The most magnificient example of a long-running gown tradition is the Royal Christening cloak used by the British Royal Family since 1841 – worn by over 60 royal babies before its retirement, only recently replaced by an exact reproduct. The original had grown too breakable to continue using but look at how long it lasted, as it will continue to last with careful protection.
It’s very difficult to achieve such longevity considering how many wriggly little ones and excited relatives will handle the fabric over the years. Battling rips and tears, stains and natural aging… it’s a difficult task to be sure. The good news is that anything is possible if you start with the right materials and design, and follow through with proper cleaning and storage.
This quick guide will help you choose an heirloom-quality gown that wears well and ages beautifully, suitable for use over the generations. Starting a meaningful family tradition is well worth the thought and effort.
Choosing the Right Materials
High quality materials are well worth the investment. Heirloom gowns are usually made of quality linen, cotton, or silk – each material has its strengths and weaknesses as described below.
Handkerchief linen is a traditional choice, very strong and durable. This material will last for generations upon generations because of how easy it is to wash and care for. Linen can and does yellow with age but unlike other fine dress materials, you can easily whiten the fabric with non-chlorine bleach. Most linen comes pre-laundered for an accurate fit.
This material offers exceptional coolness and comfort – ideal for keeping the baby happy during sweltering summer christening ceremonies.
This is the most versatile fabric for a christening gown. Most families choose thin, breathable cottons but Swiss and American batiste is a great cotton option for heavier gowns. If you prefer cotton with a slight sheen, nelona might be the option for you. Look for fabric made of long staple cotton; long staple means that the fibers are longer and more resistant to breakage and wear.
Families do not choose silk for its ease of care or natural longevity – they choose it because of the fine, beautiful, and precious qualities silk can provide. Spot removal is exceptionally difficult but very possible. The fabric itself is sure to yellow over time but some families consider this as a benefit, as the natural aging process is usually exceptionally elegant and the age wears well.
Ornamentation and Size
Sizing is extremely important – heirlooms passed down from generation to generation need to fit babies of all ages and sizes. Even if your family traditionally baptizes infants at the earliest possible moment, it is helpful to account for delays in case a mother or father is away because of active military duty, business, health, or other unavoidable circumstances. Look for a christening gown that utilizes ribbon ties instead of button for the ultimate flexibility.
Ornamentation is a little trickier. Some types of ornamentation can actually decrease the lifespan of your christening gown. Metal beadwork, for example, is difficult to remove for storage and will eventually tarnish and stain the fabric. Metal-backed buttons are the same way (mother of pearl is the preferred option for heirlooms).
Ribbons and laces are popular ornaments but try to choose a material that closely matches the gown to avoid uneven discoloration. Polyester and nylon, for example, will yellow like any other fabric – but you might not be able to return these fabrics to white as you can with cotton or linen. Mixing fabric types can also make life a lot harder on you and your family when it comes time to choose a cleaning solution.
After the Ceremony
Clean the gown immediately after the ceremony to ensure that stains have no chance to set it; invisible contaminates like sugar and champagne will not show up on the dress until months later when it begins to yellow. Store the gown in only the highest quality preservation-grade fabric and paper you can find. Take some time to check out The Christian Baby for professional preservation kits.
Get excited! Your new christening gown tradition is sure to create many irreplaceable memories for your family. Every ounce of effort you put into choosing and preserving the christening gown is sure to prove worthwhile to your family – both the current generations and the future ones.