Tips for preserving and repurposing gowns

Tips for preserving and repurposing gowns

Many women put away their wedding dress to pass on to their daughters. While sweet and meaningful, it's not necessarily the most practical of all bridal traditions. There's no guarantee that a woman will have a daughter, much less one who wants to wed in a decades-old, off-trend secondhand dress. And that's if the gown survives Father Time unscathed. While there have assuredly been a few beautiful exceptions to this rule, the odds frankly aren't so great for the sentimentalists.

Before you reach for the consignment shop phone number-or begrudgingly agree to wear your own well-meaning mother's yellowed and stained puff-sleeve hand-me-down-take heart. We've got gown preservation tips to keep your own dress in mint condition, and creative ideas on how to incorporate vintage gowns into modern ceremonies.

Gown Preservation Tips

Margaret Butler is the bridal specialist and co-owner of Dublin Cleaners. She says, "Gown preservation, in essence, is putting a clean wedding gown into an acid-free environment." She thoroughly cleans and carefully inspects each gown before placing it in a museum-quality archival storage trunk. Doing so effectively stops the weathering or yellowing process of the gown, keeping it in fresh mint condition when properly stored. That means "No attics, no basements, no moisture," says Butler.

She advises brides to wait until the temptation to frequently pull out and touch their gown subsides before professionally preserving it. As such, clean-now, preserve-later orders have become popular; this also allows brides to split the cost investment over time. Brides have come to her even years after their weddings to preserve their gowns and, she says, it's generally never too late, with one caveat: "If (brides) want to have any options when it comes to long-term preservation, it has to first promptly be cleaned. Staining can stay, and soil will eventually break down and deteriorate fabrics," Butler says.

While a groom has yet to bring in a wedding tuxedo or suit for preservation, she has preserved military uniforms and kilts for other occasions. The service is available and the process identical, though the cost would be less than for a gown.

Something Old Made New

Even if donning a hand-me-down isn't your style, local brides are finding creative and modern ways to incorporate family gowns into their big day.

Lindsey and Rob Hamman were married on Aug. 29, 2015, at their Mount Sterling farm. They set up dress forms and displayed six of their family's heirloom wedding gowns: Lindsey's mother's champagne skirt suit with shoulder pads and a subtle paisley pattern circa 1989; her grandmother's mid-1960s cream skirt suit; Rob's mother's 1979 cap sleeve dress with lace detail; Rob's maternal grandmother's 1940s satin blush gown that Hamman adds "could easily be worn today;" Rob's paternal grandmother's 1940s white satin long-sleeved gown, and Rob's paternal great-grandmother's dress from 1912, simple white cotton with an eyelet neckline, worn with a slip underneath.

"We chose to display the dresses as a way to honor our family members' marriages and remind everyone of what we should aspire to have in our relationships," Hamman explains. "Each of those unions is still going strong or went strong until their passing."

Hamman's dress featured a sweetheart neckline, a full skirt and all-over lace. She explains that seeing the various conditions and yellowing of her family's heirloom dresses cemented her decision to professionally preserve her own gown.

Butler says,"There are many reasons people may want to keep them to repurpose. I still have mine. I had sons, but now have three granddaughters; I will take it apart and offer pieces to them. Pieces can be reused for christening gowns, or part of a bouquet."

Enjoying a loved one's preserved gown may be as simple as sharing a special moment with the gown's owner to view the dress and hear their memories as a part of your own wedding preparation.

"I would love to be able to show my future kids my dress. If they have use for it, then it's more than worth it to have it preserved," Hamman says.