Your wedding gown probably fit you as well as your new spouse does. When you tried it on, it was a dream. Now that the wedding is over, you might not want to part with the perfect dress you wore on your big day. If you want to keep your dress – and keep it in good condition – you’ll have to get it cleaned and preserved, which is the process for cleaning and properly packaging your dress for storage.
“If [brides] don’t properly care for their dress, it’s almost as if they’re throwing it away,” says Kathy Wright, owner of Heritage Garment Preservation in Benicia, Calif. After all, over time, stains will set, the gown may turn yellow, and the fabric could be damaged.
Wedding gown preservation costs anywhere from $150 to $500, depending on the level of service you require and the type of dress you purchased. Usually, you bring or ship your dress to a wedding gown preservation company or dry cleaner that provides this service. Then, a staff person analyzes the fabric, beading, and other details to determine how to best clean it.
The cleaning process often begins with the hem because it is usually the most soiled. Most professionals scrub the hem by hand and spot treat any stains. The biggest culprits are grass, mud, perspiration and body oils, make-up, and sugar (from wedding cake or wine), say professional cleaners. Some of the most difficult stains to remove, say professionals, are Georgia red clay, self-tanner residue, and Wite-Out, which some brides use to cover up other stains that are already appearing before or during the wedding.
After the dress is cleaned and either steamed or pressed, the cleaners properly fold it and place it in an acid-free archival chest with a display window. Sometimes, accessories, such as veils and garters are cleaned and preserved as well. Then, the package is returned to the owner. Depending on the cleaner you use, the waiting time could be anywhere from three to twelve weeks.
Brides who consider wedding gown preservation either want to keep their dress as an heirloom to be passed down to future generations, or they want to resell it. Some want it as a keepsake for themselves or will eventually make it into a Christening outfit or baby bedding for their children, according to the companies that preserve gowns.
If you’re in the market for wedding gown preservation, here are some tips from professionals in the business:
A big mistake many people make is leaving their dress in the closet for many weeks, months, or even years after the wedding. Stains – even invisible ones that will become darker and more visible with age – begin to set over time, which makes them harder to remove down the road. Age and exposure to sunlight can cause the fabric to weaken and yellow. Bring or ship the dress to a cleaner or preservation company within six weeks after the wedding, writes Kelly Crapser, spokesperson for David’s Bridal gown preservation in an e-mail.
All is not lost, however, even if you have waited longer than six weeks to clean your gown. Jim Parham, president of WedClean in Orlando, Fla., says his company handles thousands of dresses per year and sometimes people send them in after 20 years for restoration. Often, if the fibers of the fabric are still strong enough, Parham and his crew can restore the gown, he says. But it will likely be more affordable and safer to have it cleaned and preserved right after the wedding.
Many brides just use the preservation company or cleaner recommended by the bridal shop where they purchased their gown. But you might want to do a little research and ask questions about the reputation and experience of the cleaner. You should send your gown to dry cleaners who have experience with bridal gowns and handle the dresses in house, rather than shipping them somewhere else. Wright warns brides about wholesale companies because few brides who use them can tell if their garment has been cleaned or not because the garment is sealed for eternity and if you open it, your guarantee becomes null. Ask how many wedding dresses the company or cleaner preserves in a given year. Have them explain the process that your dress will go through under their care. Express any concerns that you have.
Know Something about Cleaning Methods
While you don’t have to be an expert in how to clean a wedding gown, you should know a few things about the standard practices. This will help you determine if you want to leave your dress with a particular cleaner or not. Ask if the cleaner uses Perchloroethylene, known as Perc for short. This chemical is sometimes used by dry cleaners, but it’s too abrasive for wedding gowns. It can melt the beading and damage delicate fabrics, says Wright. Also, she adds that you should find out if the cleaner will be using a freshly distilled or virgin solvent for your dress. This is what you want because old solvent often picks up oils from previous garments and causes that “dry cleaner” smell, says Wright. Your gown should have no odor after the preservation process is complete.
Get a Guarantee
Before committing to a wedding gown preservationist, ask if he or she offers guarantees and bridal inspections, suggests Crapser. It’s the only way to protect yourself if the garment comes back and has not actually been cleaned or stored properly. She adds that you should find out if the company or cleaner has a customer service department that can help you and answer your questions throughout the process.
Go with the Flow
Realize that sometimes – rare as it may be – stains are so set into the fabric that there’s not much the cleaner can do without putting the garment at risk of further damage. “Some brides have a great attitude,” says Cathleen Paciello, national account executive at Wedding Gown Preservation Company in Endicott, N.Y. “They say, ‘It’s okay that you couldn’t get out that [stain]. It was part of my day.’” Paciello’s advice to brides is to have fun and let the professional cleaners worry about the stains later. In fact, one wild bride from California jumped into the ocean in her wedding gown and sent the soaking wet dress directly to Wedding Gown Preservation Company. Although Paciello admits that about four people nearly passed out when they opened the box with that moldy dress, they somehow got it cleaned.
Whether you decide to get your dress professionally preserved or not, you should consider properly storing it at home. That means the dress should be placed either under the bed or in a closet free from sunlight and moisture. You should also never leave your wedding gown in the plastic garment bag because it can cause the fabric to yellow. If you take good care of it, your dress will serve as a constant reminder of your glorious wedding day.