Wedding gowns hold a lot of sentimental value, and many brides choose to keep theirs as a family heirloom—or even wear one that's been passed down to them. However, this is one dress you can't just hang in your closet. To keep your gown in pristine condition, you'll need to have it professionally preserved.
Tom Janick, owner of Pristine Fine Dry Cleaning in Naples, specializes in high-end custom green cleaning, focusing on couture and specialty garments. Below, he shares a few tips for cleaning and preserving wedding dresses as well as restyling and purchasing preserved vintage gowns.
WI.NET: Should I store my dress in a plastic bag in a closet?
JANICK: No. Remove plastic bags promptly before storing a dress in your closet, as plastic causes humidity buildup in fibers. Also, wedding dresses should be stored in cool, dry places. Extreme temperatures can damage a gown.
What should I look for in a dry-cleaning or preservation specialist?
Look for someone with the expertise and credentials to restore your gown. Also, make sure that your gown is thoroughly examined before and after the cleaning to make sure the beading and fabrics are appropriately treated.
How long should the preservation process last on a wedding gown?
Typically 30 years.
What happens if wine, perfume or hairspray is spilled on a wedding dress and is not cleaned promptly after wearing?
Stains may become difficult or unable to be removed. Your best defense is to get the dress to the cleaners promptly and inform them of the stain's origin to ensure complete removal. Clear or nearly clear liquids that are spilled on garments can show up later as a brown spot. This condition is known as caramelization and is due to dried sugars left on the garment.
What fabrics are heirloom gowns made of, and how are they cleaned?
Most gowns today are made of polyester, as is the trim and lace. Traditional heirloom dresses are typically made of silk. This is an important distinction when it comes to servicing the gown after the special day.
Polyester gowns are much easier to clean. Spots and stains are removed by hand with particular attention paid to the hemline and train. This process can be particularly tedious, as gowns are subject to a wide variety of stains such as grass, shoe polish, asphalt, food and wine. Afterward, gowns are frequently washed in a machine and hung to dry.
Silk gowns, on the other hand, can be challenging to clean due to possible shrinkage if cleaned in water. A professional specializing in dry cleaning and restoration is recommended. The process includes all of the spotting as discussed above, but the gown cannot be put into a washer. It must be dry cleaned. Excessively stained gowns must first be flushed in a tub by hand. To avoid stiffening of fibers, silks are rinsed in a second bath with conditioners. Only after hanging to dry can dry cleaning take place.
What about cleaning silk gowns with beading and sequins?
These embellishments can make cleaning more difficult. The cleaner needs to make sure that all sequins are sewn on and not glued on. Glued-on sequins can melt during the cleaning process. They also need to make sure that these sequins haven’t been painted, because the dry-cleaning process can remove the pigment.
Is it possible to restyle a wedding gown for future wear?
Absolutely. A qualified seamstress can restyle the dress to give a more contemporary look. Restyling could include shortening the dress to tea length, streamlining it to reduce bulk or removing or adding embellishments such a sequins, lace and beading. However, making a dress larger is the most challenging to accomplish.
I want to purchase a vintage gown. What do I need to look for?
Bring a magnifying glass to check the fabric for tiny holes that could indicate insect infestation. Also, conduct a tensile strength stretch test on the lace to see if the fiber can withstand the stretch. If the fabric falls apart, you should reconsider buying the dress. Another alternative could be if the lace is damaged, a similar lace could be substituted by a seamstress.
Look for any yellowing or brown stains on the dress. With colored gowns, look for localized color fading in the neck and underarm area. This occurs due to excessive use of perfumes and colognes that contain alcohol.
What tips do you have for keeping a vintage gown beautiful?
If you have no intention of wearing your gown in the near future, get it cleaned and preserved. Once the dress is cleaned and pressed, a specialist will stuff the dress with acid-free paper, place it in a breathable box and vacuum the oxygen out. This will prevent oxidation—the process that turns a garment yellow.