In the excitement and busyness of wedding planning, we often give little thought to the cleaning and preservation of the wedding gown. But suddenly the wedding day is over and you’re left with a gown that desperately needs cleaning – and soon. Where to turn? Who can you entrust with this most precious of gowns? Here’s where the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists can help. Highly trained in the art of wedding gown cleaning and preservation, these specialists are available to provide the best possible service in Australia and all over the world. Preserving the gown is like preserving some of your wedding day story and memories for future generations, so don’t let your story end with the nightmare of a ruined dress. Here, we welcome Sally who explains the importance of expert cleaning and preservation with some great ‘stain saving’ tips along the way.
Please tell us how your business came about?
Many years ago a cleaner in Atlanta, Georgia, developed a process to restore yellowed and stained gowns to the true color and licensed other cleaners to use his process. In 1987 the first five to license the process decided to form an association of cleaners who focus on the care of specialty gowns—especially the care of wedding gowns. Today the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists has more than 100 members represented in many hundreds of cities around the world.
What is the core activity of the business?
Members of the Association offer a wide array of cleaning services from shirts to homewares, but each has special expertise in cleaning, restoring, and preserving wedding gowns and family heirlooms of all kinds. A few of us, including my own company in Connecticut, work on nothing but gowns.
Image courtesy of Association of Wedding Gown Specialists
What sets your business apart?
From the very beginning, the original five understood that trust and quality are essential to gown care. Brides want to know they can trust a Specialist who will safely clean their gowns. Our members remove stains by hand so they can strictly limit the amount of time the gown is in the drycleaning machine. Then when we preserve the gown, we use completely acid-free, museum-quality storage materials that will not yellow the gown. Many of our members have machines that use earth-friendly solvents, but we also offset all carbon emissions with donations to Carbonfund.org so our preservations are green gown preservations. But what makes us truly unique is our guarantee.
Each member of the Association honors the guarantee of every other member, and when the gown is to be used again, any one of us will press the gown at no charge. Our preservations are endorsed by the Association of Bridal Consultants, the organization dedicated to wedding professionals worldwide.
What countries are you currently situated in?
Currently there are members in Australia, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Oman and the United States. By the end of the year, we expect to be represented in several other countries as well. (To find a specialist near to you click here).
You have a number of Australian members. Where are they located?
In Australia our members are in Gold Coast (Neweys Drycleaners – Southport, Southport Park, Ashmore, Bigerra Waters, Oasis Broadbeach and Runaway Bay Drycleaners), Lindfield (Sydney) (Wedding Gown Dry Cleaning, Jeeves Dry Cleaners), Canberra (Top Cat Dry Cleaner), Bendigo (Bendigo Drycleaners), Gisborne (Hyde’s Quality Drycleaners), Mount Eliza (Eliza Dry Cleaners), and Bulleen (Melbourne) (Penguin Drycleaners). We have only been active in Australia for two years, and we expect this network will grow much larger over time.
What extra training do you give them?
All were established, quality cleaners before joining the Association and are active in the Drycleaning Institute of Australia. Two were named Drycleaner of the Year, and one is the immediate past president of the Drycleaning Institute of Australia. They receive newsletters with information about designer gowns and technical procedures, and we are available 24/7 for technical questions. Many exchange information in our chat room. We also expect everyone to follow museum-quality procedures, honor the international guarantee, and use the very best museum-quality storage materials.
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Do you provide any services pre wedding to the bride?
Many brides choose a sample gown or one that has been worn before, and these gowns often need cleaning before the wedding. We do this, and many of our members offer alterations, too. By the way, always have a gown cleaned before alterations. Drycleaning is not supposed to shrink clothing, but it can happen. Better be safe than sorry. We also press gowns that need a touch-up before the wedding, and many of our members will deliver the gown to the wedding venue.
Why is it important to clean a wedding gown to museum quality practices?
First and most important is the identification of the fiber content of the gown because the fiber and the way it is woven determine the type of chemicals needed to remove stains. weddinggownspecialists.com/content/weddinggowncarelabels Next is the identification of the decorations on the gown. There are pearls and other beads such as crystals that react badly to some cleaning solvents. Other decorations require special fabric buffers to protect them. It is also important to identify the stain itself because some stains dissolve in a water-based chemical and others do not. In essence, if the Specialist does not examine the gown carefully, take extra steps to protect the decorations, and use the proper solvents, the gown can be badly damaged.
