Wedding Gown Preservation 101

How to preserve your dress without damaging it in the process.

It’s my anniversary today and the summer wedding season is just around the corner, so I thought it was time to address the problem of how best to preserve treasured wedding gowns for generations to come.

First of all, do not take your wedding dress to the dry cleaner! I know this goes against conventional wisdom, and dry cleaners like you to believe their pricey service is best, but in fact the process often does more harm than good.

Dry cleaning fluids are very damaging when left in fibers for an extended period of time. When your gown is dry cleaned and subsequently sealed in an air-tight box, it prevents beneficial exchange of air through the fabric and gases emitted by residual cleaning fluid left in the garment can no longer escape. These off-gassed compounds then combine with emissions from plastic beads, sequins, buttons, trims, and other synthetic materials to produce a toxic micro-environment within which your precious dress sits and stews for decades. Over time, these chemicals silently act upon the dress, its fibers and component parts, breaking them down, changing their color, and in many cases making any existing stains more noticeable.

Fifteen years ago, when I was going to be a bride, my mother opened her own sealed garment box to find a yellowed wedding dress covered with dark stains and sticky plastic trim. This was definitely not the outcome she expected after she paid the local cleaners to “professionally” preserve her bridal gown.

What should you do with your bridal gown instead? If it is currently stored in a sealed box, break the seal and let the dress air out in a closet for a few weeks. If your gown is not yet boxed, go online to buy an acid-free box and some tissue. Then, gently spot-clean any soiled areas on the dress with room temperature water, or a very mild detergent. Allow the dress to dry completely before carefully adding tissue to pad inside the bodice and sleeves , which prevents creasing and distortion over time. Place sheets of tissue between layers of the dress, around metal and plastic elements, and underneath the zipper. Be careful not stuff the dress into the box too tightly and store it in a closet on one of the main living floors of your home– not in the attic or basement!

Acid-free boxes and tissue may be purchased online. I recommend Gaylord Archival, as they offer a DIY wedding dress box that comes complete with sheets of tissue. Call me if you have questions, or would like hands-on help in properly storing your precious dress.

~Jennifer Souers Chevraux