The final step in protecting the memories and investment your bridal wear represents is to have the gown preserved, meaning both properly cleaned and carefully boxed. If your gown has just the usual grass stains and smudges on the hem, take it to be cleaned within a month of the wedding; if there's a more serious stain, like red wine or juice, bring it in within a few days. "After that time, stains oxidize and then it's no longer just a conventional cleaning process; it becomes a restoration project," says John Mahdessian, owner of Madame Paulette, a couture cleaner in New York City.
Because very few wedding dresses are suited to traditional dry-cleaning processes, you'll want to find a company that specializes in these gowns. If you can't find one in your area, search online. Make sure the company you select sees and inspects the dress before quoting you a price, says Steven Saidman, president of Imperial Gown Preservation and Restoration in Fairfax, Virginia (some nationally recognized businesses offer free shipping and estimates). Avoid cleaners that offer a set price for all dresses. Different fabrics and embellishments require special cleaning methods. Some dresses are more labor-intensive to clean and will cost more than others; in general, you can expect to pay several hundred dollars for the entire cleaning and preservation process. Just be sure to read the warranty carefully and steer clear of cleaners that void their guarantee if you open the box in which your dress is stored. Saidman advises looking for a company that will stand by its work for years, since many invisible stains, such as perspiration, champagne, and sugar, sometimes won't show up on the gown for four to six years if they're missed during the cleaning.
After cleaning, the dress should be stuffed with acid-free tissue paper and placed in an acid-free corrugated cardboard box. At Madame Paulette, white cotton gloves are included in the box to protect the dress from the oils on your hands during future inspections. Once home, store the box in a climate-controlled area of the house, such as under the bed or in a bedroom closet; never keep it in the basement or attic, which typically experience the greatest fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The end result of all this planning and care? Decades from now, your dress should look as beautiful as it did on your wedding day.