Are you able to remove any stain?
As a general rule, the older the stain, the more difficult to remove. Red wine and mud are always problematic, and some stains such as old blood stains cannot be completely removed without damaging the gown, especially if the gown is silk. Silk and other natural fibers such as cotton and linen are hollow. Therefore, the stain penetrates and bonds with the fiber—in effect the stain dyes the gown. Artificial fibers are solid, and the stain sits on top of the fiber. That is why it is much easier to clean artificial fibers.
Image courtesy of Sally Lorensen Conant
How should we spot treat the gown if red wine or lipstick is spilled on the gown at the wedding?
Red wine and lipstick are two very different stains. Wine is a wetside stain which will dissolve in water, and lipstick is a dryside stain that requires a dry solvent such as cigarette lighter fluid. Put something absorbent such as a towel underneath the stain, and use another towel to dab gently with the appropriate solvent. Unless the bride is very uncomfortable, it is often better to do nothing until professional care is available because rubbing the stain too hard will damage the gown. https://weddinggownspecialists.com/content/emergencygowncare
I believe that you use carbon offset measures – how is this achieved?
Even the use of earth-friendly solvents generates carbon emissions, but carbon emissions can be offset to neutralize their bad effect on the environment. The leading nonprofit carbon offset and climate solutions organization is Carbonfund.org. We asked them to help us measure the carbon emissions generated at each stage of the cleaning and preservation process from the bride’s trip to and from an Association member to the cleaning procedures to the manufacture of the wedding chest. Then we doubled the estimate to be sure we covered absolutely everything. Based on that number, we make donations to Carbonfund.org, and they offset carbon emissions around the world with projects such as planting trees.
How do you store a wedding gown for many years, so when you remove it, it looks as good as new?
Ordinary paper and paperboard contain acids such as lignin, and over time acid scorches fabric. Oxidation caused by air and light also discolors gowns. When silver oxidizes, it turns black; fabric turns yellow. Gowns can be protected from air and light by storing them in acid-free tissue in acid-free containers. Folds should be buffered with acid-free tissue to prevent hard creases. Gowns can also be stored in freshly washed unbleached muslin or even in a sheet, but the structure of a container is important. Read about the benefits of structure at https://weddinggownspecialists.com/blog-post/Bag-Versus-Box-Which-Is-Best-For-Your-Bridal-Gown
What are some myths about wedding gown cleaning and preservation?
For me, the most frustrating myth is that a gown cannot be cleaned before the wedding because it will be ruined. Wrong! Why should the bride worry about whether makeup on the inside of a gown or stains on the outside will be noticed when she can wear a completely clean gown? Cleaning before the wedding is no problem when the work is done by a Specialist. The most dangerous myth is that gowns should be stored in blue paper. Blue paper is NOT acid free and will yellow gowns. Plus if the gown gets wet the paper will cause a blue dye bleed that is very difficult to remove.
Do you have some tips on how to travel with a wedding gown?
Put the gown on top of the suitcases when traveling in a car! Seriously, most shops stuff and bag gowns that make it easy to travel by car. Air travel is more complicated because most airlines insist the gown be put into the overhead, and a bag is not much protection from the heavy suitcases around it. Two choices: buy a seat for the gown—and there are, believe it or not, brides who do this—or put the gown in a container that can be carried on board and put into the overhead. Brides should pack a portable steamer, too, or plan to have a professional press the gown they reach the destination. weddinggownspecialists.com/content/destinationweddinggown
Image courtesy of Association of Wedding Gown Specialists
What do you love about your business?
Making brides and moms happy! Brides are so keen on their gowns, and I love watching their faces light up when they come to inspect their gowns after we have cleaned them at my own company. Moms even cry sometimes when they see what we can do with the gowns they or their own mothers wore. It’s something all our members enjoy. Some have even told me focusing on brides has put the fun back into the business.
What do you love to do when relaxing?
Love gardening—in another life I was an art historian, and gardening is a bit like painting with flowers. Also love to travel and have been to Australia twice. Beautiful country with absolutely the nicest people in the world. Whenever I stopped in the street to look at a map, perfect strangers rushed up to ask if I were lost and offer help. No other country in the world where that would happen!
Thank you Sally for sharing your story. To find out more about the Association of Wedding Gown specialists visit the website.
Headshot courtesy of Sally Lorensen Conant