One of the most disregarded, and perhaps overlooked, issues in the very long TO-DO list of wedding planning is the issue of wedding gown cleanliness. For some reason the idea of keeping the wedding gown clean throughout the wedding and the possibility of having to deal with potential stains and dirt that may “attack” the wedding gown is never planned for or discussed before the wedding.
The topic only comes up when the wedding gown becomes stained and then there are tears and hysteria and copious glasses of water and seltzer, napkins and tissues and advice and suggestions proffered by every well-meaning wedding guest in the Hall. I want to change this! Let’s talk about wedding gown first aide. I want you to be prepared for wedding gown emergencies before they happen.
Let me set the stage: a lone bride, dressed head-to-toe in pristine white, is positioned in a setting where hundreds of people are roaming about elbow-to-elbow; where food and drink abound; where fresh makeup, lipstick, red wine and tears flow unreservedly and where the mother lode of all kissing fests resides. Don't get me started on outside chuppahs and the associated winter rain and mud or summer sand and dust. I don’t even want to discuss “special location” photography in wonderful “out of the way” locations requiring brides to climb trees, straddle fences, walk on lonely stretches of beach where the ocean meets the sand, sit on rusty swings and walk through streets so ancient they can only be found on maps illustrated with dragons and sea monsters.
It's really not a matter of if but really when the gown will get stained. If the gown becomes stained after the ‘just-before the chuppah to just-after the chuppah’ stages, say during the meal, then the damage is less significant. But if the stain appears early in the pre-chuppah stage, well it is a disaster of biblical proportions.
Whether you bought, rented or borrowed your wedding gown, you want to enjoy it thoroughly throughout the wedding and then return it or save it in the mint condition you found it in. How can that be accomplished? Well like everything else, knowledge and preparation are the keys to successfully dealing with the situation.
So let’s start at the beginning. Ask what fabrics were used in the construction of the gown. Many gowns are constructed of multi-layers of fabrics that give the gown the flow, stiffness, shine, shimmer or fullness the look requires. Each of these layers may contain different fabrics, including satin, net, lace, taffeta, silk, polyester, Lycra and others. Make sure you do not overlook the lining(s) of the gown, as these fabrics may react differently to stains and cleaners than the upper layers. You must also think about plastic or metal stays and bones that are a staple in the bodices of most wedding gowns on the market today.
Begin by talking to the salon where you bought or rented the gown and/or the seamstress who sewed the gown. Ask what fabric(s) the gown was made with and/or look at the label(s) to see a list of fabrics. If this is a designer gown that does not have a fabric label, contact the designer.
Ask the salon/seamstress/designer what is the best method to treat/handle/clean the following typical wedding disasters:
- food dressings and sauces
- water or other liquid spills
If you feel that you are not getting the kind of information you need, then my best recommendation is to take the gown (as soon as you can BEFORE the wedding) to a professional dry cleaner who has experience dry cleaning and treating wedding gowns. Ask him for the best methods for treating and handling the above mentioned stains. He may even have an easy-to-carry stain-removal product you can purchase and take with you to the Hall.
Tried and True Treating and Cleaning Methods
Having said all the above, I would like to provide you with some tried and true treating and cleaning methods you may be able to use. Remember these are only suggestions, please talk to an expert about the needs of your specific wedding gown!
- Before trying any product (yes, even plain water!) on your dress, put a little of the product on an out-of-the-way area or seam of the gown and check that it does not discolour or ruin the fabric color or appearance before you put it directly on a stain.
- Always gently blot, never rub a stain. Blotting can soak up a stain and/or prevent it from spreading. Rubbing can cause the stain to further set in the fabric.
- Always blot with a white towel or cloth.
- Blot the stain from the edges working your way towards the middle of the stain.
- Never use heat from any source to dry a stained area – even a water stain - as once again it may cause the stain to further set in the fabric or cause an even larger and more visible stain on the fabric.
- Water is NOT a “can’t do any harm” substance. Water can ruin silk, as easily as wine.
- Think of silk, taffeta and satin like you do of fire and lightening. They are beautiful and shiny, but they should not be touched! (Translation for the innocent: don’t mess with these fabrics unless you are an expert!)
- If in doubt: leave it ALONE! Photographers have been retouching photographs for, well, since photography began. Every photograph can be retouched and made beautiful.
- The usual wedding-related stains can usually be hand-washed out of polyester gowns and linings with water (and perhaps a bit of hand soap).
- In general water-based stains should be washed out with water and not with dry-cleaning solvents.
- Blood and wine should be blotted out with tepid/warm water and a white cloth.
- On an oily stain, made by salad dressing or sauce, you can try a sprinkle of baby powder and then blot the stain with a white cloth.
- Baby powder can help mask a resistant stain, but let’s be honest, how long will the powder ‘stick’ to the dress?
- I read somewhere that you can prevent a stain from spreading by blotting the stain with a piece of the same fabric. (Let’s say, if you have a shawl of the same fabric as the gown, you can use the shawl to blot the gown. I have never tried this, but it may be worth considering.)
- Lipstick and makeup can be removed with the stain-removal wet wipes available on the market today. Long-lasting lipsticks (the kind we love to use for weddings) may be much harder to remove from a gown.
- I am not telling you about (possible) stain removing products and treatments such as white vinegar or chalk or rubbing alcohol or soap or dish detergent, because you do not need to pack, carry and worry about these products. Nor do you have the time to deal with them and they can do more damage than good!
I think you know that rarely (unless the stain is large and in the front bodice of the gown) does anyone but the bride, her mother and a very busy-bodied eagle-eyed aunt notice stains on the gown. If your stain is on the train or bottom of the gown or any other barely noticeable area: let it go. Reason number one: no one notices or cares. Reason number two: you have better and more important things to deal with (hint: new husband). Reason number three: this is why they invented Photoshop, dear.
Armed with all the above information, it’s time for you to create your own take-along-to-the Hall wedding gown first aide kit with the following products. If you have a wedding planner, she should have a bag of her own. If not, delegate this bag and stain-removal duty to a trusted friend. While you are at it, don’t forget to print out a copy of my What Take to the Hall list and follow the instructions for all your bridal needs!
Wedding Gown First Aide Kit
· Small white towel or cloth
· Baby powder (white!)
· Stain-removal wet wipes
BFEORE YOU TAKE THE GOWN HOME OR WEAR IT TO THE HALL
With all my “let’s start at the beginning” guidelines, there is one more important issue I would like to discuss. When you pick up you gown at the salon, dressmaker, designer, friend or Gemach – examine the gown thoroughly before you take possession of it.
· Check for stains on any part of the layers of the gown
· Check the underarm areas for discolorations
· Check for stains on any part of the lining of the gown
· Check that the zipper works – zipping up and down (I am not kidding you, a zipper may go UP – but it may not go DOWN again)
· Check that the buttons and button holes match up and fit
· Check that all the seams are closed and well sewn
· Check that there are no tears ANYWHERE on the gown
· If you find a problem – state it immediately and clearly and document it (everyone has a cell phone with a camera these days!)
Last piece of advice: SMILE!