Ask Unclutterer: What to do with a wedding dress?

Reader Allie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I’ve been enjoying (and learning from) Unclutterer for quite some time, and am now downsizing from 1800 sq ft in a big city to 1000 sq ft on a lake in the country. Of the few things that I am not ready to unclutter, my wedding dress is one of them. After our wedding, I had my dress professionally cleaned and boxed, but the box is HUGE and much too large for our new wee cottage. Do you have any suggestions for how I could store my wedding dress properly with a smaller footprint? Perhaps a very good quality garment bag? Any advice you have for me would be so gratefully received.

What to do with a wedding dress is often a polarizing topic. It charges up emotions in people who are married, people who have been married but aren’t currently, and even people who aren’t married but have inherited their mothers’ gowns and/or their grandmothers’ gowns. I’ve joked with other professional organizers that the first rule of professional organizing is not discussing wedding gowns with clients. It’s a topic I like to avoid without exception.

But … I’m making the exception to my normal rule of not writing about wedding dresses because you have already decided to keep your dress and you are secure in this decision. I’m still crossing my fingers as I type, however, in hopes of not offending you.

Let me tell you about my dress and the path it has taken, which will hopefully be beneficial to you as you make your decision. The first thing you need to know is that I had a lot of fun at my wedding reception. By the time the celebration was over, I had chocolate icing smeared on the front of my dress (not sure how this happened), wine and other drinks spilled on the back of it (accidentally, by guests), and a good rip in the bottom hem (a mishap I had on the dance floor). The dry cleaner did what he could to save the gown, but there was no way he could have made it pristine. I didn’t even pay him to fix the hem. He cleaned it and put it into a moth-resistant garment bag and I was okay with this.

I had wanted to be a part of the Trash the Dress project so the dress didn’t need to be perfect, but the timing never worked out for the photo shoot to happen. As a result, my dress continued to hang in the closet in its special bag for years, also taking up a good amount of space.

When we moved out of our previous house in March, I found that my dress was covered in moth larvae. In its special moth-resistant bag, in my closet that was very clean and full of lavender sachets and cedar chips, it was no match for hungry hungry moths. I had my dress dry cleaned again and boxed — stains, rips, moth holes and all. Now, my intention is to have the good pieces cut up and recycled into about two dozen handkerchiefs that I plan to give as wedding gifts to nieces, close friends, future daughter-in-law, etc.

If you get a professional garment bag for your dress, be sure to open the bag and check on your dress every month. Also, constantly stock it with fresh cedar and lavender sachets. The professional moth-resistant garment bag is key because if you leave it in a regular dry cleaning bag the bag will disintegrate and stain the dress.

Personally, I think you should keep it in the large box. Since you enjoy keeping it, choose to get rid of something else in your home that matters less to you. Every six months or so put new cedar chips and lavender sachets in the box and check it out to make sure it’s okay. The box is not fully critter proof, but so far the box has been much better than the moth-resistant garment bag I paid big bucks for that didn’t work. If you’re a millionaire, consider encasing the wedding dress box in concrete and steel and unobtanium and submerge it in the ocean like a submarine … although I wouldn’t even guarantee pesky moths couldn’t find it there …

If at some point you change your mind and choose to get rid of it, consider:

  • recycling it like Andie Walsh does in Pretty in Pink or like I plan to do with the handkerchiefs
  • donating it to Making Memories breast cancer research foundation
  • donating it to the Glass Slipper Project, which accepts all types of formal gowns to give to students who are unable to purchase prom attire
  • or if it’s couture and icing free, I think you can donate it to The Bridal Garden, a non-profit bridal shop that accepts dresses to sell to benefit educational programs for children in New York City

Thank you, Allie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Be sure to check the comments for even more suggestions from our readers, and good luck with your dress storage.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

61 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: What to do with a wedding dress?”

  1. posted by Mimi2Madylan on

    This is a link to the story of my wedding dress. Thanks, Iris!

  2. posted by Wendy on

    What about storing it under your bed if you don’t want to use closet space or re-purpose it?

    My mom’s wedding dress has been stored under her bed for years and my gown and my sister’s gown are stored there as well. My sister was going to wear my mom’s dress but it didn’t fit so my mom had hers preserved when she took my gown and my sister’s gown in for cleaning preserving (we got married 7 weeks apart).

  3. posted by Kristina on

    I made my wedding dress of silk satin my mother had bought many years earlier. I planned to dye it to wear as a cocktail dress, but the fibers were too old to accept dye, and it turned out that my husband was sentimental about keeping it! It would also make a beautiful long skirt, satin jacket, bed jacket, or other garment, but fabric does not last forever unless very meticulously stored. If I had it to do over, I would not discuss it with my husband, as the wedding photos are actually more important to me than the garment. We have too much stuff already, and every less thing to store or move around is a blessing.

  4. posted by Sharon on

    I wanted to save my wedding dress, but where it would have more meaning. I bravely cut it up and made heirloom boot christmas stockings out of it. I love seeing them every Christmas on the mantle and it has lots of special meaning. I know I see it more than I would if I had kept the dress packed away. They really turned out even better than I imagined!

  5. posted by eileen on

    My sister ( takes wedding dresses and makes beautiful baby quilts for the couple’s firstborn. My son and daughter-in-law used their gorgeous quilt for the baby’s christening. It is a lovely family heirloom now. And with a history.

  6. posted by Sharon on

    This group takes old gowns (wedding, prom, bridesmaid, etc.)_ and turns them into burial gowns for stillborn infants. It gives the bereaved family a beautiful photo of their child to treasure. That is where mine will go.

  7. posted by Sharon on

    Or you can give them to theater groups if the gown is intact.

  8. posted by bryan on

    Do anything, but keep it. It’s just a dress and your only gonna get one wear out of it

  9. posted by emmer on

    i have seen wedding dresses made into christening gowns, boudoir pillows, and small crazy quilts. the most charming piece i have seen was a large, very realistic “picture” of an antique armoire, doors ajar, with the skirt of the wedding gown cascading out. other bits of the gown showed up in details of the hanging, such as in a bouquet of flowers and as a scrap of curtain visible at the window. beautiful use that was seen everyday by anyone entering their home. i have never seen hankies done–i’ll be adding that to my list of possibles.

  10. posted by Laura H on

    I have lugged my mid-90s nightmare of a polyester-puffed-sleeved-cathedral-length-beaded dress around for 15 years. From a cramped 400 sf apt, to a 5000 sf house with no storage issues without giving it a 2nd thought. We then spent time in a TINY temporary home while building our current home. I discovered when we moved that despite being stored in what I thought was a safe cedar lined trunk, a mouse made its way in and tried to make a nest. The train now has 2 chunks taken out of it. I had a momentary feeling of panic and then thought….it’s just a dress not the marriage. I still wanted to keep it because my daughter is young and I know she’d like a chance to try it on, but since I had nothing to lose, I threw it in the washer and spread it out on my bed to dry. I’m sorry at how much I spent on dry cleaning 15 years ago because other than the mouse holes, the dress came out looking gorgeous.

    I am saving it since I currently have the space and it shows a glimpse of my life to my daughter. But I now know that I’d be ok without it!

  11. posted by darcee on

    I made mine into my daughter’s first communion dress. It turned out so lovely and she was so excited and proud to wear it.

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