By Elissa Spyker
Abeautiful dress is a time capsule—a centerpiece of significant occasions throughout the life of the person who wears it. It defines their mood, character and personality as much as a portrait could. It captures a time and a place. To find a special dress that has withstood the test of time is an intensely personal and magical thing, because, in a way, you can meet that person as they were all those years ago.
You might have found your grandmother’s homecoming dress in an attic one time and been disappointed to find it was damaged beyond repair. It was stored hanging on a metal hanger with the silk shattered and beads are missing. The stain from that fruit punch incident has caused the chiffon to become dry and it tears at the slightest touch. Moisture has caused the bright colors to bleed and mildew stains the entire hem. Oh, to see it in its original glory!
This is why it would do a great service to our future generations to properly care for and store our beautiful gowns— so they may be brought back to life and enjoyed for all tomorrows parties. A good vintage dress that is in excellent condition is one of those amazing finds; for it to be wearable with only minor cleaning or repairs is truly a treasure. It does not take extravagant measures to preserve a gown, and whatever investment you make to extend its life are multiplied in value.
To begin, it is most important to professionally clean a gown after wearing. Perfume, body oils and accidental stains can disintegrate the fabric over time or cause it to yellow. After your dress is cleaned, you might be tempted to leave it in the bag on the hanger, but this will cause stress on the shoulders over time that will cause stretching or tearing, especially in heavier gowns.
“A good vintage dress that is in excellent condition is one of those amazing finds; for it to be wearable with only minor cleaning or repairs is truly a treasure.”
If you have a zippered sweater bag handy, that will work well to store your dress. If not, a plastic bin with a lid works well, too. Carefully fold the dress in half widthwise. Wrap with acid-free tissue paper, particularly into areas that may crease and areas that have beading or detail work so it will not snag the neighboring fabric. Place tissue paper anywhere the fabric touches to prevent any friction or color transfers. Acid-free tissue paper is easily purchased online for less than ten dollars and is an essential part of preserving your dress. You can also use silica gel packets inside the bin to keep out moisture, as this can cause discoloration.
Store in a climate controlled area away from light and heat sources. Attics can be cold and dry and cause fabric to become brittle, and basements are too humid and cause smells. A closet or under the bed is best. If you don’t plan on wearing your gown ever again and want to pass it down through your family, adding a personal item like your necklace, a hair ornament or a linen sachet with a spritz of the perfume you wore that evening will truly turn your dress into a time capsule.
If cared for properly, a gown can withstand the test of time and become a treasure for those who come after us. As the holidays draw near, and we put on our fancy dresses, make sure to glance ahead to the future and save a snapshot of ourselves for the coming world to see.