Long after the confetti has blown away, your gown will remain as a tangible reminder of your day. What to do with such a precious piece of clothing?
You might not know who Chiara Ferragni is but there’s a strong possibility you’ll have seen her wedding gown – or, at least, one of the many bespoke bridal numbers she wore during her three-day-long marriage extravaganza back in September. The fashion influencer and entrepreneur tied the knot with Italian rapper Fedez in Sicily and the buzz surrounding their wedding, and the dresses in particular, easily overtook the digital impact of Meghan Markle’s Givenchy gown. Ouch.
Aside from a solid social-media strategy, there’s much to learn from Chiara’s approach, especially towards her wardrobe. Sure, she had Maria Grazia Chiuri, the incomparable creative director of Dior, personally on the case, but even with access to the industry’s top talent and money no object, it’s what she chose to do with those advantages that’s so interesting. She kept the longevity of her gowns firmly in mind – opting for couture separates (a crochet playsuit and full tulle skirt for the ceremony, followed by a spaghetti-strapped corset and silk organza skirt for the reception, and finally a tutu for nightfall).
Even the embroidery was meaningful, in the form of lyrics from a song Fedez had written to propose to her. As a result, she can either wear most of the pieces again or treasure them as keepsakes (you won’t be catching them on Depop any time soon, that’s for certain). It’s a smart riposte to our wasteful, wear-it-once culture.
Thinking about what you’ll do with your gown afterwards is not getting ahead of yourself – it’s sensible. And your future self (sentimental and no doubt cash-strapped) will be grateful.
Whether you’re set on an elaborate transformation of your lace fishtail or you’re aiming to keep it safe for your prospective daughter’s nuptials, hold up: you’ve got one crucial step to nail first, and that’s the dry-cleaning.
“No bride wants to feel restricted on her big day, worrying about keeping her dress in good condition,” says Anna Cirignaco, owner of Glasgow’s Eleganza Sposa. “With photographs often being taken on grass, on beaches or even in woodland, it’s likely the hem will suffer somewhat. In order to preserve your gown, it is best practice to properly restore it shortly afterwards.”
“It’s essential to have your gown cleaned,” agrees Nicola McCormick of alterations and restyling specialists Elizabeth Wallace. “It helps to protect it for years to come and ensure the stains don’t bite into the fabric.” Luckily, sister organisation The Dress Cleaning Company has over 25 years’ experience caring for wedding gowns.
“Look for a specialist who is highly trained within the industry,” Nicola stresses. “That way, they’ll know bridal fabrics and embellishments such as lace and appliqué better than a regular dry-cleaner.” If they don’t offer their own, most boutiques will be able to recommend a local service.
Although it’s advisable to make an appointment as soon as you can, while the damage is still relatively fresh, this isn’t always possible. “There are usually much more pressing issues, such as honeymooning and relaxing!” laughs Anna.
You can get away with waiting a little longer if you need to. “Most dry-cleaners will be able to remove imperfections even after some time,” assures Karyn McLeod at Perth boutique Ivory Whites. “The process normally takes around three weeks and you can expect to pay from £120 for it.” It’s a price worth paying if you want your gown to last.
Did you nervously watch your teddy taking a spin in the washing machine when you were a kid? It might be a comfort to know what goes on behind the scenes. “The techniques used to clean your dress depend on the material,” Anna says.
“This can be complicated by the type of damage – for instance, stubborn stains on very delicate fabrics will be tackled in a different way from slight scuffs on more robust textiles. Regardless, the removal process will follow the same procedure: your dress will be inspected, with marks identified and then addressed appropriately.” You may also need to enquire about any minor repairs here, she points out, which are handled separately.
Next on the agenda is tidying that slinky mermaid masterpiece away. And, no, you cannot fold it up in among your winter woollens in a dusty cupboard. “Our affiliate dry-cleaning company provides a boxing service – this is the most professional way to keep it in the best shape,” explains Karyn.
“Cleaning your dress without having a storage arrangement in place can negate the entire cleaning process,” warns Anna. “The same is true the other way around. It will undermine the integrity of your gown. No matter how secure and protected your dress is, failing to prepare has an ageing effect.”
How exactly should it be tucked away for the future? “In a sturdy, breathable box packed with acid-free tissue paper,” answers Nicola. “Ours are built from pH-neutral board to guard against discolouration.” Tempted just to hang it up? That would be a massive nay from Nicola: “It’s vulnerable and open to moth damage,” she says. Ravaged mikado is not exactly heirloom material.
And one last word on storage – once it’s in that box, that’s it. No touchy. “We always advocate that the dress be left alone,” Nicola insists. “It’s packed by our specialists in a highly protective manner.”
Can’t bear the thought of never slipping into the bridal fantasy again? I’m right there with you. Two years down the line, it’s quite embarrassing how often my husband comes home to find me trying on my YolanCris gown ‘one last time’, rolling his eyes as the embellished Chantilly train drags across the wooden floor. But you needn’t resort to just playing dress up.
“Do something memorable with your gown,” encourages Karyn. “I have seen what are called ‘Cherish the Dress’ shoots, and I think it’s a genius way to wear it again. Talk to your photographer about getting some images taken.” Alternatively, if you’re feeling braver, the kooky American concept of ‘trashing the dress’, usually via water or paint, is another carefree shoot idea.
There’s also the option to convert it into something less bridal, to wear on anniversaries, special parties or maybe for a vow renewal (hint, hint, other halves). “Our seamstress can always look at alterations,” agrees Karyn. “The simplest change is to shorten the hem.”
“You may struggle to find another occasion to wear it,” admits Anna. “That is where the ability to adapt your gown can be a real advantage. Removing layers of tulle or petticoats can reduce the volume, turning it into a scaled-back, formal piece. A similar result can be achieved by lifting the fabric at the front and maintaining the length at the back.”
Nicola has a few more tweaks up her sleeve: “You could detach the bodice from the skirt and have it remodelled into a corset,” she suggests. “Or why not separate it to create a two-piece. You could even dye it a more ‘eveningwear’ hue.”
Thinking in more abstract terms could lead to prized possessions. “Be creative,” is Anna’s advice. “Incorporating elements of your gown into everyday objects, such as jewellery or home furnishings, can keep a part of your day with you at all times or become a gift or small token to give to someone close to you.”
Talking of generosity, dress donations are always deeply appreciated by charities (Wish for a Wedding, for instance, sends gowns to brides suffering from a terminal illness), as is selling to a ‘preloved’ site, to be snapped up by panicking brides on a tight budget, and to live on as part of another woman’s story.
Whatever you decide, know this: your gown is forever frozen in a memory. What else in your wardrobe can claim to be immortal?