At an average cost of $1,357, your wedding dress just might be one of the most expensive articles of clothing you’ve ever purchased — not to mention one of the only tangible items to save from your special day. After spending a large chunk of money (and dedicating countless hours) towards the perfect dress, it’s only fair to give it the happily ever after it deserves through proper wedding dress preservation.
Whether it’s because of the memories it holds, the possibility of your daughter wearing it on her wedding day, or the chance your granddaughter will someday use it as a christening gown properly preserving your wedding dress will make sure it’s present for all of those special occasions to come.
We gathered some useful tips to help your dress maintains its color, fabric and shape.
Before the wedding: handle your wedding dress with care.
The best way to ensure long-term preservation of your wedding dress is to take extra caution before anyone says “I do.” If your special day hasn’t occurred yet, follow these tips to keep the dress looking pristine during the time leading up to the ceremony:
- Avoid stains: Of course you’ll want to steer clear of anything with stain potential on your wedding day, but did you know the pollen from flowers could be one of the biggest culprits? Specifically, the super-potent pollen found in lilies. Florists know to pull off the pollen bits with shears, but the problem comes when there are closed-up buds in your bouquet that open up right before you walk down the aisle. Double check that your florist removed the buds, and designate a bridesmaid to be on the lookout for buds that may need snipping.
- Safe Transportation: Always transport the dress in its appropriate garment bag. For extra safety when traveling, wrap key areas like embellishments, with uncolored, acid-free tissue paper. And remember to save those labels: you’ll need them to show your wedding gown specialist when you’re ready to get it cleaned.
- Wait until the last minute: Putting on your dress should be one of the last things you do before heading out the door. This way, you can avoid any food, drink, makeup or hairspray stains that may be part of the primping process (especially for silk and rayons, which are extremely water sensitive).
After the wedding: keep your dress safe.
If you made it through your special day without any real damage, you’re in luck. Chances are, though, that the dress isn’t heading straight to the cleaners after the reception. To keep it safe in the meantime, follow this must-do’s:
- Use a garment bag. Wrapping your dress in plastic traps moisture, which means mold and mildew, and plastic also emits fumes that can yellow your gown. Store your wedding dress in its proper garment bag away from light.
- Lay it flat (or hang properly). Ideally, your bridal store will keep your dress for you, but if not, lay it as flat as possible. If you must hang your dress, hang it by the loops located inside (never the shoulder straps) to avoid stretching and sagging at the seams. Every dress is specific, so ask the specialists at your boutique how it should be stored after the wedding.
- Leave cleaning to the experts. This is a tricky process. One wrong move could set the stain and make it worse. Remember that sometimes the best course of action is to leave the spot until it can be professionally treated.
Wedding dress hack: In the short-term time before you can consult with cleaning professionals, cover your gown in white cotton sheets. This will save it from dust, light and any other pesky predators.
Jessica Lehry Bishop from The Budget Savvy Bride says that ideally, parents or a maid of honor can take care of dropping it off or sending it to be preserved. If not, cleaning your wedding dress should be the first thing you do when you return from the honeymoon.
Remember to consult the cleaning experts.
You may be overwhelmed deciding where to put your new wedding gifts, but don’t let that slow down your wedding dress preservation process. While you may choose to hold off for a bit, the experts recommend waiting no longer than six months to get your dress professionally cleaned (if it’s silk, you actually shouldn’t wait at all).
According to Kathy Wright from Heritage Garment Preservation, some stains are unseen but can develop over time. For example, spills from clear beverages (alcohol or soda) dry clear but will oxidize and turn brown, and body perspiration on your dress lining can also discolor the dress and turn brittle over time.
