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Sunday, December 08, 2019

When my father returned to the States after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he bought a pet supply retail store in Greenwich, Connecticut, called The Pet Pantry. In those days it was not unusual for people to feed their dogs fresh ground beef and ground horse meat. My father’s employee would grind the meat and then package and freeze it on the premises in a very large, walk-in freezer. The freezer was so roomy, he rented out some of the extra space. Fast forward to when I was a little girl and I would watch my mother gently pack up the family’s winter clothes to store all spring and summer in the Pet Pantry freezer in some of that extra space. In this environment, the clothes stayed free of moisture and free of moth larvae.

My mother would fold all our winter clothes very neatly, paying careful attention to the sweaters. (I feel that our mothers’ generation just knew how to fold clothes and sheets correctly. Their ironing ability was also not too shabby.) She put them into large, thick and durable cardboard boxes of very high quality. As far as I know, such quality boxes don’t exist today.

When we received our clothes back in the fall, my mother, my sister and I would unpack them and get ready for another season. This would include seeing what fit and what would be donated. I loved this process.

I still do. Understanding how to care for and prolong the lives of our garments is one of my passions.

Why do we need to store our clean winter clothes in a cool, dark environment? High temperatures can turn fabrics brittle, ruining the clothing. In other words, we never want to store our winter clothes in a hot attic or a closet that lacks proper circulation. Let’s also exclude storing our winter clothes in a damp basement. While we all seem to be using lock-tight plastic containers now for our clothing instead of cardboard, don’t take the risk of storing your clothes in a damp environment that would invite insects or mildew. So where do we store our winter clothes? To keep sweaters free of larvae and other pests, I recommend they be stored in tightly sealed plastic containers or bins or hung in a closet in a well-ventilated room. Another suggestion is to find a local dry cleaner that offers free summer storage for the garments you bring in to be cleaned. You can drop them off in April or May and pick them up in September or October all pressed and protected under plastic. How great is that?

Just as clothes can be stored at dry cleaners, fur coats, jackets, vests etc. can be stored at a reputable furrier. Several of my clients have fur coats. When I ask them how they protect the pelts from drying out over the summer, they often look puzzled and ask me why it matters. I explain to them that exposing the coats year after year to the high spring and summer temperatures can dry furs out, robbing them of their luster. Eventually some of the fur will fall out leaving bald patches. I was once at a furrier when a woman brought in an old mink coat she had just inherited from her grandmother. She was quite excited to try it on for the furrier and find out how he could update it and bring it into the 21st century. Her smile disappeared when the furrier showed her how the pelts had bald spots and he asked her how her grandmother took care of the coat each summer. She answered that it stayed in the same entryway closet 12 months of the year. It is a good thing this furrier was an honest man. He told her she would be throwing her money away to re-work the coat. His advice was just to toss it before the falling fur piled up on the floor of her closet.

Storing a fur coat at a reputable furrier is a wise investment as well as a proactive measure. There are fewer furriers around than there once were. Do a little homework to find the closest ones. Call ahead to get a sense of the personality of the establishment and whether it would work well with your personality. In some instances you receive a discount if you pay the storage fee when you drop off the fur, as opposed to paying when you pick it up. As the cold weather approaches, e.g., now, call a few days ahead to let them know you will be coming to pick up your garment. Sometimes the storage unit is off-site and sometimes it is within their building. Either way, they appreciate the advance notice.

I recently gave a talk at my local library and asked my audience how many of them like the smell of moth balls. No one raised their hands. When I asked how many of them liked the smell of lavender, almost everyone’s hand went up. The reason I asked is because lavender is a natural and healthy insect repellent, while mothballs, the material most people think of first as an insect repellant for clothes, has been proved to release a dangerous pesticide. You can purchase small packets of lavender meant to be stored with clothes at various home stores. Expect to replace the packets, depending on their strength, anywhere between every three months to a year.

We all have amazing memories of our childhoods. Maybe you didn’t realize that hidden within those life experiences is vast knowledge that really can be put to use. So now that we are getting into the cold-weather months, step out in your clean sweaters, puffy vests, fleece jackets and wool coats. Take a brisk walk in the crisp air and consider what information based on childhood passions you can share with others.

By Ellen Smith