Cleaning and Preserving Band Uniforms for Long-Term Storage
I received the following question from Betsy in Massachusetts through our web site about cleaning and preserving band uniforms:
"I am the uniform person for a 150 member marching band in MA. I need to store 100 uniforms for several years. These will be dry cleaned prior to storage, but what would you advise regarding preservation?"
Here is my reply to Betsy about long-term storage and preservation of band uniforms. Please note that I am not describing a process for storing uniforms over the "off season." Instead, I'm describing long-term storage of uniforms...although there are lessons here for even short-term storage. At the end of this article are best practices for storing band uniforms over the summer months.
Step One - Cleaning The Band Uniforms
The most important first step toward preserving any garment is proper cleaning so you can put the uniforms away clean. They should either be laundered or dry cleaned depending on the fabric. Your dry cleaner and the care label in the uniform can help with that decision.
Handling the uniforms after they are cleaned needs to be done carefully to keep oils from your hands off the band uniforms. I suggest you find some white cotton gloves...or at least make sure everyone handling the uniforms washes their hands thoroughly before handling them. Oils from the hands can cause discoloration over the years and can be avoided with a little attention to this problem.
Step Two - Packaging the Uniforms
The next step is how to preserve and store the uniforms over the years. Preserving is simply how you will protect the uniforms while in storage. You can leave them on hangers if you have space but this could cause seam stretching (depending on the quality of the fabric and tread) if left hanging for a year or more. If you store them on hangers, consider purchasing some muslin garment bags to cover them. Most good fabric stores carry them and they are not terribly expensive. You might be able to put more than 1 uniform in a bag to reduce the cost. Muslin is good because it will allow air to circulate around the uniforms while keeping dust and other contaminants off them.
Another alternative for storage would be to purchase 100% acid-free boxes. These boxes would protect the uniforms, use space efficiently and still allow air to circulate. I suggest you contact Foster-Stephens, a company that specializes in preservation boxes for wedding gowns, military uniforms and more. I'm not sure what size their bigger boxes might be but I'm sure you can find that out. If you intend to keep the uniforms boxed for several years as you indicate, avoid using regular card board boxes because the acid would cause the uniforms to discolor over the years.
But PLEASE...do not place the uniforms in plastic containers and do not even think about vacuum sealing the uniforms. You will end up with permanent wrinkles, over time the plastic bags used for this will cause discoloration and if there is any moisture at all in the uniform...or even the air when you vacuum seal them, you will create an environment for mold.
When storing the preserved uniforms, don't shove them is the smallest possible space. Remember, they need some air to keep mold away. So when storing them, find a location that is temperature and humidity controlled. Avoid basements, attics...even self storage units unless they are temperature and humidity controlled. If you box the uniforms, stack the boxes with room on the sides for air to circulate. The same goes for storing them on hangers. Leave a little room for the air to circulate.
Save Money When Storing Long Term
One other suggestion for you. When you have the uniforms cleaned, especially if you plan to box the uniforms, tell your dry cleaner that you don't need them pressed. Get a price without pressing. You just need them cleaned and when you get them out to use again, you can get them pressed at that time.
Storing Uniforms For A Short Term?
If you just want to store your band uniforms for a few months, no need to worry about the oils on your hands. They will be cleaned in coming months. Since you will be using the uniforms in coming months, don't worry about boxing the uniforms. Placing them in muslin bags is still a good idea in order to protect them during the off season...but that's not essential. But the advice about storing them in a climate controlled room with space for air circulation is still a good idea.
To keep band uniforms in tip top shape, always have them cleaned after the last use for the season. Always put them away clean.
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