A good way to determine the best wedding gown preservation technique would be to check with museum textile conservators to see how they preserve heirloom garments and what their recommendations are for wedding dress preservation. But who has the time?
That is why we have done the research for you. We have consulted with museum conservators at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and summarized the information they gave to us.
Museum Garment Preservation
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a wonderful collection of gowns that are hundreds of years old. The dresses in storage are hung on padded hangers and covered with cotton sheeting to protect them.
Garment preservation at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. is similar. Heirloom garments that are not currently on display are cleaned and carefully stored in climate controlled conditions. Most dresses are hung on padded hangers, while some garments are laid in drawers or acid free boxes with acid free tissue. Sharp creases are avoided, as they can damage fabric. To keep the folds from becoming permanent creases, the garments stored in boxes or drawers are refolded into a different position every few years.
Neither of these museums seals any of their heirloom garments. Museum conservators discourage sealing any garment in any container for three reasons:
- Fabric weakens where it is folded. Fabric weakens in the same way that paper weakens where it is folded, so that creases from the folds may become permanent. (You may have experienced this if you have ever let down the hem on a garment.) Or worse, the fabric may tear at the weakened creases. This is why the Smithsonian refolds the garments stored in drawers and boxes periodically.
- Inspection is critical. Periodic inspection ensures that the garment does not develop permanent damage from oxidizing stains or any other problems. The sooner problems are discovered, the more likely they can be remedied.
- Sealing promotes mold and mildew. If the textile can breathe, then the humidity remains constant around the garment. If any moisture were to condense inside a storage container, it would likely develop mildew.
Museum conservators recommend keeping wedding gowns and all heirloom garments: clean, cool, dry and wrinkle-free.