Friday, May 28, 2010
I'd like to start by telling you that one of the best parts of my job is that TIME FLIES. I get to work, and am so completely absorbed by the tasks at hand that before I know it it's time for lunch, and no sooner do I get back from lunch and it's time to start closing up the store. I have had jobs where time seems to crawl... you watch the clock as you perform a mundane task, usually one you'll be repeating over and over throughout the course of your career. Perhaps time flies because I am a social person and enjoy the interaction with my brides, their parties, and my co-workers. Perhaps it is the atmosphere of being surrounded by so many beautiful dresses and accessories. Perhaps it is because my job is different every day - yes, sometimes I answer the same questions over and over, but for the most part my duties take me different directions. Sometimes I am challenged by fixing a gown with a stubborn stain that has arrived in the mail from the manufacturer and the wedding is just weeks away... sometimes the challenge is helping a bride find a gown she loves on a limited budget. Whatever the challenge is, it is totally engaging and each day is something to which I look forward!
My second thing I love about my work is when the mail arrives! Yes, much like a preschooler, I love when the mail arrives because I can scan through it for pictures and thank you notes from brides I have sold gowns to. I think that a bride who takes the time after such a busy period of their lives to sit down and write a note of thanks, particularly if they send a picture of them on their wedding day is a marvelous thing. The words of gratitude and praise are a gift to me, they lift me up and make my day. I don't know if my brides realize that although, yes, I'm a salesperson, I do care for them personally and I become attached in a small way. A thank you note is, for me, like a bittersweet closure on a relationship that is ending. I cherish these notes, and keep them all.
My third thing I love is 99.9% of my brides! A few honorable mentions: L.C., who has been married now for quite some time, but was one of the first brides I had who put her entire faith in me and let me basically pick her dress, accessories, wedding colors, everything. She was stunning on her wedding day, and has referred many brides to me since then. I am very proud of her look, and she is a gorgeous and nice nice nice girl as well. S.W., married for a while and her sister C.W., who is due to be married shortly. Every time they come to the store it's a party! I love it when it becomes a family affair! Never do I laugh as much as I do when the sisters come in! And to J.H., who can best be defined as sweet and the girl you hope your son will marry, and for all the good advice she gave me regarding an upcoming trip. She ordered a dress from me that she had seen in another store, but wanted to do business with someone she could trust. There are so many more, M.D. who is now a facebook friend, C.G. who has such a similar style to mine that she became my new hairdresser, and J.B., who underwent a miraculous weight loss during the course of our planning together. Too many more to mention...
My fourth favorite thing is simple... so many beautiful dresses! How can someone not be happy when they come to work every day and are surrounded by satin and taffeta, ruffles and bows, flowers and sashes, embroidery and beading? The little girl in me loves to be surrounded by all that decadence!
And, saved for last, my fifth favorite thing about my job: my colleagues. What a dedicated, intelligent, supportive, fun group of people! Not only do we have fun together at the store (and an occasional girls-nite-out excursion, like the time we all went to see 27 Dresses together and had everyone in the theater looking at us as we guffawed at the brides on the screen telling their bridesmaids, "and the best part is that you can totally wear that dress again!") but I can feel really good about the treatment every consultant gives her own brides. From management to support staff, I have the luxury of feeling really good about the company I represent. I can truly mean it when I tell a prospective bride that she should buy her dress from us because we will take care of her. So, here's a shout out to Darlene, Bijou, Anniston and the others I hold in the highest regard and am honored to call friends.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
In most bridal stores, you will find that the majority of dresses will be available to try on in a size 10. This is an industry standard, and the manufacturers cut their samples in 10 first to accommodate the stores who have ordered them. In an earlier post I explained that bridal stores actually pay the manufacturer for every dress they have in the store (with some exceptions from up-and-coming designers, or struggling designers that will lend their dresses to a bridal store to test the waters, and the store can keep them and pay for them if they seem to be generating interest). This is why most stores only have one of each dress available, and since size 10's are the easiest to get, that is what you will mostly find. Stores are allowed, however, to order whatever size they want. Occasionally you will find that a store's owner will think that a particular style will appeal to a petite girl, and will order it in an 8 or a 6, or that the style will flatter a curvier figure, and it will be ordered in a 12 or 14.
The best stores, and the ones that are the most financially stable, will carry more than one of some or all of their dresses. They will offer a dress (like Fiorella!) in not only a size 10, but also a women's size, say, an 18. Since this store had to purchase each sample, this is an investment that should make a plus-size girl happy. Now she doesn't have to take the traditional route of ordering a dress that she has difficulty even trying on, but is now able to see the gown on her. In this age of such fierce competition I often hear from brides that have sought out my dressing room because of our large collection of dresses available to try on in women's sizes, that other stores they have visited have had few to no plus size gowns. Since some women will order a gown they haven't tried on, smaller stores are making the choice to spend their dollars on two different styles in a size 10, instead of two sizes on the same gown.
