Getting That Gown Out of Town

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Wedding days are here again. That means it's time to tackle a question brides-to-be ask about with surprising frequency on our weekly online chat: How do you pack and transport a gown for an out-of-town affair? Problem is, most wedding dresses break two of the cardinal rules of smart packing: They're white and they're far from squishable. While there's no foolproof way to transport your dress, we culled the following suggestions from wedding and travel experts. Those with tuxes, bridesmaid dresses and other fancy-schmancy attire should take note as well.

· Stuff and go. You may be slimming down yourself, but when it comes to the dress . . . stuff, stuff and stuff some more. Peggy Wright of Richmond's National Bridal Service, which sells gowns and trains bridal consultants (804-342-0055, ), suggests using a combination of tissue and dry cleaner bags. Wright remembers the days when "we used to have long-sleeved dresses. You'd stuff them until they could almost stand by themselves." Sleeveless is the more seasonally appropriate style, but the logic still holds: After stuffing, put it in a zippered garment bag, folding the train once over at the bottom of the bag. Make sure the tissue is acid-free.

· Choose your travel mode wisely. Keep specific space, timing and security issues in mind when choosing your method of travel.

· Going by plane? Under no circumstance, according to editor Marilyn Oliveira, should you check your dress. If you've called the airline and are still not sure you'll be able to hand off the dress to a flight attendant to hang in an on-board closet, Oliveira suggests putting it in a garment bag and then into a hard-sided suitcase that will fit overhead. It's almost guaranteed to arrive wrinkled, but at least it will arrive.

·  Taking a cruise? If you're getting married at sea, don't freak out waiting for your luggage to appear in the cabin. According to Sonise Dautruche of the Wedding Experience, which handles nuptials for various cruise lines, most brides "bring their wedding dresses on board as a carry-on. Security checks it, to make sure it's okay, and then they go aboard the ship."

·  Boarding a train? Karina Romero, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, suggests that brides "travel during off-peak hours, when the train is not as crowded . . . that would probably prevent someone from throwing a suitcase on top of their wedding dress." You could bring your dress (packed in a garment bag), a suitcase and your laptop and still be within the two-piece luggage limit per person.

·  Drive if you can. If you or a trusted delegate (hello, bridesmaids) can get to the wedding site by driving, the car is probably the safest way to transport a dress. If the bridal store hasn't already packed your gown in a garment bag with a dress form and lots of tissue, the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists (800-501-5005, ) suggests stuffing the bodice with tons of tissue, creating a garment bag of sorts out of two fitted sheets and some safety pins, hanging the dress with the bodice facing the car door, and laying out the rest of the dress across the back seat.

· Ship it ahead. Let an overnight carrier such as UPS, DHL or FedEx do the transporting for you. According to spokeswoman Carla Boyd, FedEx doesn't offer insurance per se, but it does have a policy of declared value that you can pay to increase -- or just buy separate insurance. Either way, you can track your dress online and see who signs for it on the other end. FedEx packaging engineers (800-633-7019) can offer suggestions on how best to send a dress using their packaging materials.

Oliveira suggests having "the bridal salon provide a box and acid-free tissue to contain the dress," then wrapping the whole thing in plastic, then bubble wrap and then putting it in the package provided by the overnight carrier.

· Get the wrinkles out. No matter how you get to your nuptials, you will have wrinkles to contend with. "With most wrinkles, if you let [the dress] hang for a day or so, they usually fall right out," said Wright. And if hanging or steaming it in the bathroom doesn't make them disappear quickly enough, have on hand a travel-size steamer as well as the number of a local dry cleaner who can press it for you. The International Fabricare Institute (301-622-1900, ), a trade organization, maintains a list of members who are professional dry cleaners. Also, ( ), a destination wedding site run by online wedding resource The Knot ( ) and Travel + Leisure magazine, suggests bringing a "stain remover pack to spot clean any blemishes incurred in transit."

· Be prepared to transport it home. See if your bridal salon will receive and preserve your dress if you ship it after the ceremony's over. (Have labels already filled out and hand them over with the dress to someone in your wedding party.) Wedding dress preservation service Gowns Remembered, in Crofton, Md., for example, offers clients complimentary courier service within the continental United States (877-933-9399, ). The company is part of AWGS, which maintains a list of members in the United States, Canada, South America and Australia. All of them offer reciprocal free pressing if a family member or friend wears your dress as their "something borrowed."

-- Anne McDonough

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