Champagne toasts. Feeding each other cake. Dancing the night away. While these may be the makings of an unforgettable reception, they could also be the undoing of that beautifully pristine wedding gown. Most brides hope to keep their gown long after the bouquet is thrown, perhaps to pass along to a daughter, or simply as a memento of that special day.


Failing to properly care for the gown before and after the ceremony could lead to irreparable damage. However, following these tips should ensure that your dress stands the test of time.


Prior to the wedding day, you should store your gown in a white garment bag, away from any pets and you should wash your hands before handling the gown. It’s a good idea to lay down a clean white sheet first if you‘re going to set out the dress. It is also important to hang the dress from the inside loops that are connected to side seams, rather than by the delicate shoulder straps which could stretch or tear.


So what happens when you finally get to wear your gown? While the ceremony itself is probably a fairly safe environment, the preparation before and the reception afterwards can wreak havoc on a dress. Between the hairspray and makeup, the wine and cake and people stepping on your train on the dance floor, chances are good that your dress will lose a little of its luster. Even the most cautious bride can fall victim to a spilled drink, lipstick smear or perspiration stain.


Don’t be fooled if your gown appears to have survived the day intact. Even seemingly spotless dresses can be hiding stains that will materialize over time. Residue from salt and sugar is invisible, but if left untreated, will eventually turn into brown or yellow stains. Therefore, if you plan on keeping your gown, it is best to have it cleaned professionally, no matter what its condition after the wedding.


Although many dry cleaners offer gown cleaning services, it is best to take your dress to a specialty cleaner.  There are a number of companies that are specifically geared towards preserving wedding gowns and other heirlooms and they will be the most qualified to take care of your dress. When you purchase your dress, ask the store if it has a cleaning service. Some bridal shops can handle the preservation process for you and may include the price of the cleaning and storage in a special package.


Before taking your gown to be cleaned, inspect it carefully. Look for loose or broken buttons, beading and lace or any other delicate items on your dress. Also note the type and location of each stain. Know exactly how your dress is damaged before turning it over to the cleaner, so that later you can make an accurate assessment of his or her work.


Prices for cleaning can vary depending on where you go and the condition of the dress. Be sure to ask what the price includes. Does it cost extra to clean the veil or garter? What if the dress has an especially difficult stain? Do you receive a special storage container? This last question is key because the dress must be stored in a case with protective, acid-free materials, or it will yellow and possibly even disintegrate.


You may have been taught that the storage box should be sealed air-tight, but this is not necessary. The box can be sealed, but it doesn’t need to be air-tight. Fabrics need to be able to breathe, and even with an air-tight seal, it’s almost impossible to store anything forever without some kind of discoloration. The most important thing is to have the proper packing materials, like the acid-free paper. Later on, if there is any discoloration, just take it back to the place where you had it cleaned originally, and they should be able to restore it to its original color.


A professional cleaner should be able to remove most stains on your dress, treat it with an anti-sugar process, press it and pack it in an appropriate container. This will probably take about four to six weeks.


The perfect gown is so important for a bride, and thus deserves the proper care and attention. Today’s bridal gowns are more durable and better designed than ever before, and the professional cleaners who treat them have the expertise and skill to erase the evidence of wear and tear, giving you, once again, the dress of your dreams.

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