The Archive Lady: Storing a Military Uniform Jacket

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The Archive Lady: Storing a Military Uniform Jacket

Mary from New York asks: “I have my great-grandfather’s World War I uniform jacket which is made of wool. It is actually in pretty good condition and I would like to keep it that way. I know from your webinars that you recommend not putting such items on display but what is the best way to store a military uniform jacket?”

On November 11, 2018 we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I. Many of our archives, libraries, genealogical societies, historical societies and museums are planning events to remember those that served and died during the war.

The Archive Lady: Storing a Military Uniform Jacket
WWI Jacket, Houston County, TN. Archives

I have received many questions from genealogists about how to preserve World War I documents, photographs and artifacts. Mary, like many of us, has a uniform jacket that belonged to her great-grandfather. Military jackets from this war, worn by U.S. service personnel were mostly made of wool. Some earlier versions were made of a khaki material. Mary’s jacket is made of wool and can be susceptible to moths and other pests that like to eat wool, so it is very important that the jacket be stored properly.

An important first step is to make sure the uniform jacket is as clean as possible. If the jacket is in good condition it is acceptable to get it dry cleaned. It is not advised that these types of items be washed in a washing machine or put into the dryer at home. Even if you have a gentle cycle on your washing machine, it is just best to leave the cleaning to the professionals.

Also, remove any medals or items pinned to the jacket and store separately in archival boxes. Storing the jacket with medals or items pinned can cause damage over time.

As much as possible, military uniform jackets should be stored flat in an appropriately-sized archival box. Heirloom garments should never be left hanging on hangers because they can become misshapen from the stress on the seams. Line the archival box with archival tissue paper. Since Mary’s jacket is made of wool, I recommend that she use unbuffered archival tissue paper. For more about the difference between buffered and unbuffered tissue paper see Buffered vs. Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper, What’s the Difference?

Archival Box and Tissue Paper from Gaylord Archival
Archival Box and Tissue Paper from Gaylord Archival

It is good practice to also carefully stuff the shoulders and arms of the jacket with archival tissue paper so that they keep their shape. This will also prevent the arms of the jacket from folding and creasing. Also, lay a piece or two of the archival tissue paper inside the jacket so the jacket fronts do not come in contact with other parts of the jacket. Lay a full-size piece of tissue paper on top of the jacket and secure the box lid. Store the boxed jacket flat and not on it’s end.

WWI Jacket, Houston County, TN. Archives

Store the boxed jacket in a cool, dark and dry place. Do not store in an attic or basement if at all possible. Humidity and moisture can cause major damage to a military jacket.

Preserving and storing our military heirlooms should be at the top of our records preservation to-do list. Our descendants will be happy that we did.

Online Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival sleeves for letters can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.

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Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

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