Thrifting 101, Part 13: Storing thrifted and vintage items

When I was living in New York City, one of my favorite things to do was stop by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and visit the vintage clothing collections. There was nothing I loved more than viewing a garment made decades ago. Victorian bustled skirts paired with high-necks and puffed sleeve jackets made me swoon. Twenties drop-waist silk dresses seemed to roar with the sound of big band jazz. Each garment transported me back to a time when textiles were hand-crafted, cherished and treated as heirlooms.

This week I made an excursion to visit Woodland Farms Vintage, a vintage shop located here in Dallas. From Civil War-era stockings to 1930's  dresses made from handcrafted Battenburg lace, each piece in the shop was more incredible than the last. I couldn't help but recall my Met visits as I examined tiny hand stitching on white linen nightgowns from the Victorian era. I gasped over the collection of sumptuous vintage furs. And I nearly passed out from the display of vintage hats.

Between perusing the racks of 1950's silk day dresses and alligator purses, Janet, the owner of the shop (and mother to Ken of Vintage Martini, who's sponsoring tomorrow's giveaway!) shared some tips regarding storing and caring for vintage clothes. With nearly 40 years of experience curating one-of-a-kind garments spanning over a hundred years, Janet is an expert in all things vintage. I learned so much about caring for my own thrifted and vintage pieces.

(Missed any previous posts in my Thrifting 101 series? Up to this point, Thrifting 101 has focused on tips for newbies and those dealing with the squick factor, advice regarding how to shop at a thrift store, thrifting for the clothing snob, recommendations for finding the best thrift and consignment stores, tips for determining what days are the best for thrifting, a post where I explained my love for thrifting, advice regarding thrift store etiquette, tips for cleaning vintage leather, a post of my favorite thrifting and vintage blogs, and tips for identifying and cleaning thrifted jewelry.)

Storage and Care

The greatest danger to all clothing and accessories is light, both artificial and ultraviolet (daylight.) Over time, light causes fading in the colors of the fibers and eventually damages the fibers themselves. Other enemies of textiles are dirt, dampness, insects, and excessive heat. Before storing, make sure that clothing is as clean as possible. If the garments have a musty smell, air them outdoors away from direct sunlight. To remove dust, gently vacuum the garment on low speed through a pair of pantyhose, holding the vacuum attachment  above the textile.

For long-term storage, find a space that is dry and dark with a cool, even temperature. The air should be clean with good circulation. This usually means an interior room in the living area of your home, such as a closet, rather than the basement or attic.

  • Hats, shoes and handbags can be stored on a top shelf of a closet.  If the garment is sturdy at the shoulder area, it can be stored on a padded hanger.

  • Dresses with sheer or lacy fabrics; heavily embroidered or beaded dresses; dresses with bias-cut sections or with trains; and heavy skirts should be stored horizontally in storage boxes such as these, available at The Container Store, and lined in unbleached cotton muslin or acid-free tissue paper. You can also use archival quality storage boxes (products that are permanent, durable, and/or chemically stable) for extra security, but it isn't a necessary expense. Smaller, lighter items such a cashmere cardigans, scarves, gloves and lace skirts may be stored, unfolded, on top of each other. Take care that the total weight on the bottom layer in the box is not excessive. Keep on hand plenty of acid-free tissue paper for packing between layers. Tissue can be ordered in bulk from eBay. Multiple layers of tissue sandwiched between garments can do wonders protecting against deterioration.

Janet's labeled storage boxes of feathered textiles, beaded dresses, lace skirts and silk scarves.

  • Fragile tulle skirts and dresses should be hung inside out and folded at the waist on pant hangers. This will protect the tulle from accidentally being torn by another garment or from a hanger. This tip is good advice for all tulle garments, whether vintage or not.

    • While it's tempting to display vintage hats on a wall or rack, it's smarter to store them in a closet or hatbox stuffed with acid-free tissue paper. Hats are especially susceptible to fading from sunlight, and are often made from delicate fabrics such as organza, silk and feathers. Extra effort taken towards caring for vintage hats will go a long way towards protecting them from deterioration. Removable hat feathers can be stored flat in archival boxes.

    • Vintage dresses should be hung in fabric garment bags. Never store vintage clothing in plastic bags. Natural fabrics expand and contract depending on temperature, and plastic bags trap air and prevent garments from breathing.

    • Storing vintage handbags is simple: Stuff acid-free tissue paper inside the bag, place the bag in its original dust bag or into a cotton pillow case, then store the bag in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight.

      • Vintage furs require extra care. Have your furs cleaned yearly by a furrier, not a dry cleaner. Fur coats should also receive a conditioning and glaze to keep the fur shiny and soft. Never store fur in a plastic bag, never comb or brush fur, and avoid hanging it in a bright place. 
      Cleaned, conditioned, and glazed vintage furs.

      Have any tips regarding storing and caring for vintage and thrifted items? Have these tips helped you reconsider how you store your vintage items? Leave a comment and let us know!


      1. Great tips! I just started an online vintage shop and really appreciated these storage tips.

        xo L.

      2. I am in awe of your ability to come up with yet more useful information about thrifting :)

      3. Whoa, these are excellent tips and I have several items that I need to treat more kindly.

      4. Really good method to stored those things. I am very much impressed with your abilities to do this.


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