Monday, September 16, 2013

How to store a Wedding gown

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Now that the Summer Bridal season is over, I’m getting a lot of people asking me how to store their gowns. First, let me say do not use the commercial boxing/sealing services by dry cleaners. As a former historic fashion curator, I have seen many pieces ruined by being sealed up with cleaning chemicals. Sealing up textiles airtight is never a good idea. Textiles like to breath just like you. A good rule for clothing and textiles is store them in climates where you’d feel comfortable. Would you want to be sealed up in an airtight box and never let out again?  And, why store an heirloom if you can never look at it again?  - so here are a couple of good options:

You can hang it on a prepared hanger and store in a cotton bag, or box it in an acid free box with acid free tissue and store it somewhere flat, cool, and dry. A few important rules for Historic Costume/Fashion Storage – Never store anything in the hot attic, or damp basement, Don’t seal it air tight, and never ever store in plastics, and remember, further wearing of  it will diminish the preservation (but it would be awfully fun if your daughter wore it someday!) 
I’m using my Mother’s 1946 gown and veil today as the example. My sister and I used it when we got married. There’s a great WWII bride story behind that beautiful veil. I’ll tell you about it another day.

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PREPARING IT TO HANG – This method is best for gowns that are lighter weight and have a sturdy shoulder. Not recommended for sheer or delicate shoulders. A strapless gown can be hung on loops sewn securely to the bodice, but I recommend boxing for most bustier styles as the skirts are frequently heavy and can pull the bodice too much.
Have your dress professionally cleaned (get a reference for a good dry cleaner from the bridal store) and hang it in an open area for a week to let the chemical products air. Button and zip all closures and remove any pins or excess items from the gown. Lightly Stuff the sleeves, bodice and anywhere that can hold it with a few sheets of lightly crumpled acid free tissue. See the discussion on tissues in the Boxing It section below.
Start with a sturdy hanger as your base. I like to use the satin covered ones. Remove the covering and stuffing and set aside. Measure the shoulder width of your dress.

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Cut the hanger to the same length. Sand the edges. Cover with original covering and stuffing. Using a pair of clean, white 100%cotton socks, create a second covering. Stuff tight with polyfil, creating a circumference of about 4”. You are creating a support to distribute the weight and mimic a shoulder. Stitch socks together at center. Place your gown on the hanger.

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If available, you may put your dress in a pre-made 100% cotton garment bag. K-Mart used to sell these under the Martha Stewart line but I haven’t seen them in awhile. If not, you can create your own. Measure the shoulder width of the gown +4” , the width of the gown at the widest part of the skirt (usually the at the hem) + 4”, and the length of the gown + 4”. Using pre-washed, dried with no products, 100% cotton muslin, cut 2 pieces using gown measurements. Stitch the shoulder seam and hem seams first, then one side seam all the way up and leave the second side seam open from the shoulder to 3/4 of the way down. You can slip the gown into the bag and tie it up with ties made from cotton shoe laces or cotton ribbon, sewn every 4-6” down the side of the bag. Store uncrushed in a cool, dry closet. Check it periodically for signs of moisture.

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BOXING IT – This method is definitely the safest for insuring that the gown doesn't get ‘stressed’ from the weight of hanging but it does require a professional acid free box. I use the Gaylord Archival company. They sell a kit that includes the box, acid free tissue, and gloves. I think it sells for about $75. I think this is a great option. You can also purchase the box and tissue separately or have a box made to a custom size. Use buffered tissue for gowns made from cellulose fibers like cotton, linen. Use unbuffered tissue for protein fibers like silk, wool. If you’re not sure, use unbuffered. The buffering is a alkaline substance added to counteract acids that may form on these cellulose fibers in the future.
Have your dress professionally cleaned (get a reference for a good dry cleaner from the bridal store) and hang it in an open area for a week to let the chemical products air. Button and zip all closures and remove any pins or excess items from the gown. Lightly Stuff the sleeves, bodice and anywhere that can hold it with a few sheets of lightly crumpled acid free tissue.

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Place a few sheets of your acid free tissue in the bottom of the box. Lay the gown in the box. If the gown is too large and needs to double up, put the skirt in first, lightly stuff with tissue and place gown bodice on top. You are creating soft, stuffed folds, avoiding any creases.

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Lay a few pieces of tissue on top, put the lid on and place in a cool, dry place. Wool will attract moths so on the rare occasion where wool has been used for bridal, I suggest placing a few cedar blocks wrapped in cotton and never touching the gown in the side of the box and checking it often for signs of moths. The wood has oils however and must not come in contact with the fabric. Check it periodically for signs of pests or moisture. 

Happy Storage to you!

7 comments:

  1. Great article. I wish I had known this 32 years ago. I now have a stained, ruined wedding dress hanging in my closet because it was stored in a dry cleaning bag for years.

    I love the picture of your parents!

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    1. Thanks, Julie! Sorry the info is too late for your dress :(

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  2. My dress is a wreck, but we have a wedding in our near future and I will pass this on to the bride. A little birdie tells me you may know her ;)

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    1. Yes Jennifer, I think this may come in handy soon.

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  3. Thanks Janet. I was planning on hanging in a cotton bag but now I might consider the archival box method. I'm following along.

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