Katia Johansen
Royal Danish Collections


 Costume in museums is rarely stored in space designed exactly for storage. Most storage areas are converted – repurposed, usually with great ingenuity, and always with care to create the best possible conditions with the resources that are available. Some basic requirements need to be filled for a safe, secure and suitable storage of costume, whether at a well-staffed museum, a small institution, or in a private home. Ownership and legal aspects of the collection may determine the requirements and possibilities for building an optimal storage facility.


 Checklist: When planning to build or modify a storage area, it’s necessary to consider many factors:

  • adequate space for packing/unpacking
  • access to water for washing hands (but water pipes should well apart from the storage area)
  • easy access, also for trolleys and large items
  • storage space for materials, tools, telephone, computer and internet access
  • quality: choose the best quality shelves, drawers, and/or compact storage that are in within one’s budget
  • workspace: much costume work is often best done in the storage area (rather than transporting objects to the workshop), so there should be suitably large worktables at a suitable height, and the possibility of washing hands nearby
  • cleaning: The storage area must be easily cleaned without the use of buckets of water. Cleaning staff need special instructions (which should be written and kept available) and sometimes also special equipment for cleaning storage areas.
  • lighting should be wired in sections, so only the working space is lit when necessary. The light should replicate daylight in color if work is being done in the storage area.
  • emergency exits: Lighting or white paint stripes on the floor should indicate emergency exits in case of power outages
  • climate control and monitoring must be as good as your institution can afford (see  ICOM Costume Committee guidelines]
  • disaster planning: the museum’s handbook on disaster preparedness must also include the storage areas (see ICOM’s International Committee for Museum Security handbook Museum Security and Protection and Handbook on emergency procedures)
  • labeling and marking: consider carefully how to label and mark shelves, boxes, drawers in the storage area’s address system [see Marking and labeling costume]
  • protocol: Use both a written and an electronic protocol religiously every time objects are moved into and out of storage. Removal slips outside boxes and drawers, most visible if on colored paper, represent the objects themselves and make putting things back where they belong much easier.
  • security: the museum’s security system must include the storage area. See for example Museum Security and Protection: A Handbook for Cultural Heritage Institutions, ed. David Liston, 1993. ISBN 0-415-05457-5 (hb); 0-415-07509-2 (pbk).Decide who has access, make sure they are all well-informed of procedures and well-trained in how to handle costume, and keep up-to-date lists of who has permission to work in the storage area.
  • daily check: The most valuable warning system is having dedicated staff paying daily visits to the storage area. They are able to see and smell changes immediately, while electronic systems can, and do, break down without warning.
  • health and safety rules: remember there are special health and safety rules for working on ladders, lifting heavy objects, and working alone. It is generally recognized that working for many hours in a room without daylight is detrimental to one’s health, so it is important to be able to take some of the packing and checking work out of the storage area.


Guidelines and recommendations

Guidelines are available from well-respected institutions, covering all aspects of designing and equipping a storage facility. For example, the excellent information from the Canadian Conservation Institute is a good place to begin:


Examples of museum storage facilities

Modern fashion, Paco Rabanne

Newer and contemporary fashion such as that made by the flamboyant Spanish designer Paco Rabanne requires special arrangements and often a lot of space for storage. Many of these delightful fashion pieces (sold at auction in 2012) require special conditions and careful preparation for safe storage; many of the larger pieces are best permanently stored on mannequins with specially built support. In addition, a careful analysis should be made of the materials involved, as many of the older synthetic materials have special requirements for optimal preservation. Illustrations are generously supplied by Artcurial | Briest - Poulain - F. Tajan, art auctions.

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