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How to Preserve Pricey Halloween Costumes So They Last for Years

Dressing for the most magical night of the year.

Photo: Laura Battiato/Getty Images

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I have many enthusiasms in life: Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, maple-flavored foods, and, of course, cleaning. But there is perhaps nothing in this world for which I possess more enthusiasm than Halloween. Pun intended, it is the most magical day of the year.

Halloween also presents unique cleaning challenges, including and especially the cleaning of complicated costumery, such as the elaborate Anne Boleyn ensemble one reader created using 12 yards of upholstery velvet.

If you also go in for involved costumes and want to know how to keep them looking great for many years to come, this week's column is the one for you! Need inspiration? Check out our ideas for cool women to be this Halloween.

Cleaning and Preserving Gowns, Jumpsuits, Capes, etc.

Let's say you, too, have an Anne Boleyn costume that you made from 12 yards of velvet upholstery fabric. First, may we meet in person so that I can buy you a glass of fine mead? Second, you will want to care for it so that it can live to see many future Halloweens.

You'll want to treat your high-end costumes as you would a wedding gown or christening dress.

In a sense, you'll want to treat your high-end costumes, or even those costumes that aren't as fancy but perhaps lovingly homemade, as you would a wedding gown or christening dress by thinking about preserving them. That sounds a bit more serious than it actually is, and you can certainly decide that there are elements of the preserving process that aren't necessary, but if you're dealing with a garment that you spent a few hundred dollars on, or that you hand-stitched over the course of several weeks, it's worth treating it like the special occasion item it is.

The basics of preserving clothes for long-term storage are to begin with spot-treating and/or cleaning any stained areas. Pay particular attention to the hem of long dresses, which tend to drag and get quite dirty, as well as the underarm area. Once the garment is clean, you may want to store it in an archival box that will help to protect it from getting crushed and keep out critters while still allowing air circulation. For more detailed instructions on the cleaning and preservation process, check out our guide to wedding dress care.

Styling and Storing Wigs

Maybe your taste runs more toward Marie Antoinette, and you've got a giant, fancy costume wig that cost you a pretty penny. Wigs, probably even more so than clothing and accessories, need to be stored properly if you want to ensure that they keep their good looks.

To restyle a wig after wearing, you can treat it almost exactly as you would your own hair. The only thing to be aware of is that you should not use heated styling tools on synthetic wigs, as the heat will cause the fake hair to melt. If you need to blow dry a wig, use the lowest heat setting and leave at least a six-inch distance between the wig and the dryer. If a synthetic wig requires curling, use foam rollers (avoid velcro rollers, which can snag); to straighten wig hair that's gotten kinked, mist the hair with water, lay the wig flat, and use your hands to smooth the hair out.

To restyle a wig after wearing, you can treat it almost exactly as you would your own hair.

If your wig needs a washing, you can give it the salon treatment by washing it in the sink. Let the wig soak for a few minutes in a solution of cool water and shampoo — don't scrub at it, which can tangle the hair — then rinse with cool water. Then, shake off as much excess water as you can before hanging the wig on a wig stand or laying it flat on a towel to dry.

Proper wig storage is also wildly important to the successful keeping of your pricey headwear. Styrofoam heads are truly the best way to store wigs, plus they have the benefit of being so dramatic. I mean, don't you want to be the sort of woman who stores her wigs on styrofoam heads? I know I do! I also know that I do not at all have the amount of storage space required for that sort of operation. For those who are similarly space-challenged, wigs can be safely stashed in a plastic grocery bag, which will protect the wig while also providing enough space to ensure it doesn't become crushed and tangled.

How to Clean and Store Fursuits

Perhaps you're less a wig gal and more a full-on fox — let's address what to do about fursuits.

Much like with wigs, when it comes to fursuits you'll essentially want to wash its hair. This is easy, but is likely to be a bit awkward due to the size of the item in need of washing. The bathtub is probably the best place for this operation; fill the tub about a quarter way up with cool water and a small amount of mild shampoo and give the suit a short wash, being careful not to scrub at the hair, which will cause tangling and snags. Rinse it very well, then use your hands to press out as much water as you can before rolling the suit in a large towel to extrude more water. Lay the suit flat to air dry; when it's just damp, you can use a blow dryer on a low setting to fluff its fur up. If there are matted or tangled patches, they can be brushed out with a comb or a slicker brush.

What to Do About Wings

Wings can easily become crushed or bent, and since they are often glitter- or feather-adorned, they can also make a mess of anything that they come in contact with. To store them, either lay them flat in a thin archival box that can be stashed in a closet shelf or under the bed, or hang them in a nylon garment bag, which will allow air circulation but keep the glitter or feathers from making contact with and transferring onto your other clothes.

Cleaning Corsets and Hosiery

Costume corsets and hosiery should be treated just like intimate apparel we wear during the rest of the year. You will absolutely want to clean them after wearing, especially since you're unlikely to wear them for another year — don't store delicate costume pieces without cleaning them, as the buildup of dirt, body oil, dead skin, and so on can lead to fabric deterioration over time. Hand-washing with a no-rinse delicates detergent like Soak Wash or Eucalan will make short work of getting your costume accessories clean and ready to be stored until next All Hallow's Eve.