Someone’s Old, Someone’s New …

May 17, 2013

Every bride imagines herself picture-perfect on her wedding day, but the perfect gown isn’t necessarily new

By Lauren Robinson

It’s a dream shared by mothers and daughters alike — passing a beloved wedding gown from one generation to the next. Alas, that dream doesn’t always come true. A wedding dress needs lots of TLC if it is to survive the years that separate the weddings of mothers and daughters.

Having spent nearly a decade working with historic gowns, textile conservator Rachel Rhodes understands that textiles, especially wedding gowns, are very personal pieces of history. But unless the lucky bride has a gown that’s considered to be of local or national importance, it’s unlikely that it’ll be specially conserved in a place such as the Textile Museum in the nation’s capital.

For this reason, “we have to be our own wedding-dress keepers,” says Rhodes.

But conserving the gown isn’t as simple as placing it in a plastic dress bag and hanging it in the back of a closet.

“Raw silk, for example, has natural gums bound to every fiber, which give it its weight and crispness,” says Rhodes, “If it is cleaned incorrectly you will remove the gums, and the dress will become limp and lifeless.”

After the wedding, rarely do brides think back to the champagne that may have spilled on their gowns. But that little splash of bubbly “will soon start to stain and cause damage and may even attract insects that will eat away at the dress,” says Rhodes.

Hence, brides interested in passing their gowns to their daughters or consigning them, will want to have their gowns professionally dry-cleaned shortly after their weddings.

Rhodes advises that brides think twice before storing their wedding gowns in dusty attics or damp basements. Dust particles will eventually settle on gowns discoloring their fibers, and dampness will likely invite mold to grow on fabrics. Ideally, gowns should be stored in dust-proof breathable garment bags in a dark closet.
Vintage Gowns An Answer
Sentimentality isn’t the only reason brides may choose to wear gowns once worn by someone else. Modern brides may seek vintage wedding gowns for aesthetic, economic or even ecological reasons.

At least that’s the thinking at one local wedding boutique that’s changing the way soon-to-be brides shop for their wedding dresses. Roberta Sachs, owner of The Bridal Suite, believes a bride can easily make a vintage gown her own.

“When she puts the dress on, and you kind of can pin it and adjust it, it fits her beautifully. Then you take some jewelry and put a veil on, and immediately she gets the look that’s unique to her,” says Sachs.

Nestled within the historic Federal Hill neighborhood, The Bridal Suite is unlike the many thrift shops and secondhand stores in Baltimore where brides-to-be can shop for previously owned gowns. Its “always designer, always discounted” philosophy gives Charm City brides the opportunity to find the couture wedding gown of their dreams at an unbelievable bargain.

Sachs says designer and cost-conscious brides can find labels such as Maggie Sottero, Alfred Angelo and Catalina Herrera modestly priced — if they consider consigned gowns. A bride may not have initially envisioned herself wearing a once-wed gown on her big day, but if she keeps an open mind, it might very well be love at first sight.

“A dress such as this can sell for a fraction of its original cost simply because it has been worn before,” says Sachs.

Almost all of the gowns at The Bridal Suite are consigned for less than $1,000, and customers can rest assured knowing they’re buying a gown that’s in perfect condition, says Sachs. In addition to “once-wed” gowns, Sachs also carries samples and even some brand new dresses.

How does Sachs get samples or new gowns at such terrific prices?

“Whereas the big shops get the gowns right from the designer, I don’t. Samples are donated from other bridal shops,” says Sachs.

Newlywed brides hoping to recoup some of their investment can benefit from consigning their gowns at the boutique, as long as they are in excellent condition.

When it comes to her brides finding a dress that’s “the one,” it’s pretty simple, says Sachs. “They find a gown, put it on, and they own it,” says Sachs.

Conservation Tips

Here are a few more tips to consider before deciding on the best storage option for your gown:
1) Lightweight dresses are best stored hanging with acid-free unbuffered tissue used as padding in sleeves.
2) For dresses with heavier skirts, hanging them from loops added to the waists reduces strain on shoulder straps.
3) Dresses that are extremely heavy, usually ball gowns, are best stored in an acid-free unbuffered box. It’s important to make sure the box is the appropriate size and that the dress is secured with padding.

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