The White Solution: Keep your gown white all wedding day and long after.

Having gone to so much trouble to choose the right wedding gown, you'd probably like to keep it looking beautiful throughout your wedding day and for many years thereafter. Unfortunately, wedding gowns are not protected from the little hazards of life, so if you want that lovely look to last, you need to take a little extra care.

On your wedding day

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Try to foresee the possible ways your dress might get soled during the day and take steps to prevent them from happening. Here are some examples.

You'll probably find that the excitement of the wedding will cause you to perspire more than usual. Make sure your deodorant is also an antiperspirant.

Some flowers have strong-colored stamens that can stain clothes - a point to remember when choosing your bouquet. If you have your heart set on such a blossom, the stamens can probably be removed. As your florist.

Pack a small emergency package for the wedding day and entrust it to a bridesmaid. Include a small towel or piece of cloth to drape over your shoulders and bodice while you're touching up your makeup. (A towel will also come in handy if you spill something on your dress, see below.)

Especially in winter and in wet weather, be extra careful when getting in and out of cars. (You may wish to cover the floor of the car with a sheet.) When going outside, take the moment you need to gather up your long skirt to keep the hem off the ground. Be cautious as you walk up stairs or enter doorways, and don't be embarrassed to ask for assistance.

The reception, of course, is where accidents are most likely to occur. Be aware of the obvious dangers; don't, for example, lean so far over the buffet table that your dress dips into the gravy.

No matter how cautious you are, you can't avoid every possible mishap, so be prepared for spills. Be sure to inquire, when you buy your dress, about the best way to spot-clean it should an accident occur. It is often best to leave it alone (although sometimes you can minimize the appearance of a spot by blotting - not rubbing - the fabric) and advise the cleaner afterward so that it can be properly treated. Wine or champagne spills, though, should be looked after immediately: put a towel under the fabric and blot the top with a damp cloth wrung out in a solution of white vinegar and water (blot dry to prevent a ring) or dry-cleaning fluid, which is available at most drugstores and mass-merchandisers (follow package instructions).

Remember to take a large garment bag for the gown - perhaps the bag from the bridal salon - for that moment when you finally must change out of the gown. Above all, remember that wearing your wedding gown should be a pleasure, not a source of constant worry. At the end of the day, it's the memories, not the dress, that are the most precious.

Preserving your gown

There are a variety of reasons for wanting to keep a wedding gown in good condition long after the big day. You may want to wear it to reaffirm your vows or have it made into a special-occasion dress for your first child. You might just want to keep it for sentimental reasons.

Whatever the case, don't just hang your gown in the closet where it will be vulnerable to dust, bacteria, moisture, light, moths, and other culprits, and can be misshapen by the hanger and by its own weight. To keep the gown looking as beautiful as possible over the years, you should have it treated professionally. Though there is no way to completely guarantee that a garment won't yellow over a long period of time, having your gown professionally prepared for storage gives it the best possible chance of remaining lovely. Many reputable dry cleaners offer a wedding-gown preservation service, as do some bridal salons and formalwear companies. Another option is to use a service such as J. Scheer & Co. (1-800-448-7291), which offers a door-to-door cleaning-and-preservation service, including nationwide shipping, preliminary inspection, cleaning and repairs, and return of the dress in a special long-term storage box. You can also call to get a cost estimate for the preservation of the dress before you ship it. Try to have your gown sent to a cleaning-and-preservation service as soon as possible after the wedding - ideally within a couple of weeks. If something was spilled on the gown, point this out to the cleaner, even if it doesn't show - stains could emerge later. Ask about any problems that might occur (for instance, some beads, pearls, and appliquŽs that are glued, instead of sewn, onto gown may fall off in the cleaning process) and whether they can be avoided. Also ask whether minor repairs can be done if necessary. The cleaner uses a cleaning-and-preservation process especially for garments with intricate beading, delicate lace, etc. Your gown is treated separately from other items, and, in many cases, by hand, layer by layer. Soiled areas (around the hem and train, for example) are spot-cleaned first, then the gown is cleaned using the method best suited to its materials and construction. Once cleaned, the gown is wrapped in tissue paper to minimize creasing and to puff up and shape the sleeves and bodice. The tissues and the box itself should be acid free [note: J. Scheer & Co. uses not only acid-free, but museum-grade packaging, see our help desk.]. Cardboard should not be used, even as a form for keeping the bodice shape. The gown is then carefully folded ad packed in a box, often with a clear plastic window through which the dress (usually the bodice) is displayed. Check to make sure that the box contains your dress before you leave the store. Technically, a gown preservation box can't be made airtight. No attempt should be made to do so since the process would trap moisture and the by-products of decay.

An alternative to having your gown professionally preserved and boxed is simply to follow the old-fashioned method of storing precious textiles by carefully folding them in a clean cotton sheet. However, the likelihood of having a neat box that can be easily stored often outweighs this option. When shopping for a preservation service, ask lots of questions. Choose the professional who is knowledgeable, doesn't offer guarantees that can't be kept, and uses museum-quality materials. Prices may vary greatly between companies, but the old saying, "You get what you pay for", certainly applies here.