Preserve Your Wedding Dress
After countless hours spent searching for your dream dress (not to mention the dollars spent), it's only fair to give your gown a happily-ever-after too, right? Whether it's because of the way it made you feel on your wedding day or the possibility of passing it down to your daughter or another family member in the future, preserving your wedding dress is the best way to maintain it's color, fabric and shape.
What Is Gown Preservation?
This is a special cleaning and packaging techniques used to ensure your gown retains its beauty. A professional preservationist will survey your gown: the materials, embellishments and various stains, then formulate a specialized cleaning procedure. “Cleaning your gown is the single most important part of the preservation process and all the stains, including the hidden ones containing sugar that turn brown over time, must be removed," says Sally Lorensen Conant, the executive director of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists. You can usually wait until after the honeymoon to take your dress to a preservationist, but remember it's better to take your gown in while the stains are fresh and not set in (especially if it's stained with mud or red wine). “The longer you delay, the less likely all stains can be removed, and if you wait years, your gown will need restoration rather than just cleaning," warns Conant. After cleaning, your gown is wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and placed in museum-quality archival box.
Finding a Preservationist – Know it All
Before choosing a preservationist, do a little detective work. You'll need to investigate where to take your gown for cleaning a few weeks before the wedding. That way, if your dress is stained badly or damaged on your wedding day, a family or bridal party member can take your dress to the preservationist for you so that you can make your honeymoon get-away. Ask friends and family, bridal shops or your wedding consultant for preservationist referrals, or check out theknot.com/local to find a specialist in your area. Though many dry cleaners claim to clean wedding gowns, most are not specialists. Unless the dry cleaner you're thinking of using processes more than 100 wedding gowns a year, consider going to a professional gown preservationist with a noted track record instead. “I always tell my brides to ask a lot of questions. You want to make sure that the person taking care of your gown pays attention to detail and knows fabrics as well as how gowns are constructed," says Karen Jean-Aimee of Madame Paulette in New York City. Ask about the type of cleaning method used, do they hand clean and if they will pre-treat any stains and soiled areas Jean-Aimee suggests. Also, find out if the company does the work on location or if they ship gowns elsewhere to be cleaned and packaged. Don't rule a company out if they don't work in-house, especially if they have good reviews.
Ask your gown preservationist whether you must sign a release or disclaimer because these documents sometimes state that the company isn't responsible for any damage done to the gown during the cleaning process. You will want to find someone who will guarantee every last bead and sequin. Next, ask if the company offers a warranty and how they will reimburse you if you find the gown to be damaged after a certain number of years. Read the fine print of the agreement: some companies will refund the preservation cost -- not the replacement value of the dress. And consider it a red flag if they claim the warranty is void if you open the box. Finally, beware of companies that give quotes over the phone -- different materials and stains require specialized care. Your gown will receive the best care if it's individually inspected before a price is given.
Some gown specialists use the wet cleaning method, which consists of gently washing the gown by hand with gentle cleansers that remove noticeable stains and unseen stains, such as champagne and sugar. If left untreated, unseen stains can oxidize and turn yellow over time. Other companies use a more traditional dry-cleaning method, which involve pre-treating the stains and then placing the garment in a dry-cleaning machine. “The solvent in the machine should be safe for fragile decorations, and these should be protected with muslin during the cleaning cycle or removed before cleaning and re-sewn onto your gown afterward," says Conant. Solvents such as perchloroethylene (perc for short) or petroleum-based cleansers are used as stain removers. Petroleum-based solvents aren't as aggressive as perc, and they're also not as powerful in stain removal, but, due to its high oil content, petroleum nourishes certain fabrics and can give them a lovely sheen.
Wrapping It Up
The correct packaging materials are utterly imperative for guaranteeing the life of your gown. And all storage materials should be clean and completely acid-free. After the cleaning process, your preservationist will wrap your dress in acid-free paper or muslin, then place in an acid-free or pH-neutral box, which allow the gown to breathe and adjust with changing temperatures. Some boxes feature a viewing window: a clear panel designed so you can see your gown without opening the box. If your box features a window, look for acetate rather than plastic, and keep the box out of direct light, which can yellow the fabric over time. Some companies utilize boxes with Coroplast, a specially designed plastic known for its durability.
Sealed With a...?
While some companies choose to seal the box to keep out insects and vermin, others say sealing is unnecessary, if the gown is packaged correctly. If you do open the box, remember to use discretion when handling the dress. Jean-Aimee recommends wearing clean white cotton gloves (which many preservationists provide to you), but at a minimum be sure to wash your hands first. “There is no inherent reason why you cannot open your gown, but we are trained in museums not to handle something unless absolutely necessary because there is always the potential for danger," says Conant. Talk to your preservationist about including other item such as jewelry and shoes to you box. It may not be the best idea depending on the type of materials you'll want to include, but your professional will have an opinion on how to store properly.
Fabric, decoration, ornamentation and degree of stain damage determine the preservation price of a gown. “Your heavily beaded silk ball gown will cost more than a simple polyester gown you wore on the beach, and you should never trust your designer gown to someone offering a bargain price. Saving a few dollars is simply not worth the risk of ruining your wedding dress," says Conant. Expect to pay $250-$700, though prices can go as high as $1,000 depending on the gown and location. Costs vary across the country, with higher prices in metropolitan areas.
Before & After
To help maintain the integrity of your gown, there are some things you should not do before sending it to be cleaned and preserved. First, don't wrap your dress in plastic. This can seal in off-gassing vapors and trap moisture, inviting mold and mildew. Don't hang your dress on an ordinary wooden or wire hanger -- the weight of the dress will stretch and distort the weave of the fabric -- try a plastic or padded hanger instead. Don't try to clean the stains yourself -- you risk setting them in the fabric. Once your gown is back from the preservationist, pay attention to storage. Keep your dress in “a cool, dark and dry environment with a relative humidity at 50% at all times," says Jean-Aimee. Most professionals agree that light and heat play the most damaging roles when it comes to gown preservation. As a guideline, store your preserved gown in a place where you would feel physically comfortable. That rules out a hot attic or damp basement. Under your bed or in a dry closet are your best bets.
But I'm Broke!
If you already spent most of your wedding budget, it is possible to preserve it at home, though it won't be perfect and may retain stains. Conant suggests, “Cloth or tyvek bags can offer short-term protection, but your gown should not hang for long periods of time, and a wedding chest provides more protection from sharp objects, smoke and from fire." The acidic content of ordinary paper will literally scorch your gown. Don't use colored tissue paper either. If the box accidentally becomes wet, it could stain your gown. For storage, professionals recommend wrapping the gown in pre-washed unbleached muslin, and then placing it in a sturdy box under your bed. That way, if you decide to preserve your gown down the road, it will be right there waiting for you.