Wedding Dress Preservation

October 3, 2007 | editorial team

In chatting with my new friend Sally Jacobs, author of The Practical Archivist Blog, she brought up a great topic that often gets overlooked- wedding gown preservation. What in the world are we all supposed to do with that big beautiful dress once the wedding is over? How do we take care if it? Lucky for us all, Sally had these same questions after her own wedding and dug in deep to find out what to do. “When I learned what passes for gown preservation I got mad. Really mad. Mad enough to research it and find an alternative.” Thanks Sally! Here is her practical advice on preserving your wedding gown…

7 Questions Every Bride Should Ask Her Dry-Cleaner or Wedding Gown Preservation Company

1. Do you handle wedding gowns on site or send them out?

If they send dresses out, ask for the phone number of the plant. That’s where you’ll find a person who can answer the rest of these questions.

2. Do you clean wedding gowns one at a time or in batches?

Obviously, alone is best. Ideally, gowns should either be hand washed in water or dry cleaned alone in virgin solvent. Recycling laws require that dry cleaners re-use solvent, and the more times it gets used the stronger the chemical smell becomes. Your gown is a once-in-a-lifetime dress and deserves to be first in line when a new batch of solvent is started.

3. Do you use wet cleaning or dry cleaning?

This is a bit of a trick question. Most dry cleaners use both methods, but the correct answer is whatever the care label recommends.

Two things you should be aware of:

* Silk gowns cannot be wet cleaned safely.

* Perchloroethylene (or perc.) is the most common solvent used by dry-cleaners. Its excellent at getting our greasy stains, but it can damage sequins and beads and melt any glue used to adhere them.

4. How do you handle stains?

There are several acceptable ways to treat stains.

Wet cleaning is best for sugar stains like champagne. (FYI, wet cleaning is the magic anti-sugar treatment some companies like to hype).

Petroleum-based solvents are best for the kind of greasy stains you get from food spills.

However, what you also want to hear in response to this question is that they will contact you if they encounter a particularly stubborn stain. The last thing in the world you want is to see stains along the hem after shelling out $80 or more for cleaning.

5. Who does the actual cleaning?

Your best bet is if the owner does the work. You can’t get better attention and service than that. If it’s someone else, ask how many years experience they have with elaborate gowns.

6. What kind of preservation treatments do you offer?

The ideal storage environment is acid-free, lignin-free, as well as free of adhesives and unidentified plastics. All of these ingredients can contribute to deterioration.

High quality boxes from an archival supply company are easily identified by the metal corners which hold the box together without any adhesive. Metal corners also add strength to the box.

Think twice before paying $100 for an inferior quality box, and beware of companies that discourage you from taking out your dress and inspecting it.

Stay away from strong chemical sprays sold as bug deterrent. Also not that sealing in a box is not necessary. Here’s a secret: You cannot vacuum seal anything in paper or cardboard. The box would be crushed just like those tin cans in food sealer infomercials.

7. How much do you charge?

Ask them to give you the cost of the entire package, but also the cost of just cleaning and pressing. In many cases you will be better off packing it away yourself using high quality archival materials.

For women in the bay area there’s a woman who runs an excellent shop called Heritage Garment Preservation. She’s a gen-u-ine conservator and uses the same methods on wedding gowns that she designed for museum collections. No dangerous sprays, no cheap boxes, no packing gowns into tiny boxes an sealing them up. She uses a garment bag method that is practical, affordable and sentimental. Information such as the name of bride and groom, and the date and location of the wedding is added to the front pocket. The back pocket comes with an 8×10″ clear sleeve to hold a photo of the bride wearing the gown. (I love that part!)

Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist, offers archiving tips and geeky tidbits on her blog. Get a complimentary e-book about photo scanning blunders when you sign up for her free quarterly newsletter.


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  1. Does Junebug recommend any preservationists/cleaners in the Seattle area? I know the obvious thought is to ask the shop where I bought my dress, but I wasn’t completely pleased with my experience there. Any suggestions?

  2. Great question Abbe! Let me ask around and find some good options for Seattle. If anyone else has suggestions for cleaners/preservationists in their area, please feel free to share!

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