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Wedding Gown Care

Leading textile preservationist Jonathan Scheer of New York's J. Scheer and Co. is recommended by gown designers Amsale, Monique Lhuillier, and Peter Langner. His staff has handled the cleaning and preservation of the Stella McCartney-designed gown worn by Madonna, Sandra Bullock's Angel Sanchez design, and Mariska Hargitay's Carolina Herrera confection.

BEFORE THE WEDDING

One of the best things you can do for your dress, Scheer says, is to have anyone who might touch it wear gloves to protect the fabric from natural oils and products on skin that can weaken or discolor the fabric.

When it's not being worn, keep the dress is a cool, dark, stable environment (closets are ideal). Never leave it in direct sunlight, and please don't use a mannequin.

Protect the fabric of your dress by keeping it in a cotton muslin or breathable synthetic garment bag. Never, never use those white-plastic garment bags that you get from stores or dry cleaners, Scheer says, as they trap air and moisture in with the dress.

OOPS! WHAT TO DO ABOUT STAINS

Odds are some sort of smudge, smear, spill, or stain will appear on your wedding gown (lipstick, butter, and wine are three common culprits). Whatever you do, don't apply liquid to your gown; this includes water as well as any liquid stain solvent.

For a host of reasons, stain removal should only be attempted by professionals. No, this doesn't mean that you have to walk around with an ugly stain on your beautiful gown (see below).

Designate someone who will be close to you all day to carry a kit containing the following: a dry, white cloth (cheesecloth is a good option); a small tin of baby powder, corn starch, or a combo of the two mixed to closely match your gown; cotton swabs; and a clean, soft-bristled brush.

As soon as you notice a spill or stain on the dress,dab away liquid with the cheesecloth. Add powder to the spot and let it sit for a few minutes to continue absorbing moisture. This will make it easier for your professional cleaner to remove the stain later. Gently remove the powder with the soft brush. You can reapply the powder to mask the stain, leaving it to dry on the dress.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CEREMONY

Appoint someone to see to the short-term storage of your gown before its cleaning.

At this point, you should store the dress flat; hanging stresses the fabric and can result in stretching and warping of the bodice. Unfold a plain, white flat sheet on a bed; place the gown on top of the sheet. Envelope the dress in the sheet, which will act as a filter and dust cover. Fold the gown once at the bodice and once at the hem and then store the dress flat on a shelf in a closet.

Your gown will be safe for several weeks to two-three months if stored in this manner, but Scheer advises that you check the dress periodically to see if stains are oxidizing-brown spots or yellowing are bad signs-and that you have the gown professionally cleaned, and, if you like, preserved within six months of your ceremony.

After the honeymoon, decide what to do with your gown. You may choose to sell or donate the gown so someone else can enjoy it. Or perhaps you'll give it a makeover, having it altered and removing some of the more obvious going-to-the-chapel details, giving it new life as evening wear. If you do decide on preservation, first be aware that, properly done, preservation is a time-intensive procedure. Your dress might not be returned for 8-10 weeks. You can imagine, then, that the process is not inexpensive.

The two most important aspects of preservation are safe, proper cleaning and using chemically inert, acid-free materials to protect the gown during storage. It's not enough to take your gown to a dry cleaner who's hung out a sign that says "wedding dress specialist." Gowns have been ruined by so-called specialists who've used too-harsh solvents, cleaned the dress in water, or used too much mechanical activity in removing spots.

Brides must do their due diligence when they choose a firm to preserve the wedding gown, Scheer asserts. He suggests asking the following questions of any firms you're thinking of trusting with your gown:

How many gowns do you clean each year? Do you do the work yourself? Are all materials acid-free? How long have you been in business? Do you have references? Do you offer a warranty? (Walk away if they require a signed waiver.)