Everything You Should Know About Wedding Gown Preservation
The importance of the wedding gown is unmatched. It may be the single most important article of clothing a bride wears in her lifetime. It also may be the single most important item she keeps for future generations, who may want to wear the gown as is or use elements from the gown to craft their own. Wedding gowns are special, they are beautiful, and above all, they become heirlooms. However, for them to fulfill their destiny as heirlooms, they require proper handling and care. As to the level of care, think of it as museum-quality. We’ve connected with industry expert Sally Lorensen Conant, Ph.D., the Executive Director of The Association of Wedding Gown Specialists, that specializes in museum-quality cleaning, preservation, and restoration for all the details so you can get cherish your gown for a lifetime and get that heirloom you’re so longing for. Because the best part is, she tells us that if a gown’s preservation is effective, future generations will simply need to have the gown “pressed and stored in a breathable bag until it is time to wear it.” And what could be better than that?!
What is Gown Preservation?
Let’s start with the basics — “fabric has a shelf life of 200 years, if it is treated nicely,” according to Conant. And treating it nicely many times equates to preservation. So what is gown preservation? It is when a completely cleaned gown is “carefully packed with acid-free tissue in a museum-quality wedding chest that is also completely acid-free [to] protect your gown from the air and light that cause unprotected gowns to yellow.”
One common misconception is that vacuum sealing a wedding gown is a preservation method, but we learned from Conant that it indeed is not. “Vacuum-sealing can trap moisture and cause mildew. Also, the moisture and the electrostatic charge from the plastic combine to set wrinkles in the gown that no amount of pressing can remove.” Likewise, “plastic containers, even if the plastic is chemically inert and does not cause yellowing, can present the same problems.”
Deciding to Preserve Your Gown
It all begins with the decision to preserve your wedding gown, and the sooner the better. Conant tells us, “Studies show that the chances of removing a stain are nearly 100% if the stain is treated within 24 hours, but decrease over time. However, unless it is blood or red wine on a silk gown, a [Preservation] Specialist should have very little trouble even weeks later.
“Many brides have their dresses cleaned because they plan to wear them again or sell them, but if they do not take the next step and have dresses preserved, they will yellow—especially if they are left in a plastic bag. Good news: whether the wedding gown has been left to yellow or was never even cleaned, there is a process called restoration which will return it to the true color.”
As you decide, especially if it is after your wedding, the key will be to keep the gown in good condition. Avoid exposing it to air and light, which causes it to oxidize and turns fabric yellow. “If the wedding gown has been properly cleaned or if it has not be cleaned at all, it can be wrapped in a freshly-washed sheet to protect it from air and light. Do not use ordinary paper or paperboard, [which] are acidic, and the acid will scorch the gown much the same as a scorch from a hot iron. If the gown is wrapped in fabric, such as a sheet, the fabric will act as a barrier against the acid, but the wedding gown should be checked periodically. If the fabric wrapped around the gown begins to yellow, wash it to remove the effect of the acid and begin again.”
The Gown Preservation Process
Step 1: Dry Cleaning Your Gown
Conant stresses the importance of having a clean gown before preserving it. She explains, “probably 90% of a successful preservation is a truly clean gown. Very often dry cleaners do not know that unseen, latent stains, such as champagne or white wine that contain sugar are not removed during the dry cleaning process. They require special treatment, otherwise the sugar content caramelizes and becomes an ugly brown stain.”
Any risk to the gown during the process is most likely to occur during the cleaning stage, and can be discussed with the cleaner, Conant explains.
Step 2: Preserving Your Gown
According to Conant, “preservation is more about packing than process. Once a wedding gown is clean, there are several types of packaging that claim to prevent yellowing. The most reliable includes an acid-free paperboard container because fabric likes to ‘breathe’ with changes in heat and humidity. Very few homes offer the stable atmospheric environment found in a museum, and the micron-size openings in paperboard allow fabric to expand and contract as changes occur in the home.”
One thing to note is that while styles, fabrics, and designers vary widely, they have little bearing on the preservation process, but more so the cleaning stage. Although, Conant reminds, “[while] the fabric is serviceable, the designer or manufacturer may have added decorations such as sequins, metal mounts for crystals, and silver embroidery that withstand cleaning but deteriorate or discolor over time. For example, sequins may yellow, metal may tarnish, and silver may oxidize. There is no way to predict whether these components will need to be replaced.” Similarly, “most cleaners offer a guarantee that the preservation will prevent the gown from yellowing, but the length of time it is guaranteed varies.”
A final tip from Conant for handling preserved gowns: “Improper handling of a preserved gown may cause damage. If your gown is handled excessively or soiled it should be cleaned and preserved again.”
The Cost of Gown Preservation
Many elements and decisions in the wedding planning process depend on cost and budgeting. The same is true for gown preservation. So we asked Conant to estimate the average cost, and she says, “The cost of cleaning and preservation varies greatly. The national average is probably about $250, but cost depends upon the market area and often on the fabric and the designer as well. For example, in New York, the price may begin at $800, but in the Midwest the charges will be much diﬀerent.
“And it is very likely the cleaner will charge one price for an $1,100 wedding gown and another for an $11,000 wedding gown. That’s because the more expensive gown not only requires more careful attention but also more insurance coverage, etc.”
Preserving Other Items
Conant tells us the best news — other items may be preserved with your gown. “Such things as a headpiece and veil, petticoat, gloves, garter, and handkerchief. . . .[Although] there is an additional charge for storing the gown and veil separately. Shoes should not be stored with the gown because fumes from the leather and glue may cause damage.”
This Article is from the Spring 2023 IssueSee the Issue
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