Why Preserve your Wedding Gown?
Some brides keep it and some don’t. That’s fine if you are not keeping it. You can sell it, give it away or donate it. Some brides want to have it even if it’s only to look at or show future children and grandchildren. Occasionally a daughter will wear it or more often will have it remade or use parts of it in a new gown. It can be made into a christening gown or two. We have some other creative heirloom ideas here at Chautauqua Wedding. Check out the DIY section, then save that dress!
Now, why DIY gown preservation?
The preservation part is best done yourself. The cleaning part is usually best left to a professional (in some cases you can do that yourself too, read for more about that). You want to have your gown cleaned not “Heirloomed” by the cleaner.
It is recommended that you thoroughly inspect your dress before it is stored. DIY wedding dress preservation gives you the opportunity to take your time and carefully look over your entire dress. This is important because should you find a spot or stain was missed or a repair needs made it’s much better to do it now rather than 20 years from now after it’s gotten worse or even beyond repair. Plus you will be really familiar with your dress so you are more likely to notice any changes as you inspect it yearly through the future.
DIY dress preservation gives you the freedom to open the box at any time. Beware of professional preservation services that state the guarantee is void if the box is opened. You SHOULD air out and inspect your dress yearly throughout the future. Fabric needs to breath so airing it out occasionally is good for the life of your dress.
With do it yourself dress storage you know exactly what is stored with the dress. It should be just the dress. Some heirloom services will store the veil and other items in the same box as the dress. This puts an item made most likely of nylon, plastic, metal, etc., all of which give off fumes and acids over time, right next to the gown your are trying to protect. Store other items in a separate box, we sell a smaller memory box that is acid neutral for those other items.
- A place to keep your dress, guidelines to follow
- Your Clean wedding gown, cleaning advice below
- Clean flat sheets, to keep your work area clean
- White cotton gloves and clean hands
- Acid neutral or acid free box, either are fine
- Acid free non buffered tissue paper
- Acid neutral bust form, optional
- Cotton muslin cover or 3 yards of muslin, optional
Step 1: Location Location Location
Find a good location to store your dress before you start. You will need a space where the temperature is moderate and relatively consistent, with low humidity. A dark location is best, it needs to be away from direct sunlight. A shelf in a dark dry closet is ideal for dress storage. Basements and attics are the worst places to store heirloom items. The basement’s moisture and mildew attract insects; both will quickly destroy your item. The dramatic temperature changes in an attic will weaken fibers.
Get a box to store it in. You will want an acid neutral or acid free archival quality box to store it in. Hanging in a closet on a hanger is a bad idea because all the weight of the gown will be pulling on the hanging points and over time the threads and fabric will break. In a box gravity will not be a factor working against your dress. Measure your location to be sure the box will fit. We sell wedding gown preservation kits in 3 sizes. Each consists of an acid neutral preservation grade box, acid neutral bust form, acid free tissue paper and cotton gloves. Our large box is ideal for most gowns, 32″ x 22″ x 8″. If that’s too big for your location or if your dress is a style with a slim or less full skirt, then the mid size kit is a good option, 28″ x 20″ x 7.5″. If your dress has a huge train or if the skirt is really full with lots of layers of netting under it, go with the extra large at 32″ x 22″ x 11″.
Step 2: Your Clean Gown
Note: if you are getting ready to preserve an older gown it may be best to just air it out and clean it. A gown that’s say 40 years old may not withstand cleaning, best to let well enough alone.
During the wedding keep an eye on what gets on your dress. Sugar is the main thing that causes yellow spots years from now. Sugar is not just in the cake frosting! It’s in beverages, many foods, baby drool, on your guests hands… It will help your cleaner if you can mark where your dress came in contact with sugar. They can treat for it and it works best with your help. Get your mother and bridesmaids to help you watch for sugar coming in contact with your dress. Most important, have fun at your wedding! This is not something to obsess over, just a back of the mind mental note as the day goes along.
Recruit a bridesmaid or mom now to be in charge of taking your dress to be cleaned. Before you leave for the honeymoon think back to where sugar could be on your dress. Have your cleaning chairwoman check with the others who had been watching for you and then she should mark those areas on the dress. A straight pin and a piece of paper or ribbon can be used to mark those areas. Then have your cleaning chairwoman bring it to a trusted cleaner as soon as possible after the wedding.
You should talk to your cleaner before the wedding so you can ask questions and choose the right one. How do they respond when you ask about treating for sugar? Can you tell they know about wedding gowns? Are they open and willing to let you inspect your dress on site once it’s cleaned? What are their policies?
Almost ready! When you pick up your gown inspect it on site. Take someone with you to verify your inspection. If there is a problem let them know and have it taken care of right away. That’s why you should talk to them ahead of time, so at this point you both already know each other’s expectations.
Step 3: Pack Your Dress!
But wait! First vacuum or sweep or mop the floor and then spread out clean flat sheets. You need a clean work area so your dress stays clean while you pack it up. Now go wash your hands. Even if they look clean, our hands have natural oils that can get on the dress and cause trouble down the road. We include white cotton gloves for further protection.
OK, now pack your dress! Here’s my own wedding gown to show you. It’s 18 years old now and I don’t see any signs of spots or damage. The satin covered buttons don’t look as white as I remember, but they could be replaced. Wow I forgot how many buttons were on there, check my facebook page as I’ll be posting more photos of the whole dress. Line the bottom of the box with acid free tissue. Place the lower skirt end of your dress in first. Line up the bottom of the dress skirt with the edge of the box, let the train hang over one end and the top bodice end hang over the other end.
Place tissue paper over the bottom of the dress and then fold in the sides of the skirt. The tissue paper should be right where it folds to cushion it and prevent deep creases.
Cover that part with tissue and then fold up the train if you have one. Keep layering tissue paper at each fold you make.
Keep folding it with tissue until you have all the dress in the box except for the bodice.
Stuff and support the bodice. Our kits come with an acid neutral bust form to keep the bodice from collapsing. It can be stuffed with balled up acid free tissue instead. To insert the bust form unzip and/or unbutton the dress and insert the bust form so it looks like someone is wearing your dress.
The bust area may need more fill, so just add balled up tissue as needed. If you have sleeves stuff them with tissue as well.
Zip or button up your dress and lay it back in the box. Surround it with tissue to keep it in place and then cover it with tissue paper. That’s it! Close up your box and put it in the location you pick out earlier.
Step 4: But wait there’s more!
As time goes on keep an eye out of hazards where your dress is stored: pets, kids, plumbing and natural hazards. (Flood warning? Move it up higher and if you have to put it in a waterproof plastic container for awhile, but don’t forgot about it! Let some air in there soon.)
Once a year take your dress out. Hang it up (or lay it out) for a day in a safe place, no pets or kids. Inspect it for any signs of spotting or damage. It’s best to take care of it now rather than 10 years from now when it’s worse or beyond repair. Repack it folding it a bit different to avoid permanent creases.
There are no 100% guarantees when it comes to preserving wedding gowns, but following these steps will increase the odds your dress will be in the best possible condition for years to come.
Follow these same steps to preserve your veil, christening gowns, favorite baby items, quilts and more. If your item is metal or if it’s a black and white photo get buffered acid free tissue paper. Otherwise, use non buffered acid free tissue paper which is the kind we sell. We have veil/christening gown kits for small items and then closet storage boxes for large items.
Meanwhile have a wonderful marriage! It’s not always an easy ride, but well worth the trip. Enjoy the good times and hang in there through the bad.