After the celebrations are complete, what’s a newlywed bride to do with her gown?
Whether you decide to keep your beautiful gown as a keepsake for your daughter or save it for sentimental reasons, you must first have it cleaned.
Your gown should be cleaned as soon as possible. Certainly within the first thirty days after the reception. The longer that stains set on the gown the harder it will be to remove them, creating a risk to the fabric or color. Any stains such as food, grease, cake, hemline soil, grass, and especially champagne should be noted and discussed with the cleaner. Champagne and any sugar-based stains are often the most difficult to remove unless pretreated before cleaning.
Beads should be secured and sewn on before cleaning. Glued on beads soften in perchloroethylene (a common solvent used by normal cleaners) and lose their finish, some actually dissolve. Cleaners using Stoddard solvents often have a better chance of cleaning without any damage to beads or fancy embellishments. Before cleaning your gown you should have the beads tested by the cleaner. This is very simply done by placing a bead in solvent for 5 to 10 minutes. The bead is then checked to see if any finish or any part of the enamel has dissolved. If you notice a cloudy finish to the bead then it is best to find a cleaner who uses another type of cleaning solvent.
Following cleaning, the gown should be available for inspection. This is a very important step. Any questions regarding stains that were not removed should be discussed at this time. Additional cleaning or handling to remove these stains may involve risk to the garment. You should make sure you are aware of all the possible risks prior to authorizing additional services.
Once the cleaning has been completed and your gown has been inspected, it is now ready for proper storage. Gowns should never be packaged in plastic or hermetically sealed (often referred to as vacuum-sealed) since gases trapped
in the enclosure can build up and cause permanent damage or a yellowing affect to the gown. Boxes made with cellophane or plastic windows are also a poor choice since they give off gasses that can cause damage to the gown. Most plastics decompose giving off fumes that cause rapid oxidation of the fabric and may deposit acidic residues onto the fabric. Sealing with plastic can also trap moisture inside the box creating potential problems with mildew. Besides, if your gown is made with natural fibers it will need to breathe in the storage environment. Museums and textile conservators recommend storing fabrics in an environment that breathes.
Insist that your cleaner uses Archival Products such as boxes and tissues that are acid-free, lignin-free, and that meet museum standards and specifications for long-term textile storage. Archival unbuffered or buffered tissues should be used in between the folds of the gown to prevent permanent breaks or wrinkles. Buffered tissue is most commonly used with synthetic fabrics while unbuffered tissues are used on natural fabrics like silk, cotton, or wool.
Your gown should be taken out of the box about every 5 to 7 years for inspection and refolding. This gives you quality control over the gowns aging results and is most helpful in making sure you catch any stains that show with age. If new stains are noticed, you will need to have your cleaner inspect the gown and possibly reclean it. While handling your gown, white cotton gloves should be worn to keep finger oils from depositing on the gown. Oils can oxidize thus leaving a stain-like appearance on the gown.
Now that you have your gown in a box, it is time to choose a location to store it. The best place to store a gown is in a cool, dry place such as underneath a bed or on a middle shelf of a closet. Basements and attics where humidity and temperature are too extreme are not good locations. It is important that air is able to circulate around the box to provide a consistent, stable environment for the gown to age in. With care, your gown can remain a prized possession for generations to come.