Guest Blogger

Save that Dress!


Do you have a wedding dress just “hanging around” your home or museum collection? Well today’s post is for you.

Today’s Museum Minute, written by my dear friend and colleague, Steven Rosengard, is all about wedding dress preservation. Take it away, Steve!

Calling all Brides!  

Many of you may have gone through the trouble and ghastly expense of having your wedding dresses put in a lovely “heirloom” box with a cute see-through peek-a-boo top so you can gaze longingly at the dress you once wore…once.  But while you’re taking your stroll down Memory Lane, showing your maid and children how thin you used to be, take a moment and really consider what’s going on right before your very eyes: your dreams, unless they were made of polyester, are rotting away from the acids in the box.  So before your dress shatters into a million pieces like a mirror hit by a strong, ugly woman, take a moment and step back to think “how can I rectify this situation?”

The answers are quite simple, but if you’re a geek/nerd/know-it-all and want all the science behind it, read the next paragraph.  If you’re not a geek/nerd/know-it-all and you’re just totally freaking out thinking about how your dress is being destroyed as you sit here reading this post, just read the headers and visit the links.

A friend, wearing a family heirloom

Get approximately 25 sheets of 30”x20” unbuffered, acid-free tissue paper with which you will stuff (gently, darling—gently) the arms, bodice and skirt folds of your dress in order to prevent and permanent creases. 

This will also provide support for your garment so that there will be less stress of the various parts, which made lead to threads breaking (not to mention your daughters cursing you and your granddaughters crying quietly at night wondering why you couldn’t have been more thoughtful instead of being such a dolt as to trust a dry cleaner with the most important garment of your entire life).  There are two kinds of acid-free tissue out there: buffered and unbuffered.  Buffered paper has an alkaline reserve of calcium carbonate.  That means that for a short amount of time (three to six years, depending on the pH level), the paper will draw out acids within a given piece.  However, the vast majority of museums will tell you to use unbuffered tissue is the way to go for textiles regardless of whatever reckless storage spaces you have used previously.  Why is this?  Well, in case the acid gets drawn into the paper and you leave the paper in your dress well past its prime, all sorts of lovely things start happening and you may as well be blasting newsprint into your gown.

There are also a slew of other reasons that I’m sure a lot of you OCD museum professionals will know about, but there’s a limit to how absolutely fascinating a discussion on tissue paper can be.

Lindsey’s wedding dress …again

Get an acid-free garment box.

A brown cardboard box is not going to cut it.  But just because a box doesn’t look like a moving box doesn’t mean it’s not just as toxic.  When purchasing your box, make sure that it will be large enough to comfortably hold your gown without compressing it.  After going through all this trouble of gently packing and folding, and packing folds, it would be foolish to jam your Princess Diana-sized gown and train and veil into something the size of a banker’s box.  Even though you will most likely buy your box from a company that regularly supplies museums, they are most likely going to send you your acid-free box in …wait for it….wait for it….wait for it….YAY! you guessed it—a regular, acidic, brown moving box!  Yes, life sucks.  It’s not the end of the world.  However, it is advisable that, if you’re not chomping at the bit, waiting for the postman to drop off your box so you can save your precious gown from further destruction, you take the box out of the shipping box as soon as you can.  Yes, acids migrate, so when it comes time to store this box, don’t store it stacked on top of other acidic boxes.

At the Amherst Museum, 2002

Store it someplace where the temperature and humidity will be fairly constant, away from other acidic boxes.

Yes, your sainted grandmother’s dress was kept in the attic, and perhaps your mother’s was kept in the basement and I’ll bet that the vast majority of those gowns aren’t looking too spectacular right now.  The fluctuations in temperature and humidity may dry out the fibers or cause mold to grow, thereby weakening the fabric and preventing your dream dress from being shown in a museum alongside Ida McKinley’s wedding corset a hundred years from now.  If that sounds far-fetched then consider how weird it must feel for the long-dead Ida McKinley that a 34 year old guy in Chicago once saw her underwear in a glass case 140 years after she wore it.

Just saying.  Strange stuff happens.

Here are some links to companies that sell archival supplies including unbuffered (a.k.a. nonbuffered) acid-free tissue and garment boxes.

Please note that this listing is not an endorsement of any of the aforementioned vendors.  If they end up selling you faulty sh!t, don’t come crying to me.

A cast member of season four of Bravo’s Emmy-winning reality show, Project Runway, Steven Rosengard is a free-lance fashion designer of custom-made day and cocktail dresses as well as evening and bridal gowns.  Additionally, he is the Assistant Curator for a well-known museum in Chicago and an instructor at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation in Mount Carroll, IL.  In his spare time he enjoys meowing back at his cats and cackling wickedly when the confusion registers on their faces.

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