The big day has come and gone. The photos are framed, the video's playing on a loop, but what to do with your wedding dress? If your gorgeous gown has been banished to the basement because you don't know what else to do, you're certainly not alone. "Conservation is something that's not really well known or understood," says Jonathan Scheer, president and CEO of J. Scheer & Co. "It's a highly unregulated industry," he adds. So what's a girl to do? We put Scheer's extensive experience and degree in conservation science to good use and got the play-by-play on your behalf.
Put your wedding dress in a safe spot as soon as you take it off.
Preservation of your wedding dress begins the moment you take it off. So while you're figuring out exactly what to do, Scheer recommends keeping the gown in a closet in your normal living quarters where it's protected from light exposure and extreme climates. "Long-term, hanging is not a good thing because it promotes distortion of the weave. All the weight falls on the shoulders," explains Scheer, but adds that "it's fine for the short-term, up to a year." Additionally, he suggests using a padded hanger and taking your wedding dress down every so often so you'll avoid deeply embedded wear points.
Do some research.
Now that the dress is tucked away, it's time to do your homework and figure out which process is right for you. As Scheer points out, this is often easier said than done. "Preservation is really a misnomer because anyone can use the name for anything and so it means nothing. We are not dry cleaners... but that does not prevent any dry cleaner, good or bad, from hanging out a shingle that says 'We do wedding gown preservation.'" To figure out what's the real deal and what's right for you, first take stock of the materials used in your wedding dress. If it's made of synthetic fabrics like polyester or rayon, the dry cleaning route is just fine and will cost you around $200. "Polyester is the strongest fiber known to man" says Scheer. "You can beat it up and it will be fine."
But if your gown is silk, linen, cotton, or has a leather belt and a dramatic feather skirt, it will need a bit more care before going into storage, and that doesn't involve a vacuum sealed solution. "The best that can be said about that is that it's incredibly silly. The worst that can be said about it is that it's disingenuous," says Scheer. "Dresses in a sealed environment will trap air. There is moisture in oxygen molecules and that trapped air promotes a wonderful environment for mold or mildew that will accelerate the aging process." So not only is it not an evidence-based solution, but when it comes down to it, this isn't a practical one either. Why save a wedding dress you can't share with future generations? "Twenty years from now... a daughter might run up to her mother and say, 'Mommy, I'd love to see your wedding dress.' How awful is it for the mother to say, 'I'm sorry I can't show it to you because I’m afraid to open to box.'" On the contrary, after a gown has been preserved, Scheer advises all of his clients to open the box and move the dress around every now and then to allow for airflow, which is good for natural materials.
Share everything you know about the dress.
Once you've pinpointed the right process for preserving your wedding dress, be prepared to give the preservationist as much information on your wedding day as possible, as treatment plans are developed on case-by-case basis. "Some brides jump in the ocean. Some roll around in the grass. Some get married in a rainstorm—each assignment is unique," says Scheer. During this conversation, don't be afraid to ask what materials they intend to use throughout the process including the tissue tucked in the dress and the box itself. Chemical reactions with the environment are to blame for yellowing, so it's important that the materials used are certified acid-free. And as Scheer cautions, acid free and acid neutral are not the same, so make sure that the answers are specific and to your liking.
Know that it takes time, and that long-term care is up to you.
You can expect the gown to be cleaned and repaired before the preservation process itself even begins. Prices and timelines vary widely depending upon the service chosen, but Scheer estimates a turnaround in 14 to 16 weeks. From there, be sure to keep your gown in a temperate environment—not the attic or basement. Keep it protected from water damage and direct sunlight. Above all, remember that even the most carefully researched and dutifully carried out treatment plan isn't a silver bullet against the aging process. "Anyone who hires us or asks us to perform our work needs to know that they are partners in the endeavor," Scheer urges. "Nothing that I do to restore the chemical and physical integrity of that textile will make any difference at all if the dress is improperly stored."