Reference 2).
Place each vintage garment into its own plastic or acid free cardboard box. Add cedar blocks to prevent moths and insect damage. Be sure that the antique garments are fully wrapped and not touching the cedar block.
Store your antique clothing in boxes in a dry and dark space. This will prevent light damage. Label boxes thoroughly to make it easier to access a single antique garment.
Ask at a good antique clothing shop for dry cleaner recommendations. Be sure that the dry cleaner you use is experienced in handling delicate garments.
Avoid storing antique clothing on hangers. The weight of the garment, especially if it is beaded, can cause significant damage. If you do opt for hangers, choose heavily padded ones and use them only to store very sturdy garments. Vintage silks and chiffons may dissolve if exposed to water. Be especially careful laundering and dry cleaning this type of antique clothing.