Barbara Stone
Q&A Expert
Dressmaker & Alterationist
Wedding Gowns

With wedding season approaching, I’d like to talk about a couple of subjects that always seem to come up this time of year: alterations for the wedding party and preservation of the bride’s gown.

Sarah M. of Lancaster, PA, asked a common question: When should I get my gown altered?

The answer is to make your appointment AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

If you have an alterationist or dressmaker who you use frequently, then you know she gets really busy from about January until October. So let’s say, for instance, your wedding is in June but you would like to lose a few pounds before the wedding. Call your alterationist now and make your appointment. She will be able to at least schedule you and tell you when is the last possible date to get the job done. She may want to have a consultation to see the dress and get an idea of the construction and the possible alterations. Even if you lose 10 pounds, chances are you will still be 5’2” and need it hemmed! Almost every dress needs bustling and steaming.

And your alterationist will probably ask about the wedding party’s bridesmaids and mothers, too. Will they need alterations or steaming? She will need to allow time for them as well.

A wedding gown is usually the most costly piece of clothing a woman will ever buy. But what should she do with it AFTER her special day? Even though it’s impossible to see into the future, you never know who will want to use the dress again. Sometimes the bride herself uses it for renewing vows or for a special anniversary. Over the years, I’ve had daughters and granddaughters and even great-granddaughters want to use the dresses, or parts of the dresses. Sometimes a daughter- or granddaughter-in-law will want to use it. You just never know!

First of all, DO NOT hang the dress back in the bag and stick it in the closet! Hanging it will stress the fabric and create tears and wrinkles over time. Fabric will also turn yellow, and not necessarily evenly. I have seen dresses that get an all-over patina which can be quite lovely but I’ve also seen dresses that have yellowed in patches which is not so lovely. And don’t forget critters. Depending on the fiber content of your dress, bugs can absolutely ruin it.

At the very least, have the gown cleaned by a reputable company. If you are lucky enough to have an experienced dry cleaner in your town, take it to them, have it cleaned and they may even be able to provide the materials for preservation. But finding people who are skilled in handling wedding gowns is getting more and more difficult.

If there is no one in your community who provides this service, the next step is to find a preservation company. Your alterationist may be able to recommend one. If not, Google lists several reputable companies. Go to the Web sites and read about their treatments and services. Also, find out how long the company has been in business. Longevity says a lot about a company.

A good preservation company will first clean the gown, removing perspiration, oils from the skin, and as many stains as possible. Hemline dirt is almost always removable. They then use acid-free tissue paper to cushion it and place it in a display box which is also acid free and should be sealed to keep bugs and moisture out. Some companies will treat the fabric directly with their own formulas to keep the dress from yellowing before they box it up. In the past, preservationists have used vacuum sealing and even an inert gas inside the box, but those methods are not used by most companies anymore. Most companies will include instructions about how to open your box, check the dress, and reseal it. A reputable company will guarantee the preservation against bug infestation, mold or mildew getting inside the box, but it’s a good idea to check the gown every so often.

Preservations cost anywhere from $149 for a basic service up to as much at $795 for an archival treatment. Most gowns will not need a museum-quality treatment, but expect to pay about $175 to $195 for a good company. It’s a bit more than the cost of dry cleaning, but when you consider the cost of trying to replace the gown and its significance in your life, it’s worth every penny!

Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Rd. Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or

Barbara Stone

Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or