A After enlightenment, the laundry.
For most of us, dry cleaning our wedding dress sounds as appealing as finishing our thank you notes, but don't put it off. Dresses are almost always dirtier than remembered, and stains will set in permanently if left for too long.
Inspect your gown thoroughly at home, so that you are aware of any tears, stains, or other areas that will need special attention. When you drop your dress off, be sure to point out these areas to the cleaners. This is particularly important for spills that don't show, because dry-cleaning fluids will not remove sugar stains (such as wine or soda), so the dress needs to be pre-treated.
When you pick your dress up, inspect it before leaving with it to make sure that any spots have been removed. If you are going to have the gown boxed ("preserved"), ask to inspect it before it is boxed.
A good dry cleaners can often make a dress look like new, but they still can't perform miracles. Delicate fabrics can only be handled so much, and some stains can be permanent. ("Trash the dress" photo shoots are usually aptly named...)
Handling and Storage
Once your dress has been cleaned, it is important that it be carefully handled and stored properly.
Clean hands are key when handling any textiles, because human skin naturally contains oils and perspiration. Wash your hands frequently or wear white cotton gloves to keep dirt and oil from accumulating on the fabric. Take off jewelry or anything that may snag on the dress while you're handling it.
For long-term storage, fold the dress with plenty of acid-free tissue in an acid-free box and keep it in a cool, dry location. The dress should be periodically refolded to prevent the creases from becoming weak spots.
Heat, large fluctuations in temperature and high relative humidity will quickly degrade textiles, so don't store your dress in the basement or attic if you want it keep it!