I did a ton of research on how to preserve my dress. I’d heard horror stories about paid services that didn’t even clean the dress, let alone do anything to preserve it, and then told brides that if they opened the box to check on the dress it would void their warranty. Plus, I noticed that a lot of services and do-it-yourself kit sellers were using cardboard boxes with printed decorations on them—which will eventually bleed through the paper and harm the dress!
So I did it myself for just the cost of acid-free tissue and a Sterlite storage box. The following tips are culled from my research and suggestions provided by professional conservator Camille Myers Breeze of Museum Textile Services. She has created an extremely helpful tip sheet, How to Archive Your Wedding Gown, that will take you through her approved process step by step.
First I had the dress cleaned at my local “green” dry cleaner (not sure how much of that I believe). Myers Breeze considers professional cleaning the single most important step, even if you don’t do anything else to preserve your gown, because it removes the sweat, Champagne and dirt stains that will damage the gown over time.
I got a Sterlite box from the hardware store—you can also use an acid-free cardboard box with NO printed decorations on it, but I wanted something waterproof. Myers Breeze says any bin made of polypropylene (recycling code 5) or polyethylene (recycling code 2 or 4) is fine.
However, she says, “The benefit of a proper archival storage box is that it stands out as being something special, not just another bin, and what they say it’s made out of is actually what it’s made out of—much higher quality control. The longer the box the fewer folds, and the lower the box the easier it is to find a safe place to store it that’s not the attic or basement. ” She prefers these boxes and says most dresses fit in the 36” x 18” x 6” box.
I wore cotton gloves any time I touched the dress so I wouldn’t get oil on it. It turns out that powder-free latex-style gloves would be a better alternative because cotton can pick up and transfer dirt. But Meyers Breeze says the best thing to use is well-washed hands with no rings.
I lined the box with white, unbuffered, acid-free tissue I got from Archival Methods.
Then I laid my dress on a layer of tissue on top of a cotton sheet on the bed, stuffed the bodice with crumpled tissue to preserve its shape (it has boning), and then tucked the end of the train in up near the bodice.
Then I tucked the sides of the skirt in and brought the edges of the tissue up over them. This is called interleaving, and apparently it’s only necessary if your gown has embellishments on it that may scratch the folded fabric when the two pieces meet. If your dress is plain like mine, you can save a few bucks on acid-free tissue and just line the box with it.
Then I folded the wrapped dress loosely in thirds so it would fit in the box. Basically the only structure in it was the boning in the bodice, so I found a box that would accommodate the dress without bending the boning. There were no sequins or other decorations that would be harmed by folding.
I set the whole thing in the box with the bodice on top and unfolded, then tucked more tissue around it before I closed it up.
Here are some more tips from Meyers Breeze and one of the readers of my wedding trip report who is a museum curator:
- Store the box somewhere in your home that is a comfortable temperature for humans, not an overheated attic or a cold and damp basement. Meyers Breeze suggests a closet or under the bed.
- You do NOT need to open the box to re-fold and repack your dress and repack every year. Although this can prevent creases, the extra handling will do more harm than good.
- If you use a translucent box, be sure to keep it out of direct sunlight. Sunlight can discolor white/light fabrics, especially the parts of the dress nearest the exterior of the box.
- Tuck a few little packets of dessicant that comes inside shoe boxes into the corners of your storage box to keep humidity at bay.
Now that my process has been vetted by a pro, I feel confident that my dress will be safe and sound for years to come!