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How well a dress ages also depends
upon the fabric. Plant fibers, such as
cotton or linen, as well as some synthet-
ics such as rayon, are more acidic than
protein fibers, such as silk or wool. The
more acidic the fabric, the more likely it
is to yellow rapidly, he says.
Yellowing isn't necessarily bad, but
there is a qualitative difference between
the uneven yellowing of a poorly cared-
for vintage gown and the aged patina of
a well-preserved one. "A patina speaks to
a gown's antiquity" says Scheer.
Another problem is weakness in a
gown's fabric, which can be caused by
mildew or dry rot. Such weaknesses are
not always readily apparent until after
the fabric has been cleaned.
For all of these reasons, it's important
to get an expert assessment of an heir-
loom gown before choosing to wear it.
It costs roughly $500 for an assess-
ment and cleaning, according to Scheer.
And Saidman says he has restored
dresses for as little as $50 to as much as
One of the most common problems,
Saidman says, involves cats. "The cat
sprays the weddinag gown on Wednes-
day or Thursday before a Saturday wed-
ding. We can get out the stain, but the
bride wouldn't be able to."
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The most challenging gown Saidman
ever worked on was from the 1930s. It
was an amalgam of lace, netting, hang-
ing glass beads, cotton and silk that took
three months to restore.
Dave Galusha, owner of Professional
Gown Preservation in Atlanta, restored a
dress even older.
For a bride who wanted to wear her •
Galusha restored a Civil War wedding
gown that had been stored in a trunk
for 110 years.
With four months of work, Galusha
was able to restore the dress, with some
"interesting support inside" at a cost of
Brides also should look for an expert
seamstress if alterations are required
because average sizes have changed over
the years. In addition, an heirloom
gown that has yellowed may be difficult
to let out because the fabric beneath the
seams often has not changed color.
Nancy Culotta, owner of Bridal Sense
in Roswell, Ga., often sends vintage
gowns to Saidman for restoration.
When they return, her seamstress does
"A gown is considered vintage once it
has hit the 20-year mark," says Culotta.
"The material has changed a lot over the
years; the fabric is more delicate, even
the threads. A lot of them have antique
lace, and that is also fragile."
Once a new — or vintage — bridal
gown has been worn, there's the matter
of preserving it. In the last 10 to 12
years, Saidman says, more brides have
been preserving their gowns for posteri-
Galusha says brides looking to keep
their dresses in shape should do a little
research before the wedding. "If she
spent half as much time researching a
preservationist as she did finding her
gown, these horror stories would go
away," Galusha says.
He suggests brides look on-line to
educate themselves and ask bridal shops
and coordinators for recommendations
for good preservationists. He advises
against taking gowns to dry cleaners.
"Would you rather have it preserved
by a dry cleaner or by a textile conserva-
tor," he asks.
Preserve Or Clean?
Galusha explains the three steps a textile
conservator would take to ensure a dress
will last at least 75 years:
The garment is cleaned to remove
even the invisible stains. Then, the dress
is brought to a neutral pH level; chemi-
cals are removed from the fabric so it
won't age. Then it is hand pressed and
placed in an acid-free environment.
According to Saidman, there are
"three big things" that will jeopardize
the preservation of.a -bridal gown after
the big day:
• Leaving it hanging on a hanger.
"Because of the weight, the dress will
stretch and pull and lose its shape.".
• Leaving it in a plastic bag, especially
a zippered bag. "The plastic outgases' as
it ages and weakens the fiber of the
• Not having it professionally cleaned
because no stains are visible.
"Champagne, sugar, white wine and
perspiration don't leave visible stains, but
in less than five years, they appear." ❑
Robin Miller is an Atlanta freelance
writer. Liz Poppens of Copley News
Service contributed to this story.