Gown preservation offers brides the option to pass along their gowns to the next generation.
Kelly Walker knew she wanted to preserve her wedding gown because her mother had kept hers. "What was neat for me was that after I picked out my dress, my mom and I realized that we had the same taste," says Walker, who married Paul Kudlak in September 2012. "We both had a lace overlay over cotton."
When Walker's 13-year-old cousin mentioned she liked the dress, Walker knew she needed to keep the Ann Taylor gown in good condition. "I know she'll probably want to do her own thing and get a new dress, but I wanted to have it just in case," Walker says. So she took the gown to Columbus Lace, who does gown preservation in-house for a flat rate that includes cleaning and any other items the bride wants to preserve with the dress.
"If you'd like to keep your gown and pass it onto your daughter or family member, preservation is definitely the way to go," says Steve Smith, fourth-generation co-owner of Columbus Lace.
When a gown is brought to Columbus Lace for preservation, Smith, who has worked at the company for about 20 years, begins by cleaning it to remove any party stains. Even if a bride hasn't spilled on her dress, it's common for the gown to have marks on the inside of the bodice-from perspiration or self-tanner-or dirt on the hemline. If the gown has visible stains, he recommends bringing it in as soon as possible.
Although some stains are more difficult to remove-like those from wine-Smith says the material dictates how the gown is cleaned.
"If I can dry clean it and wet clean it, I'll do both," he says. "I just like to do as thorough of a job as I can." Generally, he is able to wet and dry clean polyester, satin and nylon gowns, but silk and rayon (which shrinks) can only be dry cleaned. He also covers any beading or accents to protect them during the process and cleans any other material items the bride wants to preserve with the dress.
Then he gives the bride the opportunity to come in and inspect the dress before putting it in the preservation box. "I got married on a sidewalk in German Village, and there were some markings on the bottom of the dress," Walker says. "And they all came out. It looked amazing."
Many dry cleaners also offer a clean-only option, but Smith warns against taking the dress home from the dry cleaner and putting it straight in your closet. "I think it's certainly a good idea to get it cleaned regardless," he says. "But the worst thing you can do is keep it in the dry cleaning bag-it'll be discolored in six months." If you don't want to preserve the gown right away, he recommends keeping the gown in a cotton or linen garment bag to protect it from air exposure, which, over time, causes discoloration.
Brides often choose to preserve other items with their gowns-like a veil, train, gloves or garter. The only items Smith doesn't preserve are those that break down over time, like padding, which he'll attach to the outside of the box.
Next, he positions the gown and any additional items in a preservation box with acid-free lining. "By preserving it in an acid-free box, it's going to protect it from the atmosphere and light and keep it from discoloring," he says.
Although some may think gown preservation is frivolous-especially when considering the money that's been spent already-it's the best way to ensure your gown will remain as perfect years from now as it was on your big day.
"I tell [brides], 'This has to be for you. This is about preserving your memories,' " says Margaret Butler of Dublin Cleaners. "What really is the treasure of a preserved wedding gown is the value of the gown three or four generations down the line. We have people repurpose wedding gowns into First Communion dresses or baptism dresses. [Preservation] ensures it'll be ready to use again."