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Collecting Mania: Caring For Photographs & Vintage Clothing

Updated on May 29, 2010


Ever since Louis Daguerre invented the first camera and created a process that bordered on wizardry, we've focused and snapped our way through life. It's easy to take photographs for granted but preserving them takes effort:

  • First, start at the source. Buy the highest quality film available and use top-grade processing and printing. It's tempting to use shops that offer quick turnarounds and bargain prices, but for immortalizing important occasions, don't skimp.
  • The best place to store your photo collection is in sealable, high-quality plastic boxes. Make sure the plastic is free of PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, which breaks down over time and can ruin the images. If there's no label, you'll be able to tell it's PVC if it smells like a new plastic shower curtain. Interleaf photos with soft, smooth, acid-free paper. Proper box labeling not only keeps your collection organized but also prevents unnecessary handling.

  • Whether you store photos in boxes or albums, be mindful of high temperatures and humidity. Avoid garages, basements, and attics. A main floor closet or a spot under the bed is a good choice.
  • Old photos are already likely to have some deterioration. Sometimes, transferring pictures to a new archival album will inhibit further decline.
  • Never use household tape, glue, rubber cement, or spray adhesives. They can destroy your collection. If you must write on the backs, do so lightly with a soft pencil or fine line permanent pen. Don't use a felt tip pen or ballpoint. The writing could eventually bleed through.
  • Handle photos along their edges. Otherwise, oils and dirt from bare hands will take their toll. Invest in an inexpensive pair of white gloves if you're serious about your pictures.
  • Remove dust with sable brush or canned air - never blow. Though it seems harmless, even tiny drops of moisture can pose a threat.
  • When framing pictures, don't let the glass come in contact with the photo. Prints can stick to the glass, especially on humid days, and incur irreparable damage.

Vintage Clothing

Whether you've preserved them since they were new, inherited them, or purchased them at a specialty boutique, vintage clothes capture a "once upon a time" charm.

Chiffon dresses, silk taffeta gowns, hoop skirts, lamb's wool muffs... Some women are lured by the quality of hand stitching or the Cinderella feel of a luxurious fabric. Others simply go for originality. But vintage clothing comes at a price - and not necessarily the price tag of the garment. Rather, it's the investment it takes to protect aged clothes from the perils of time.

It helps to know that some fabrics hold up better than others. Gabardines, velvets, and heavy rayons are hardier and less susceptible to natural elements than delicate antique textiles like lace and chiffon. But all vintage clothing can be made to last by following a few simple steps:

  • First, make sure clothes are properly cleaned before storage. Stains can show up months or even years down the road and then become impossible to remove.
  • Store clothes away from light, which can deteriorate fabric over time.
  • Avoid hanging knits the traditional way, by the shoulders. "Hanger humps" stretch garments out in the wrong places. Instead, fold sweaters over hangers or, better yet, keep them in small piles on a shelf.
  • Dodge hard-to-remove creases by limiting stacks to just two or three items, and always put the lightest ones on top. It's a good idea to refold garments every few months so those creases don't set.
  • Refolding periodically also gives you an opportunity to check for pests. The most common are those that like to hide out in warm, dark places; watch for silverfish, clothes moths, and carpet beetles. If you use mothballs, never allow them to touch the clothes. The best moth ball product is paradichlorobenzene. It repels other insects and is chemically safe. Although herbal potpourri and cedar have become closet staples, they're ineffective against pests.
  • Never store clothes in plastic bags or containers. Fibers expand and contract with temperatures and need to breathe.
  • Apparel should not be stored in cardboard boxes either. Untreated paper products contain acids, which can deteriorate fabrics. Your best bet is to softly fold clothes in inexpensive muslin bags.

Protecting your vintage wardrobe is like preserving a memory. And memories, just like circa-dated fashions, never go out of style.


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