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The Wedding Is Over — What Do You Do About the Dress?

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The vows have been uttered, the cake cut, a bridesmaid has been taken down by your lothario cousin. The wedding is over. And now you've got this dress, this monster white thing that you'll never wear again but feel immensely attached to, that you need to deal with in some way.

Sure, you could be a Cool Bride and go into the woods with your best pals for a dress trashing ceremony, but realistically, most of you aren't going to do that. Whether you plan to keep your dress, sell it, or even donate it, it will need to be cleaned and stored in some way. Here's everything you need to know.

Professional Wedding Dress Preservation Services

Weddings are big business, and that business continues even after the "I dos" have been exchanged. There are many wedding dress cleaning and preservation services out there, and there are lots of reasons why you'd use one. Convenience is one, naturally, but also if you plan to sell your dress or pass it along to someone, opting for professional cleaning will probably be the right choice.

But what do these services offer? Well, I'll tell you! The first and most important thing a wedding dress preservation service will do is to clean the dress and remove any stains — especially along the hem of the dress. They will also make any repairs that may be needed, though if the dress sustained extensive damage there will likely be extra charges and you should ask about that in advance of handing over your gown. Once the dress has been cleaned and repaired, it will be pressed or steamed, wrapped in acid-free tissue and folded or hung in an archival box for storage.

Prices will vary based on the style of your dress, the amount of cleaning and repairs that need to be done, and your location, but you can expect to pay $150 on the low end all the way up to $500.

How to Find a Preservation Service

The first thing to know about finding a preservation service for your dress is that it's something you'll want to take care of before the wedding. This is true for a few reasons: First, because it will just be one last thing to deal with after the wedding. You don't know it yet, but you'll be so totally wedding-ed out by the time it's all done that dealing with your dress will fall right off your to-do list. (Plus, you'll be so busy writing thank you notes you won't have time.)

The other reason to make arrangements for your dress prior to wearing it is that the results will be much, much better if the dress can get off to the cleaners within a week or so of the wedding — the longer it sits around, the harder it will be to clean.

When it comes to finding a cleaning and preservation service, the easiest thing to do is to ask for a recommendation from the store where you bought your dress. You can, of course, simply Google "wedding dress preservation [YOUR LOCATION]" or ask married friends who they used. Many local dry cleaners will offer wedding gown preservation, so if you have a place you trust ask them about that. There are also mail-in services like the one that David's Bridal offers, which are both convenient and tend to be more reasonably priced than local services may be.

DIY Preservation

Maybe all of that sounds way more involved than what you need or want for your wedding dress. Totally fair!

You don't need anything very fancy by way of products if you opt to clean your dress on your own — a gentle laundry detergent will do the trick. Dilute the detergent into a large bowl of cool water and use a light colored rag or sponge to gently scrub soiled areas, paying particular attention to the hem and underarms, where most of the soiling will have occurred. You'll want to wring the rag or sponge out very well so that you're not soaking the fabric, and when all the staining has been removed, do another few passes over all the areas you cleaned with a damp, clean sponge or rag to remove any soapy residue.

If your dress is lace, linen, vintage, or has significant staining, there's a wonderful product you should know about called Engleside Restoration. I've recommended it to several brides who've used it to clean family wedding gowns for their own use, and every review has been a rave!

Wedding Dress Storage

Before we wrap this baby up, we need to talk about, well, wrapping up. Probably the most crucial part of preserving a wedding dress is the storage — I mentioned that a professional service will return your dress to you wrapped in acid-free tissue inside an archival box. The reason that this is so important is that leaving a dress wrapped in plastic will prevent the dress from breathing and will lead to yellowing over time. If yellowing does occur, the Engleside Restoration can help to reverse it, but it would obviously be better to avoid it in the first place! If you're performing cleaning and storage operations on your own, you can purchase archival storage boxes and acid-free tissue paper at places like the Container Store.

One last really important note for those opting to send their dress out to be professionally cleaned and preserved: When you get the dress back, make sure (make sure make sure make sure!!!) that you open the box to check that it is indeed your dress. Mix-ups can and will happen and if you discover the mistake 30 years down the line when your daughter wants to wear your dress for her own wedding, you'll be, I'm sorry to say, SOL.