After her wedding day, Anna Murray followed the usual routine. She carefully wrapped her designer Amsale wedding gown — her backup dress — in tissue, squeezed it into a garment bag and put it in a box.
But unlike many brides, Murray didn't shove the box into a cob-webbed corner of the attic or bury it in her closet. Instead, she shipped it to Virginia to someone she'd never met — a young bride-to-be who bought the gown for less than half its original $3,400 price.
"I felt happiness and sense of a good deed to send such a beautiful dress to someone that loved the dress as much as I did, and at a discount," recalled Murray, 36, a personal assistant from Bridgewater, N.J., who sold the dress on PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com.
Brides are getting more creative about finding new plans for these pricey, though sentimental, investments. So the life span of the wedding dress is lengthening. Gowns are being donated to causes, and due to better storage materials — like acid-free paper and paper board — they can survive much longer than they used to.
But most brides fail to make any plans for their dresses, according to Sally Lorensen Conant, the executive director of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists.
"The most common thing is that brides just put them in the closet and don't know what to do," Conant said matter of factly. "It's one of those things, I'm fond of saying — it's like telling brides they have to do the dishes after dinner [at their wedding]."
There were approximately 2.3 million weddings in the United States in 2006, costing $26,800 on average, with $1,841 spent on "wedding attire," according to The Wedding Report, by Shane McMurray. And a poll conducted by PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com found that 17 percent of the 309 brides polled sold their gowns so that other people could enjoy them. Another 17 percent said they sold second, backup dresses.
"I don't think today's bride has a belief that they should save their gown for their daughter to wear it one day," said Lee Gibson, founder of the Web site. "And I think the practicality of saving [and] storing a dress creates issues."
Other gowns are donated to charity. Before Robin Blumenthal, 37, a director of human resources, married for the second time, she thought about reusing her first gown. That didn't work, so she donated her Candice Solomon gown to the Bridal Garden, a children's charity in New York City.
"Just for charity reasons, and that someone else could have really an expensive gown to wear," said Blumenthal, whose second dress is now in her mother-in-law's basement.
One of the most popular wedding-dress charities — Brides Against Breast Cancer, part of Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation of Portland, Ore. — uses proceeds to grant wishes for terminally-ill breast-cancer patients. Some 35,000 wedding dresses have been donated to the organization since 1999, reported foundation co-founder Fran Hansen.
Many of the donations are from women who have lost loved ones to the disease, or who know someone with breast cancer.
"These wedding gowns that are sitting under people's beds, closets, on shelves — their owner sees them as a wedding dress being stored and sitting there," said Hansen. "But what they truly are is that they're wishes waiting to be granted."
Restoration and preservation, which costs $200 to $250 on average, is also growing more popular as preservation techniques improve, added Conant.
Gown preservation has been going on since the 19th century. But brides today are more aware of the risks of leaving a gown untreated and badly protected, said Conant.
Brides who simply throw their dresses into boxes are likely to open them up years later to discover the gowns have yellowed. Dresses are more likely to be damaged if exposed to extreme temperatures.
Other causes of withering include stains, such as Champagne blemishes that morph into caramelized brown spots. The worst gown Conant ever tried to restore had been stored in a box in a crawlspace — where the bride's cat had used the container as a litter box. And while Conant was able to restore the gown's color, the breakdown of the fibers eventually ended its life.
After Sept. 11, more brides began restoring family bridal gowns, according to Conant.
"I think after 9/11 there was a lot more interest in wearing vintage dresses, and young women who wanted to wear a family dress. So we did see an upsurge in restoration of dresses, because their grandmas or mom had not taken care of the dress properly — because it wasn't a very good product in those days."
Well-preserved gowns are likely to have a bright future: "Fabric has a shelf life of 200 years" when taken care of properly, stated Conant.
Brides, of course, typically prioritize the longevity of their marriage. "If I don't sell the dress I wore on my day, I won't be completely upset that I didn't get rid of it," Anna Murray said about the dress she married in. "It did mean something — it does mean something. I have the photos, and I have the husband here. [That] is so much more important."