The Archive Lady: Preserving Old and New Graduation Caps and Gowns

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shows how to use archival packing materials to preserve graduation items including a cap and gown!

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shares her tips on the best ways to preserve a graduation cap and gown

Marilyn in Nebraska asks: “I hope you can help, I have my high school graduation cap and gown and in May 2019, my daughter graduated high school so I have her cap and gown. I want to preserve these precious family heirlooms. Can you suggest a preservation method that I could use to safely store these items?”

Marilyn asks a great question and one that is very timely with those that are graduating high school and college during this time of year. The cap and gown has a long history and some written histories say that the wearing of a cap and gown goes back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Whether your cap and gown are made from cotton or nylon, old or new, they need to be archived properly and stored properly so that they will survive for generations to come.

Group of women in cap and gown at Western College, ca. 1903, Wikimedia Commons

Group of women in cap and gown at Western College, ca. 1903, Wikimedia Commons

Cap and gowns are usually only worn during that time when a person graduates high school, college or some other academic graduation. Once the ceremony is over, the cap and gown is usually hung up in the closet to be pretty much forgotten. But like any other family heirlooms, if you choose to keep the cap and gown, there is a simple process by which they can be preserved.

Marjorie Ann (Bartram) LeMaster High School Graduation, ca. 1961, Melissa Barker’s Mother

Marjorie Ann (Bartram) LeMaster High School Graduation, ca. 1961, Melissa Barker’s Mother

The archival items you will need are an archival box and archival tissue paper. These items can be purchased at any of the online archival stores listed below. It is important to purchase an archival box that will fit both the cap and gown, so be sure to obtain the correct size box. An archival box that is used for preserving clothing or textiles is the best. As for the archival tissue paper, I would suggest that you use unbuffered archival tissue paper in this case.

Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

The first step is to place a piece of unbuffered archival tissue paper in the archival box. Then lay the gown in the box, folding as necessary. It is perfectly fine to fold the gown one or two times, but you do not want to fold the gown anymore than that. If you find that you need to fold the gown multiple times, you should get a larger archival box. Be sure to place archival tissue paper between the folded layers so that the gown material is not touching itself. Then place a final layer of archival tissue paper on the top. As for the cap, lightly wrap the cap with unbuffered archival tissue paper and lay on top of the gown in the same archival box. Be sure to include the tassel if you still have it with the cap. In recent years, it has become very popular to decorate the top of graduating caps. Make sure there is nothing falling off and is affixed securely.  If your cap has been decorated, keep it just like it is and wrap it in the tissue paper and put in the archival box. I highly recommend that each cap and gown be given its own box.

If you have cords, medals or any other awards that your graduate wore during the graduating ceremony, it would be perfectly fine to also wrap these in archival tissue paper and lay in the box with the cap and gown. Just be sure to separate each layer with unbuffered archival tissue paper so that none of the times are touching.

It would also be a great idea to include a copy of the graduating invitation, name card or any other ephemera associated with the graduation in the same box. In fact, keeping all of these items from the same event together is recommended. It is important to put the items in an archival sleeve before putting it in the box. Lastly, store the boxed items in a cool, dark and dry place where the humidity levels are 35-40 percent to keep any mold or mildew from growing. You could even put the archival box into a plastic container so that moths and rodents cannot get to the material.

Documenting and preserving all aspects of someone graduating from an academic institution is a great way to preserve the history and stories of our ancestors as well as our descendants. Using the correct archival materials and methods will insure that they survive.

Archival Supply Stores

Here is a listing of several archival stores that will send out FREE paper catalogs:

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

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. 

©2019, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.

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About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.

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