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What to do with your Wedding Dress — How to care for your wedding gown after the ceremony

September 3, 2019

I’d venture to guess that most brides spend little time thinking about what will happen to their wedding dress after the big event. Which is odd, given how much thought usually goes into its purchase!

Whether your dress was a once-in-a-lifetime, dream-come-true gown or a simple but lovingly handmade garment (like mine, made from a Folkwear pattern—remember those?) or anything in between, chances are that you have some very fond memories attached to it. Here’s how to preserve those memories by taking good care of your gown.

Get your gown cleaned. Pronto. 

Stains can set and become harder to remove. Even if your gown bodice isn’t splashed with red wine or the hem muddied with dirt, chances are there are stains that still need to be removed—from deodorant, perspiration, perfume, etc. You may not see some of these stains, but they’ll darken over time. So if you’re heading off on a honeymoon, make arrangements for a friend or family member to take your gown to the cleaners for you. 

Choose a cleaner who has experience with wedding gowns. They should follow the directions on your dress label and use virgin (not recycled) solvent, so no impurities wind up on your dress. Make sure the work is guaranteed. If damage is done, you should be reimbursed the cost of the dress, not the cost of cleaning. Of course, nobody can reimburse you for such a priceless item, so choose your cleaner carefully!

Store your gown thoughtfully. DIY or use a professional. 

DIY

For many of us, giving our dresses our best TLC at home (either right after the wedding or, ahem, years later) is the way to go: 

• After cleaning, wrap the dress in acid-free tissue or unbleached, prewashed muslin. Place layers of paper or muslin between folds of the dress — to protect from snags from hooks, sequins, etc. and to soften creasing. (Some experts recommend removing hooks, snaps, buttons—anything with metal on it, which can rust and stain the fabric.)

Image focused on embroidered hem of a white wedding dress with the rest of the dress laid out in the background.

• Stuff the top of the dress with tissue, to maintain the shape of the bust. You can also fill the sleeves with acid-free tissue paper, if you like. 

• If you want to store your veil with your gown, make sure they don’t touch each other (layer tissue or cloth between them), especially if there’s any plastic or wire or trim on the veil that might damage the gown. 

• For added protection against humidity, add silica desiccant packets to the box. 

• Place a lavender sachet on top of the muslin or tissue, if you like. (Avoid direct contact with the dress.)

• Place your folded dress in an acid-free box. 

• Keep the box in a dry space, where it won’t be exposed to light or extreme temperatures. Relative humidity of about 50 percent is ideal. That probably means not storing it in your basement or attic. Under a bed or in a dry closet might be good options. 

A few do’s and don’ts:

• Never store your dress in a plastic bag, which will trap moisture and can cause mold and mildew. The plastic fumes can also cause your dress to yellow.

• If you choose to hang your dress, use a padded hanger, not a wire or wood one. And cover with a cotton cloth garment bag. Keep in mind that your dress can become misshapen over time as it hangs.

• Do take your dress out of storage every couple of years to check it and refold it to prevent permanent creases (and to reminisce, of course). Make sure your hands are perfectly clean when you do this (free of lotions, perfumes, or anything else that might stain). Experts recommend you wear clean white cotton gloves. (La de da!)

Go with a pro.

Paying an expert to professionally preserve your gown might be a good investment for you, especially if you want to rest assured that your gown will always be in pristine condition. Some cleaners offer this service, or you can find a company online who will. (Check reviews!) 

Preservers will clean and store your dress in an acid-free box. Some vacuum seal the box, but others believe this can cause permanent creases and possibly promote dampness (mold and mildew). Also, with the vacuum-seal method you can’t look at your dress now and then without having to have it resealed. 

Other professional companies store the dress in an archival box with the appropriate paper protection. You can look at (and refold) the dress once in a while this way. Archival boxes often have clear portions on the lids so you can see the dress. 

A third option is to have the dress reinforced (for support) and hung on a padded hanger in a cotton bag. The advantage to hanging is that you get better air circulation. The disadvantage, again, is that the weight of the dress can cause it to become stretched over time as it hangs.

Professional preservation can be costly—from about $300 to about $800. BTW, most professional wedding-gown-preservation companies will also “restore” gowns that have been improperly stored. So if you have a gown from years ago that’s yellowed or shabby for having been tucked away without much care, this might be something to consider.

Storage isn’t the only option.

Some brides are less concerned about keeping their dresses as-is forever and decide to refashion, repurpose, donate, or display their gowns. Some ideas:

• Remake your gown into lingerie for yourself. (Or find a seamstress to do this for you.)

• Remake (or have a seamstress remake) your wedding dress into a bassinet skirt, a christening gown, or a First Communion or other special-event dress.

• Use it for an after-the-wedding photo shoot or for a photo shoot background.

• Display it in your home—in your bedroom or outside your closet, for example. You can hang it from a fancy hook and pretty padded hanger, or you can frame it in a box frame.

• Donate it to another bride. Brides Across America provides military brides with free dresses.

• Donate it to an organization like Brides Against Breast Cancer, which sells donated wedding dresses and uses the proceeds to help breast cancer causes, or the Bridal Garden, a group that sells gowns and uses the proceeds for education of disadvantaged children

• Donate it to a charity like the Emma & Even Foundation, that remakes bridal gowns into dresses for stillborn babies.

• Sell it on Craigslist, E-bay, or other sites. 

Where is your wedding gown? Did you preserve it? Remake it? If you’re getting married, what are your plans for your gown after the wedding?

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2 comments

  • Mary

    September 17, 2019 at 10:26 am

    I had my wedding dress professionally cleaned and there it remained in all its corpse-like glory (Sorry, but those boxes with the window openings remind me of a casket.) until I broke the seal and opened the box many years later when we were planning a “Renewal of Vows” date night that never actually happened. I did, however, continue to unearth the dress every few years, for a variety of reasons. Most notably, I brought the gown out of storage to show it to my daughters on the occasion of my eldest daughter’s engagement. I was able to squeeze into the dress to model for my girls (never mind that I was unable to fully zip the zipper), but when I strutted past my husband he thought I was playing around with costumes for a play and didn’t even recognize it as my actual wedding gown. (Cue the eye roll.) In his defense, I direct a lot of shows and trying on weird costumes is legitimately something he has come to ignore. After each peek at the dress, I carefully repack it, painstakingly replacing the cardboard form and tissue layers and resealing the box with packing tape. My 80s tea-length dress has held up remarkably well and since all three of my children are now married and none of them opted to don it for their own nuptials, I will enjoy the occasional try-on walk down memory lane. Maybe someday when we downsize our house, I’ll choose to upcycle the dress into something else the way my aunts did with my grandmother’s dress, making small heart pillows for all the granddaughters from the dress material. I will be passing along your information to my three daughters so they can make informed decisions about what to do with their beautiful keepsake gowns. Thanks!

    1. Karen Mary

      September 18, 2019 at 6:39 am

      Oh, I wish I could see you in your dress, Mary! Good for you for taking such good care of it ~ you’re reaping the rewards!

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