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Vacuum Sealing Your Wedding Gown – The Ultimate Guide on Why it is a Recipe for Disaster

Vacuum Sealing Your Wedding Gown – The Ultimate Guide on Why it is a Recipe for Disaster

One of the most common questions we’re asked, and a very well debated topic, is the question of whether your wedding dress should be stored in a vacuum sealed container.  Even the term “Vacuum Seal” brings about mental images of “freshness”, “longevity” and “contaminate free”.  While vacuum sealing might be a great solution for those leftovers from Aunt Edna’s famous meatloaf recipe, vacuum sealing your wedding gown can be a recipe for the perfect storm that will end up ruining your cherished wedding gown, making it a faded, yellowed memory from your otherwise perfect day.

To help better understand why services that vacuum seal your wedding gown, or going the DIY route of vacuum sealing it yourself, will end in disaster, we’ve collected sources from the most trusted and thoroughly scientifically tested fabric conservation and museum curators in the world.  These sources include The Smithsonian Institute, The American Institute for Conversation of Historic and Artistic Works, and The National Archives and others. These organizations are trusted to care for textiles that are thousands of years old and include Native American Ceremonial Gowns, the Nation’s first flags and gowns of America’s First Ladies. Let’s begin by looking at the foundation of your wedding dress, the fabric it was crafted from.

Understanding the Fabrics of Your Wedding Dress and How they Age Over Time

The modern wedding dress has evolved into a beautiful, luxurious, and extremely complicated weave of fabrics.  Satin, silk, charmeuse, chiffon, organza, tulle, and lace are just a few of the many materials  fashion designers craft their runway-worthy wedding gowns from and each has their own set of unique properties.  The one property most all hold true to is that they are all organic.  As all organic materials age, they slowly break down and are constantly in a state of deterioration.  While our wedding gown preservation process acts to drastically slow down this process to a near stand-still, it is simply a function of the natural fibers.  This deterioration is caused by the breakdown of long-chain molecules into shorter chains which over time will cause the fabrics of your wedding gown to become brittle if left untreated.

wedding gown preservation assessment

Silk dry-rot caused by improper storage.
Photo Credit: Canadian Conservation Institute

wedding dress cleaning inspection

Armpit staining over time
Photo Credit: Canadian Conservation Institute

Why Your Wedding Gown Should be Cleaned Before Storage

Did you know that dust particles on the surface of your wedding gown can actually cut through the fibers in the fabrics of your gown through microscopic friction and abrasion over time?  This is just one of many reasons why your wedding gown should be professionally cleaned before being placed in long term storage.  Another strong case for cleaning are invisible stains from your wedding day which can include makeup, body oils and sweat, oils from perfumes, and many other contaminants.  These invisible stains will slowly break down natural fibers, resulting in unsightly yellow and brown staining along with making fabrics weak and brittle.  Ensuring these stains are removed before storing your gown is the only way to be sure spot staining won’t ruin your gown many years down the road.

Vacuum Sealing Your Wedding Gown Traps in Moisture

Affirmed by the Smithsonian Institute, textile fibers need to be stored in an environment where adequate air movement exists.  Fabrics should not be sealed in air-tight plastic bags or containers to prevent long term damage from moisture condensation.

Because textile fibers need to be in an environment where there is some air movement, fabrics should not be sealed in air-tight plastic bags or containers to prevent damage from moisture condensation

Source: Smithsonian Institute – “How do I store antique textiles at home?

What is the end result of moisture trapped in an air-tight storage container along with your wedding dress?  Dry rot.  Dry rot has little to do with rotting, but instead has everything to do with mold damage.   The most common cause of dry rot in fabrics is storage in a humid environment.  When you are packaging your dress into a vacuum sealed container, it’s impossible to keep microscopic mold and mildew spores off the surface of your gown.  These spores that naturally circulate in the air are fed by the moisture trapped within the fabrics your gown, breaking down delicate fibers.  Unfortunately, dry rot and fabric weakening happen over a long period of time and will most likely not be noticeable until deterioration is extreme.

Vacuum Sealing Your Wedding Gown Ruins Your Gown’s Natural Shape

Fragile fabrics, like those your wedding gown was lovingly crafted from, like to wear thin along sharp folds.  Rather than folding your wedding gown, your gown should be rolled over safe materials so that no sharp creases exist.