It’s important to remember not to trust just anyone with cleaning your wedding gown. While your local cleaners may be great at getting the stains out of your jeans, they may not have the experience and resources to clean antique dresses, delicate fabric and embellishments. If you choose to bring your wedding dress to a professional cleaner, you can expect the following:
- Thorough-but-delicate hand-washed cleaning (some businesses even use organic-only solvents, with no harmful chemicals or bleaches)
- Treatment with special ingredients to remove visible stains
- Pressing or steaming as needed
Cleaning tip: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Different techniques will need to be used depending on the age, color and fabric of the gown, as well as various beads, sequins and pearls. Ask if the cleaning is performed on site, how they package the dress after cleaning and if they have a warranty.
Consider professional wedding dress preservation.
Proper preservation can protect your dress from yellowing, permanent creasing, mildew and mold, oxidation spots, light and dust.
Since wedding gowns can be quite expensive, Kelsey McLellan from Prestige Preservation explains that most women choose to have them professionally preserved in order to protect that investment. Even if their daughters don’t plan on re-wearing the gown (of if they don’t have any daughters of their own), certain pieces can be incorporated into memorabilia to be passed down to future generations.
Preservationists will usually remove stains, make necessary repairs (within reason), press or steam the dress, wrap in acid-free tissue and store it. Generally, there are three types of preservation methods:
- Sealing: Some companies choose to actually vacuum seal the wedding dress before storing it in an acid-free box. Many museum conservators discourage this method, since sealing promotes mold and mildew, gives the fabric permanent creases and eliminates your ability to regularly inspect your gown.
- Boxing: With this method, your dress is still folded and placed in an acid-free box, but acid-free tissue is used to protect it from permanent creases (this tissue should be white any colored paper risks bleeding into the dress). Since the box is not sealed, the fabric can still breathe, and you are able to remove the dress periodically to inspect and refold it. Note: It’s best to use boxes made from actual acid-free board, not boxes with an acid-free coating.
- Bagging: Similar to what museums have used for preserving heirloom costumes, this option leaves your dress hanging and unfolded. The gown is reinforced with twill tape to add support and eliminate long-term damage from hanging, and then placed in a specialty cotton bag to be hung somewhere safe (with a padded hanger).
The cost of professional preservation can average anywhere from $150 to $500 — so if you do choose to work with a wedding dress preservation company, know the facts. Be sure to ask who is responsible for any damages if they occur during the preservation process and if they offer a warranty (some may only reimburse you for the cost of their services).
Be smart about where you store your wedding dress.
Once you’ve carefully packaged your dress, be sure to store it somewhere safe from extreme temperatures, light and humidity.
Sally Conant, executive director of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists, recommends keeping your gown somewhere you would be physically comfortable. Aim for a cool, dark and dry environment with a relative humidity of 50 percent. This rules out attics and basements. Attics are too hot–so hot, in fact, that temperature could reach 140 degrees–and basements are damp and prone to flooding.
Many women chose to store their dresses under their bed or in a dry closet. If you don’t have any room to store your gown, climate-controlled self storage can be an affordable option to keep your dress cool, dry and protected.
Open the wedding dress bag with caution.
Whether you’re taking out your dress to examine its state (the experts recommend taking it out every two to three years to refold it), eliminating the chance of permanent creases) or simply reminiscing with your loved ones, always handle it with proper care. Some tips to keep in mind:
- Since your body produces natural oils, be sure to always wash your hands first.
- Make sure you’re not wearing any lotions or perfumes, since these can also transfer onto your fabric — and always be careful of nail polish.
- Invest in a pair of clean, white cotton gloves (which some preservationists provide). These will keep your dress white and sparkly.
Since you may be sharing these moments with fellow friends and family, always encourage them to take the same steps (especially with young children).
It’s never too late to start preservation.
While it’s better to start sooner than later, Kathy urges that it’s never too late to take care of a treasured heirloom. Unfortunately, though, it could cost you more. If your gown develops oxidized spots, it can be even more difficult to remove them. But here’s the good news: her business has been able to restore vintage gowns that have been in someone’s attic or closet for decades — so don’t be discouraged, it can be done.