Managing a Clothing Collection

I’ve had several people ask how I store and manage my collection, so today’s post is devoted to the working side of collecting.  You have to keep in mind that I’m a collector, not a museum, but I do the best I can to preserve the items in my care.  What I do is far from perfect, but I’m always looking for ways to improve.

First, a few details about what is in the collection.  I have almost 1000 items of clothing, shoes, hats, handbags and other accessories.  The oldest items are around 100 years old, and the newest are about 40 years old.  There are very few items made from fur as it requires a more complicated storage for which I’m not equipped.

I store my collection in a late Victorian cottage we own.  It is not ideal, as there is no air conditioning.  It is heated and has humidity controls, and we are very careful about pest control.  I use two rooms that are quite dark, and in addition I have shades on the small windows that further block the light.

Most of the clothing is stored by hanging.  There are two large closets that allow for quite a bit of hanging garments.  The closet here actually has a second rack behind the one you can see.  The  colored boxes are full of shoes.

All items are hung on padded hangers for which I’ve made muslin covers.  After hanging the garment I then cover it with a cover that I’ve made from muslin or from white pillowcases.  I try to find unused ones at thrift stores.

Knits and fragile items are stored either flat or folded with padding.  Each is stored in its own muslin or linen cloth envelope.  I store these in old hatboxes that have been sprayed with an acid neutralizer.  Inside each box is a list of the contents.  I’m working toward acquiring acid free flat boxes, but they are very expensive.

I always have a piece or two on display just for inspiration.  I switch these out quite often.

Once the collection started growing, I realized I had to have a system that would make it easier to find items when I needed them.  I also needed to be recording the details of each item.  I came up with a number system, based on the estimated year of manufacture.  I limited the system to every 5 years, so items are dated 1917, 1922, 1927 and so on.  There is a number for type of item, such as 1 for clothing, 2 for shoes, 3 for hats, and so on.  Then each item is given a numeral in the order acquired.

The card above is for a late 1930s pair of pants.  I put a lot of information on the card, including a short description, a condition report, any labels, where and when acquired, and the price paid.  On the reverse of the card is other info such as any known provenance.  I also put the date of any blog post that I’ve made about the object.

I also keep a notebook for each decade that has a photo of each item, along with the item’s number.   I group items together as they might have been worn.

I also include scans of vintage ads that I find of the items, when I’m that lucky.

That is it in a nutshell.  If you want to see how far I have to go, you need to view this video of the V&S’s new storage facility.  I am humbled!



Filed under Collecting

38 responses to “Managing a Clothing Collection

  1. Diana Coleman

    Lizzie…I commend you…I am exhausted just thinking of the hours you have put in preserving fashion history. Now, I want to know….as we are all mortal, what are your hopes and plans for the future of your collection? Another blog, please!



    • Diana, It has been a long, on-going process, and there is still much to do.

      Long term? I have bequeathed the collection to a fashion history museum, and I’m hoping that the museum will be able to incorporate some of my pieces in up-coming exhibitions.


  2. Joyce Acosta

    Fabulous!…and inspiring! An organized collection, for whatever purpose intended, is much more eye appealing and an inspirational reminder of why we love vintage in the first place! Thanks for a great article and excellent reference piece.


  3. You are so organized! I would love an hour to rummage around in there and when I was done you would never even know I was there. Please show more of what is under those garment bags!!


  4. John

    Thanks for this article! Great tips for the non-museum collector. I wasn’t aware of the acid neutralizer spray. What is the product you use and where can one get it? Would you recommend a dehumdifier if air moisture is greater than 70%? LOVE the idea of bequeathing the collection to a fashion museum.


  5. Irene

    How amazing! I can only imagine the jewels under those covers 🙂
    I noticed you mention keeping items hanged. I want to preserve my wedding gown, which was a 1950s velveteen red party dress, and I’ve been told that I should store it folded in an acid free box not to put stress on the seams from hanging. Do you think I should do so, or just keep it on a padded hanger with a cover the way you’ve done?


    • If you can get a fairly large acid free box and put muslin between the layers where the dress is folded, it should be fine. If you do decide to hang it, make sure the hanger is well padded. Unless the dress is very heavy, it should be okay to hang it.


      • Irene

        Thanks for the advice! I think I will invest in an acid free box, since my closet space is pretty tight in my tiny NYC apartment 🙂


  6. Teresa

    You are amazing and so well organised Lizzie! Oh, how I would love to look through your collection. 🙂


  7. Wow! What an in-depth system!


  8. Really enjoyed this blog…just FULL of valuable information…I especially appreciated your sharing a reference to The “V and A” Museum in London. (I did not know it existed until your blog mentioned it.) I went to the web page of the V & A and looked up my padded hip suit of the 50’s. I learned it was part of Dior’s “New Look” of the 50’s. They showed at least three.

    I even noticed an old mannequin head on the floor among the hat boxes.
    Thanks Liz…for sharing.


  9. April

    Love it! I didn’t think that I could love anything more than your blog but then I checked out your pininterest! The vintage collection rocks!


  10. I especially like the ‘scrapbook’ with all the related stuff. That part would be fun to flick through I imagine. Great work! I wish I had taken my ‘collection’ more seriously from the start.


  11. Wow! Such dedication is inspiring Lizzie. I commend you! 🙂 xx


  12. This is so very interesting! What a great peek behind the scenes! I use plastic garment bags for my garments, but I have been wondering if they might be bad for the fabric. I assume you are using muslin covers instead of plastic ones for a reason?


  13. Huge admiration for your dedication and fascinating look behind the scenes


  14. I’m so impressed! Would love a collection like yours. I’m lucky enough to have a brother who works at the V&A and have seen their stores in person, its amazing!


  15. This is so awesome! I love how you organized the collection with the cards and for all your storage tips too, especially using the pillowcases in place of garment bags (which can get expensive, as you know). You mention that the items are stored in a Victorian cottage that you own – out of curiosity, I’d love to see that place too in a future post : ).


  16. Let me join the chorus! What an impressive system, and what a great idea to coordinate your items with your blog posts.


  17. I’m really overwhelmed by all the nice comments. To be truthful, I almost did not do this post because I thought it might be boring.


    • Lizzie, you’re writing for people who love vintage! Nothing is boring and you offer such good tips; how could we not love a look behind the scenes? Old cotton pillow cases are perfect for storage and as you know are cheap. You have a one-up on most of us in that you can make your own storage bags. It’s wonderful that you have a dedicated place to store and display your treasures. Perhaps you should offer a tour and charge admission ;). Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m also going to commend you for such a well-organized collection. Thanks for pointing out your pinterest page!


  19. This is both fascinating and impressive. Thank you for showing us behind the scenes!


  20. This is brilliant, Lizzie, I love that you are doing this. Add me to the list of people who’d love to have you give me a guided tour through it in person.


  21. QueensGirl

    Oh, thanks for posting this. I’ve often wondered how you stored your collected pieces. Thanks, as well, for making so much if your research available online. There have been several instances where I’ve searched for something garment-related and the best explanation is from some iteration of fuzzylizzie!


  22. This is a great post Lizzie. I’ve often wondered how/where you were keeping your ‘stuff’! Also, it’s not often collectors let us see the ‘inside’ story on their collection. Thanks for all of the storage tips too!


  23. Pingback: Collection Organization Time | The Vintage Traveler

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