Thursday, August 25, 2011

Preserving Memories

Something that brides might not think about amidst all the hub-bub of planning is preserving their wedding dress, either for a future daughter or relative to wear, or just because you love it! Unfortunately, clothing starts the process of breaking down from the instant you wear it, slow as it may be (we're talking many, many years). The dresses here are from ca. 1880, 1910 and 1960 (all from the fantastic Brooklyn Museum clothing collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Although stunning, look closely and you'll see stains, discoloration, torn tulle and fragile silk.

It's not glamorous, but the reality is that sweat, dirt from the floor, a splash of wine, or an unknown stain (a dropped green bean or a dollop of frosting) will show up years later if not properly cared for. Fear not! There are things you can do to slow down this process.

Here's how to slow the march of time:

1. Find a cleaner you trust and who doesn't use PERC, an environmentally harmful substance that dry cleaners have traditionally used. Ask your married friends or the salon you purchased your dress from for recommendations. Hand-cleaning would be best (or a mixture of the two), especially if you have intricate beading or fragile fabrics on your dress. Request a thorough inspection of your dress so you feel confident the cleaner is using the best materials for your specific piece. Do this as soon as possible after your wedding because the longer the stains sit on the fabric, the greater the risk they will be set. Maybe it can be your maid of honor's final duty to drop your dress off at the cleaner you choose while you are sipping a mai tai on your honeymoon!

2. Make sure the cleaner you choose uses acid-free tissue or muslin (no plastic please) to wrap your dress, and properly pads the dress. Over time, if silk isn't properly folded, it gets dry and will crack, so every fold needs to be padded with acid-free tissue. Preferably, once padded, the dress would be loosely wrapped in muslin (a non-dyed cotton fabric). This will prevent any dust or other rogue contaminants from settling on your dress. Lastly, the dress should be placed in an acid-free box (no cardboard!!). The Container Store sells archival acid-free boxes you can purchase if your cleaner doesn't have that available.

3. Store your little bundle in a place that is relatively temperature stable (cold is better than hot)and that isn't exposed to drastic temperature changes or humidity fluctuations.

The expense of this process (probably anywhere from $300-$1000, depending on the material and complexity of your dress) is worth it. Your dress, which was possibly a major expense in itself, is a reminder of the happy moments of your wedding day, so treat it as the heirloom it will become.

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