The greatest care must be taken to avoid creasing the fabric in the process of rolling it because creases can split fragile cloth as cleanly as a knife can.”

Source: Smithsonian Institute – “How do I store antique textiles at home?

The bust we utilize in our Wedding Gown Preservation Kit, combined with our acid free tissue paper, allows our professional fabric handlers to package your gown using a roll-over technique that eliminates any fabric creases in your wedding gown.  The process of vacuum sealing your wedding dress creates extremely sharp and unavoidable creases as air is rapidly removed from the plastic bag.

Vacuum Sealing Your Wedding Gown Exposes your Dress to Plastic Fumes

Many plastics, especially those not designed for long-term storage, don’t hold up well over time.  This is especially true of your typical DIY vacuum sealed containers that you’d normally use to store seasonal clothing.  As they age, these plastics give off fumes due to molecular level decomposition.  These plastics and the fumes they give off should never come into contact with your wedding gown, an impossibility with these types of DIY vacuum sealed containers.  If you’ve considered storing your wedding dress in a vacuum sealed container to ward off moths and other little critters, this can easily be accomplished by storing your wedding dress in a clean, dry, cool environment and by conducting regular yearly inspections of your wedding gown.

Ideal Conditions for the Storage of Your Wedding Dress

Now that you know all the reasons why you shouldn’t vacuum seal your wedding dress, let’s take a look at the ideal conditions to store your wedding gown after it is professional cleaned and preserved.

Knowing the ideal settings for temperature, relative humidity, and visible light, and knowing how to filter UV radiation and pollution is essential for preserving your collection.

Source: National Park Service – “Museum Handbook, Part I

The general rule of thumb, which all of our sources agree on, is that the ideal conditions to store your wedding dress are the same as which you’d be comfortable in.  This eliminates places like musty, humid basements and the extreme temperature changes you’d find in an attic space. 

How Humidity Impacts Wedding Gown Storage

Wedding dress textiles are hygroscopic, which means that over time they will naturally absorb and release water vapor found in the air as relative humidity levels rise and fall.  At very high relative humidity levels, fibers will swell, dyes will transfer and mold can grow. The Canadian Conservation Institute states that mold growth on garments can happen in as little as 2-3 days in an area where humidity levels are 90% and above, where as humidity levels at 50% and below virtually eliminates mold growth when kept at a constant temperature of 77°F.  In a worst case scenario, mold and the consequent growth of microorganisms, cause deep staining which is unfortunately impossible to remove.  Mold growth can also weaken fibers, many times to the point of disintegration.  If the living space in your home is air conditioned, your gown should be fine during those hot, humid summer months.  If not, it may be best to give your cleaned and preserved gown to a family member or friend for storage in their humidity controlled home.

How Temperature Impacts Wedding Gown Storage

High temperatures can also greatly impact the longevity of your wedding dress.  Chemically unstable fabrics, such as weighted silk, common in wedding gowns, are especially susceptible to high temperature deterioration.  Low temperatures have many benefits to textiles including reducing the rate of chemical decay, and lowering the risk of insect infestation.  In an extreme example, the rate of fabric decay in an ideal temperature of 32°F and 86°F is respectfully 20,000+ years and 250 years.  This example is a great case for not storing your wedding dress in extreme conditions that often occur in an attic space.

How UV Light Impacts Wedding Gown Storage

UV light is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to long term fabric storage.  UV radiation occurs through the process of photooxidation, often referred to as phototendering, and results in fabrics becoming weakened and embrittled over time.  Traditional dyes can increase photooxidation and silk fabrics are especially prone to self-destruction in a short amount of time if exposed in length to UV light.  Storing you wedding gown in a dark place, rather than in direct sunlight, can mean the difference between a gown that lasts 2000 years vs. 100 years.

So Where Should You Store Your Cleaned and Preserved Wedding Dress?

The best place in your home to store your wedding gown is underneath your bed.  When you receive your wedding gown it will come in a display case which is stored inside an additional storage container that blocks UV light.  Storing this container under your bed will most likely be the best place in your home for your wedding gown.  The simple reason is that your bedroom is the one place in your house that you spend the most time in, and the one room you want to be most comfortable for sleep.  This means the temperature level and humidity levels in your bedroom that you are comfortable in are most likely going to be ideal for your wedding dress as well. 

If you have any questions on storing your gown and why vacuum sealing your wedding gown could end up in disaster, feel free to reach out to our fabric experts.