DEAR ABBY: Believe me, I sympathize with "Duped in California" (Feb. 2). After my wedding in 1979 I sent my gown to a recommended dry cleaner and got the precious box back after waiting more than a month. It was sealed, with instructions to keep it sealed to preserve it.
A couple of months later I had a nagging feeling that something might be wrong and decided to look inside. Although I did get my dress back, it was far more soiled than when I took it to the cleaners. There were stains down the front and dirt along the hemline. I don't think the dress was ever cleaned, and even worse, I suspect it was worn by someone else.
My advice to brides: Send your gown to be cleaned, but check it before leaving the dry cleaners. -- DUPED IN CHIPPEWA FALLS, WIS.
DEAR DUPED: Thank you for your input, which was echoed by many other former brides. Wedding season is coming, and that's why I am urging brides-to-be to take your suggestion to heart. What happened to you appears to be a dirty little secret in the dry-cleaning industry.
To avoid being victimized, ask someone in the salon where your wedding gown is purchased to recommend a preservation specialist in your area. Then contact the Better Business Bureau to ensure that no complaints have been filed. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: After my wedding, my mother had the good sense to suggest we inspect my dress after it was cleaned, but before it was boxed. To our horror, the dress appeared to have been run through a washing machine. Also, there were spots all over the dress. We were informed that the spots were alcohol stains, which wouldn't show up until after the dress was cleaned. But, Abby, no alcohol had been served at my reception. -- BRIDE IN CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Duped in California" wasn't the first time I have heard of a dress going missing after it was supposedly returned from the cleaners. A TV personality was doing her talk show on weddings and presented her dress on the air to her audience only to discover -- to her shock and horror -- that her veil was the only thing in the box.
Because the dress is returned in a sealed box, most people don't think to check it, and this scam is commonplace and very lucrative for the thieves. Reputable cleaners should request that their customers inspect their gowns before the box is sealed so the disreputable ones can be weeded out from the ones who are honest. -- WENDY H., ANTIOCH, TENN.
DEAR ABBY: "Duped" is not alone. There have been many incidents of empty preservation boxes and stories of stolen or missing gowns, bridal veils and other family treasures.
Your readers can protect themselves by choosing a specialist who processes the gown LOCALLY, and by asking to inspect it personally before it is put into the container -- which should be completely acid-free and lined with fabric or acid-free tissue.
For more tips on gown care and information about safe storage, your readers should visit our Web site, www.WeddingGownSpecialists.com. -- SALLY LORENSEN CONANT, Ph.D., EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ASSOCIATION OF WEDDING GOWN SPECIALISTS