Preserving a wedding gown

By Rachel Coker
   Your bridal gown is probably the most expensive outfit you’ll ever buy.
   So what should you do with it after the big day?
   You can give it to a friend or relative who’s getting married soon. You can try to sell it. You can donate it to charity. Some women even have their dresses made into christening gowns to be worn by their children.
   But if you’re in love with your dress, or of a more sentimental mindset, you may wish to preserve the gown. The idea here, of course, is that you’ll have it as a memento of your wedding and may one day see your daughter walk down the aisle wearing it.
   The choice is yours. But make up your mind soon after the wedding, says Jerry Shiner, of Forever Yours Bridal Gown Preservation, based in Toronto.
   “Don’t let it be put away badly or just dropped in a bag,” he says.
   Experts agree: The sooner a gown is cleaned, the more likely it is that it can be properly restored.
   “In the best of all worlds I want to see the dress 10 minutes after it’s worn,” says Jonathan Scheer, president and CEO of J. Scheer and Co., a New York firm that specializes in textile conservation. “But I know that I won’t.”
   He notes that many stains are invisible. Perspiration and alcohol, for example, won’t be as noticeable as a blotch of red wine. But they, too can damage a gown in the long run. Scheer says a month is a reasonable time frame to arrange for preservation. And even six months or a year later, work can be done if the dress isn’t badly stained.
   But Shiner says some women call him years later, after they’ve had a child. In many cases, it’s too late to remove stains completely or the gown has been damaged by poor storage conditions.
   So, if you decide you want to hang on to your gown, you should try to research your options before the big day arrives. But get out that checkbook. As with many aspects of the wedding industry, gown preservation doesn’t come cheap.
   Shiner’s fee, for example, ranges from $325 to 450. Scheer’s prices range from $295 to $495. Both offer a 50-year written warranty and handle shipping costs.
   It’s a price that Alan Fields, co-author of “Bridal Bargains” and “Cyber Bride,” says he doesn’t advise paying.
   “We’re not really big fans of investing the money in gown preservation,” Fields says.
   For starters, he says, you have to look at the initial cost of the gown. Does it make sense to spend hundreds preserving a dress that cost $800 to begin with?
   Then there’s the issue of workmanship. Unlike a generation ago, dresses now are generally imported from Asia and are made of polyester rather than silk. “They’re just not the family heirloom-type garment anymore,” Fields says.
   Finally, he notes, brides should consider the way fashions change. “There’s always a real question mark as to whether anyone is going to wear the dress in 20 years,” he says.
   Shiner disagrees. “Brides have two loves in their life when they’re planning a wedding,” he says. “One is their husband and the other is the bridal gown. And not necessarily in that order.”
   While your local dry cleaner may offer a less expensive option, Shiner and Scheer say such businesses aren’t equipped for the job.
   Most dry cleaners don’t have as much space or time to deal with bridal gowns, Shiner says. Shirts and other easier jobs are competing for attention. In addition, Scheer and Shiner say, their cleaning techniques are gentler and their storage materials are more likely to keep the gown in good shape.
   “A wedding dress is irreplacable,” Scheer says. “And that’s something brides should keep in mind before they go to their local dry cleaner.”
   But Nora Nealis, executive director of the Neighborhood Cleaners Association, a trade group, says that’s an unfair judgment.
   “You know,” she says, “it’s like going to the doctor and saying, ‘Can the doctor make me well?’ There are specialists, of course, but any cleaner that stays abreast of the latest developments should be able to preserve and protect the gown.”

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