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Wedding Dress 101: The Right Way to Clean and Care for Your Gown

Between all the effort that went into picking my wedding dress and having it altered, I never thought much about its post-ceremony fate. In fact, I didn't even consider the logistics of caring for it until my first day as a married lady, when I noticed its entire hemline was filthy. So filthy, in fact, that I was sure it would take a sizeable chunk of our honeymoon fund to fix it. And I thought all the big expenses were over with!

Next, I realized, there was the issue of finding a place to store it in our tiny New York City apartment; we only have two small closets and both are already packed with (mostly my) clothes and shoes. After weeks of dealing with florists and seating arrangements and temperamental family members, it was too overwhelming. I told myself I'd sort it all out in a week or so, stuffed my gown in the trunk of my husband's car and promptly forgot about it. And 10 months later, it's still there.

Now that our first anniversary is this coming October, I've run out of all my "but we just got married!" excuses and need to face my dirty (literally) little wedding dress secret. For help, I turned to Kim Smith, the Director of Alterations at David's Bridal, for insight on the proper way to care and store for gowns. I've included her five best tips in the slideshow below, including advice that both on-top-of-it and negligent brides, like me, can use. Click through to rescue your gown now!

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1. Don't try to clean your own gown.

Attempting to treat a traditional wedding dress at home will probably do more harm then good; fabric might be ruined and stains stuck for good. It's much better, Kim told me, to seek out professionals—even if you've managed to avoid spilled wine or lipstick marks! "Most brides' dresses are floor-length and pick up dirt and grime anyways," she insists. Right after cleaning is a good time to have any minor repairs done, too, so you look for a place that offers both services.

Modern Bride/Thomas Iannaccone

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2. Keep your dress in a dark, clean and climate-controlled space.

Because sunlight can warp embellishments, like sequins and beads, and turn satin yellow, Kim recommends wrapping your dress in plastic and storing it in a dark spot away from windows. Basements and attics, however, are not good choices because both areas are damp and could cause water damage.
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3. Consider professional preservation.

If you don't want to deal with the effort of taking your gown to the cleaners, properly wrapping it up and finding enough rack space to hang it, most bridal salons offer a "preservation" package to streamline the process. Usually this includes cleaning, repairs and packing the dress in an box, but the list varies from place to place. It's important to shop around for the most all-inclusive option at the very best price. (The one at David's Bridal, FYI, is really good—you'll get all the above services for only $189! Although all brides—even those who didn't purchase their gown at David's—can buy the kit, DB customers are exclusively eligible for special discounts on it.)
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4. "Heirloom" can mean more than one thing.

The traditional reason to keep a wedding dress might be to save it for daughters and granddaughters, but according to Kim, there's countless other ways to pass your gown on. "I had a customer turn hers into a christening gown for her daughter," she told me. "A lot of people cut out squares for baby blankets and quilts." These are all projects you can do yourself or through companies that specialize in up-cycling garments, such as Old New Borrowed Redo, one of Kim's favorites.
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5. Don't throw away a damaged gown.

Even irreparable dresses will have a few salvageable scraps. Kim suggests saving these useful pieces for smaller heirloom projects, like a ring bearer pillow or a small handkerchief to carry with the bridal bouquet. You can also sew a small square of preserved fabric on the inside of your daughter's skirt when she gets married.
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