How to Perfectly Preserve Your Wedding Dress

A professional in the gown preservation industry shares his tips for keeping your wedding dress for generations.

Bride in Vintage Wedding Dress
When your big day has passed, you will have an important decision to make about your wedding dress. Many memories and a substantial investment lie in that gown, so while some brides choose to sell or donate their dresses, you will most likely opt to keep yours. If you do decide to retain your gown, you should be aware that it is not enough to simply take it to a local dry cleaner – cleaning and preserving your dress is important even if you don’t have aspirations of a daughter wearing it one day. The correct process is time intensive and is not without cost; however, the professional cleaning and preservation of your gown is not only worth the investment, but absolutely essential.

THE PROCESS OF PRESERVATION
There are two important elements of preservation: first, safe cleaning; and second, the use of chemically inert, acid-free materials to protect the gown during storage. The fabrics and detailing of wedding dresses require a dry cleaner that specializes in them. Gowns can (and have been) destroyed by “specialists” who have either used solvents that were too harsh, cleaned the dress in water, or used too much mechanical activity in removing spots. 

The preservation process should begin with a complete examination and documentation of your garment. An analysis of the fibers, structures, and dyes of your dress is necessary because different fibers and fabric finishes may need unique treatments. Silk and rayon faille may look similar, but they react distinctly to water and organic solvents. Cottons may be finished with any number of starches to achieve a special look and texture. Linings and interlinings can react at different rates. Although dry cleaning is an appropriate method for cleansing most natural fibers, some dyes and finishes can dissolve in standard solvents.

Sophisticated testing techniques allow professionals to identify stains and spills – even those you can’t see. Makeup, Champagne, wedding cake, and perspiration all affect fabric differently. Treating those stains before cleaning is important because if left untreated, sugar stains (like those caused by Champagne) and chloride salts (perspiration) will oxidize over time and appear as brown spots months or even years later. Packing and storage are also essential elements of fine-apparel preservation. Your garment should be returned in a special box, carefully supported with archival-quality acid-free tissue and folded for long-term storage. These boxes, which are inert and chemically stable, meet the most rigorous conservation-quality standards. They protect your apparel from common sources of accidental damage, such as excessive light, unexpected floods, insects, or compacting.

HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR SPECIALIST
Finding the right professional to clean and preserve your gown is a task that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ask the following key questions before you entrust anyone with the job:
• How long has the company been in business?
• How many gowns does it handle? (10 or so a week is a good number.)
• Do they do the work themselves?
• What process will be used and why do they believe it is best for your dress?
• Will they test the solution before they start?
• Will they reinforce seams and guarantee trimmings won’t be destroyed?
• Do they use “truly” non-acidic materials to package the dress after cleaning?
• Are they guaranteed?
• Do they have references?
• Do they offer a warranty?
• Does opening the box and handling the dress affect the warranty?

To give you an accurate cost estimate, the company needs detailed information about the dress, including fabric content and its embellishments. Prices vary depending on the construction of the garment and the types of stains that will be handled, but you should expect to pay from $300 to $1,000 for a couture gown. Anyone who gives you a precise cost over the phone before examining the dress is someone of which to be wary. Standard dry cleaners may not be equipped to handle the delicate fabrics and decorations of some gowns. Don’t forget to discuss logistics, as well as guarantees, warranties, and damage policies – a missed stain can show up several years later. Never choose a company that makes you sign a disclaimer releasing it from responsibility for any damage during cleaning, or one that voids the warranty if you open the box the dress is returned in.

SAFE STORAGE
After cleaning and preservation, the most important step for your gown is storing it properly so you can retain its original beauty for months, years, or decades. Make sure it’s kept in a cool, dry place (away from extreme temperatures) and don’t stack anything on top of the box. With a little care and advance planning, you can ensure that your gown is as beautiful 50 years from now as it was the day you got married.

Opening photograph by Asya Photography

Authored by: Jonathan Scheer