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* All of our information provided refers to your wedding gown, however, all of our recommendations apply to all other fine garments and textiles such as christening gowns, uniforms, quilt and costumes.
The wedding gown is a representation of one of the most wonderful days of your life. It is often a costly part of your wedding day and a very personal statement about yourself. You have dreamed about this day since your were a little girl and the gown you choose represents who you are on this wonderful day. You many also choose to pass it on to a daughter or granddaughter someday.
To prepare your gown for preservation, it should be cleaned by a professional first. The International Fabricare Institute advises within the first 3 weeks after the wedding is the most opportune time to remove stains such as champagne, lipstick, hemline dirt and perspiration. The longer you wait the less likely they will be able to be removed. Don't think that if you cannot see it, it isn't there. The sugars from your celebratory drinks like soda and alcohol will caramelize and leave ugly brown stains. Dirt will weaken and break down fibers in your gown. Food stains will attract insects and perspiration can oxidize and cause yellowing.
There is no guarantee that a cleaning and boxing will prevent deterioration to your gown. A proper cleaning, acid free packaging and precautions on where you store your gown can help limit deterioration and maintain a long future for your gown.
You need to search for a professional cleaner of wedding gowns. Some dry cleaners that you purchase this service from will mail your gown out to highly controversial processing plants where your gown will not get the one on one attention that it deserves. These plants will seal your gown in plastic and advise you not to open the plastic. There have been past reports of these gowns not being cleaned, missing veils and even the wrong gown in the box. The plastic they seal your gown in will prevent proper airflow, which is crucial for long-term preservation. Museums do not store their precious textile in plastic! The plastic can cause mold and mildew to grow inside and is especially bad in high humidity areas.
If your chosen dry cleaner cleans in-house, ask what kind of box the cleaner will use if they will be boxing it for you. Many cleaners will use a cheap box to keep their cost down and these boxes are often acidic and will break down and cause un-repairable damage to your gown. If they are using a Foster-Stephens' box, you will receive a non-acidic container for your precious gown. If you cannot find a professional in your area to clean and preserve your gown, we highly recommend Wedding Gown Specialists.
If you live in a high humidity area, ask the cleaner what extra protection they can offer you against humidity damage. We have a few products that will combat this problem and they are highly suggested to prevent mold and mildew. Use an inner Tyvek® Zip Pak or a Muslin Wrap and Cover to protect your gown.
Ask if the cleaner offers warrantees or guarantees and if so, what are they. Keep in mind that some protein fibers like silk and wool will naturally yellow with age. In some cases it can be restored but the best thing to do is research your materials before purchasing your gown.
Ask the cleaner if he will take the time to remove items from your gown that will degrade easily over time, such as foam padding or metal buttons. Does he package them separately for you? Does he pack other items like shoes, bouquets, purses and garters in the box? They can safely be put in the box if they are stored in a separate bag like our Tyvek® bags, which will prevent any chemical reaction between the items.
Ask the cleaner if you may point out every spot and stain that you know, along with what caused the stain. If minor repairs need to be made, can you point them out, also, and will he repair them. If they are not interested, they are not a reputable cleaner and giving your gown the best treatment is not their goal. Each type of stain can be pre-treated with the appropriate solvent.
Heirlooming and preservation are dry cleaning industry terms for the cleaning and packaging of wedding gowns and other precious textiles for long term storage. Cleaning properly, removing dirt and stains and placing the gown in an acid free box with acid free tissue and/or with natural muslin is the proper way to "heirloom" or "preserve" your wedding gown.
After having your gown properly packaged you need to put it in a safe place in your house. We recommend in a first floor closet or under a bed. Keep your gown out of a basement or attic. There is too much fluctuation in temperature and humidity. Ideally it should be placed in a dark, cool (60° to 65°F) clean place with a low relative humidity level of under 50%. Store in a dark place. Light can damage your gown. Ultraviolet light can be emitted from the sun as well as many light bulbs in the home. The light can fade and weaken fabric. Re-packing your gown once a year is also recommended. Changing the folds around will alleviate permanent creasing and you can check and make sure there is nothing developing in deterioration. Just order new acid free tissue and be sure to wear cotton gloves when handling. You want to avoid transferring dirt and oils from your hands to your gown. Lay the gown down on a flat, clean surface. Do not eat, drink or smoke near the gown. Rings and bracelets can snag your gown so remove them. Do not use ink pens near your gown. Do not wear the gown if you are re-packing it for storage. Reminiscing or letting your child try it on just once can cause rapid deterioration.
The size of the chest is important. The flatter the gown lays and fewer folds, is much better for your precious gown. If you choose too small of a box, the gown is crammed in and this could cause wrinkles to set into the fabric. It should fit comfortably in the box. We have many size boxes to choose from. If you have a full skirt or a long train, you will definitely need a deeper box. You may need to store your extra items in a smaller box for storage.
Acid free means that a material has a pH level of over 7.2. Acids in paper can, over time, start to degrade the paper. The acid can then migrate from the paper to the fabric of the gown.
Lignin is the fiber in the gown, which allows it to stand up. It is the second largest component of the wood part of a tree, with cellulose being the principal component.
ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) and NISO (National Information Standards Organization) are standard setting organizations. They work closely together.
NISO, published the Z39.48 standard for "Permanence of Paper for Publications and Documents in Libraries and Archives." It covers both coated and uncoated papers. It uses metric measurement for the tear index. Fold endurance has been dropped, though tear resistance has been retained.
It requires several tests to be met for pH, alkaline reserves, tear resistance, lignin and Kappa number. The paperboard that Foster-Stephens uses in all its paperboard and corrugated products meet or exceed the standards set by ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
You will probably pick your gown up from the bridal store in a plastic bag (PVC). These are only meant for short-term storage. DO NOT return your gown to this bag after your wedding day. Storage bags made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), on the other hand, can degrade quickly, releasing fumes that are harmful to textiles.
If you want to hang your gown long-term, some specialty materials, like TyvekŪ, polyethylene, polypropylene and acrylic are all inert and fine next to your gown. TyvekŪ has the added benefit of breathing, which is good for the gown.
Muslin Garment Bags are another safe way to store your wedding gown. Natural unbleached muslin is stable and non-acidic. It is a great buffer against moisture and contaminants found in your home.
If you decide to hang your gown long term, you can take some precautions to avoid stretching of the fabric in the shoulders and bodice. Make sure you use a sturdy and strong padded hanger that is covered in a material such as linen. You can sew cotton straps from the bag into the bodice to take some of the weight and pressure off of the gown. Stuff the sleeves and bodice with acid free tissue.
Care labels need to only show one acceptable method of cleaning. Sometimes another method may work just as well. One thing to note: the entire gown should be cleanable by the same method. If it says "exclusive of trim" and the gown is covered in beads & sequins it may not be cleanable. While many manufacturers try to comply with the Care Label laws, there are some notable exceptions. The lazy manufacturer that thinks, "The gown will be worn once, no use is checking to make sure that the beads won't dissolve in the dry cleaning solvent even though we are putting Dry Clean Only on the care label." Or much worse, a label that said, "Clean only by the Zurcion Method." There is no such thing as the Zurcion method and the FTC is taking the manufacturers using that label to court.
Click here for the US Government site on care labels for wedding gowns.
Foster-Stephens, inc. has been producing storage solutions to preserve and protect wedding gowns and other family treasures since 1936. Our product line includes many styles and sizes of archival protection boxes and bags. We pride ourselves in providing the finest quality archival storage solutions; our products provide the quality and durability that museums demand while being easy to use and store.