Keep in mind that these numbers are not the equivalent of traditional American sizing. If you go to the mall to buy a pair of jeans, and you find that you wear a size 10, be prepared that your bridal size is likely to be anywhere from 12 to 16 depending on your shape and the cut of the gown. Why is this? Many brides ask me in frustration why the sizes are so strange. I explain to them that these dresses are made and sold internationally, and since Europe, Australia and other locations use different sizing methods, it's kind of a blend.
Whether you are petite or more voluptuous, you should not expect to try on dresses in your exact size. A size or two in either direction is to be expected, and your consultant will help you to visualize the dress and how it would be in your size by holding it in the back for you. This, of course, does not apply to warehouse stores, like David's, that do not carry labels, but stock their own lines in most sizes. If you are a woman that knows in her heart that you cannot buy a dress you have not seen in your exact size, you either need to call the stores at which you are planning on shopping to find out how many dresses they have available in your size range (if you wear a size 20, ask what they have in a size 24, and also what they have in a 20-28), or you need to give up the dream of a made-to-order gown and buy at an off-the-rack warehouse store.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Not too long ago a bride came into my store. She was a plus-size girl (by bridal standards) who had a bit of a challenge with standard sample sizes. She was an in-between size, so she tried some of my plus-size samples, and they were large on her, and she tried on some standard samples and had a hard time envisioning them because they wouldn't pull all the way up her arms or come down over her hips.
She had brought with her a large group to help her choose her special gown, including her Mother and Aunts. These individuals appeared to have maybe not seen each other in a long time, because there was much storytelling and laughter going on outside the dressing room as the bride and I struggled to find the right dress.
Each time she came out of the dressing room to show the group a dress, it was met with responses of "you look like a cupcake" or "that dress makes you look like you are wearing a doily," and there would be guffaws all around. The bride would ask questions like "what do you think of this neckline on me?" or "I like this shade of ivory, what do you think?" to try to elicit some sort of positive response from the group. After all, she was shopping for her wedding gown, and although they might not have cared for the exact dress she had on, the bride had picked it to try on for a reason and she wanted to find out if the things she liked about it were working on her. She was unable to get any positive feedback.
Her Mother spotted in my headpiece case a crown. It was enormous, and they pointed and laughed at it. I explained to her that it was not a bridal tiara, but a quinceanera crown*, and that was why it was so big. Her Mom asked her daughter if she would try it on. She responded that it was way too big and she was focusing on finding the right dress first. Back in the dressing room, I supported her decision to not be distracted by her group but to continue with the wedding gowns.
Two dresses later, her Mother walks into the dressing room holding the crown. She says in a serious voice that she would very much like to see her daughter wear the crown with the next dress, and she leaves the dressing room. We put on the next gown and the bride really likes it. It has a fit she likes, she loves the beading, and the price is nicely in her budget. She dons the enormous headpiece and exits the dressing room. The moment she is within sight of her group they all burst into guffaws and jeers. She stands on the pedestal waiting for the group to settle down, but this doesn't happen. She is waiting for someone to notice the beautiful dress she loves, but the focus is on the large crown on her head. Eventually, she turns and heads back to the dressing room.
I am walking behind her and carrying her train so I don't see the tears until I close the curtain behind me. "They all think this is a big joke," she sobs to me, "I just want to be beautiful on my wedding day, and they just want to make fun of me. I don't want to try on any more dresses." I nodded my understanding, and encouraged her to return at another time, perhaps with just her maid of honor, to try on dresses again. She said she would try, but she was from out-of-town and had planned this trip to come see me and my great selection of plus-size gowns and didn't know if she could get back. As she walked out fully dressed, her Mom said, "What? Is the fashion show over?" and the group left the store.
I have thought about her from time to time, but haven't seen her since. I sincerely hope that she found a beautiful dress, and that her fiance and friends tell her how beautiful she is, because her Mom and Aunts certainly won't.
*Quinceanera is a "Sweet 15" celebration in certain Mexican and Latino cultures, the equivalent of a bar/bat mitzvah or a debutante party. It is traditional for the girl turning 15 to look much like a cross between a bride and a beauty pageant contestant, with a white dress and over-the-top crown. She will have attendants, like bridesmaids and groomsmen.
Friday, May 21, 2010
My first question is always whether or not she has worked with wedding gowns before. The response is so often, "She made her own wedding dress." That is wonderful and an accomplishment (certainly one I could never do!) but does not address the issues specific to altering a special-order gown.
Here is a list of ways in which altering a wedding gown is more challenging than altering a store-bought dress, or creating your own gown from scratch:
- Unlike clothing that is purchased at the store, or clothing that is made from a pattern, wedding gowns are specifically constructed with the expectation of alterations. The majority of alterations are accomplished in the side seams of the gown, as opposed to off-the-rack clothing that has darts under the bust and construction throughout that can be taken in or added for better fit.
- There are often details, like beading or appliques that are present across the seams, that require being removed and replaced during the alteration process. Getting an applique to lie flat across a seam that has just been taken in can be tricky to even a veteran seamstress whose experience lies in making a garment from scratch.
- A hem seems like a straightforward alteration, especially if you have done it a hundred times on trousers or casual dresses. Add a petticoat underneath, and a train on the back, and getting it straight and at the right height can be a time consuming process. Often a hem will have a lace trim, applique or another detail that needs to be detached before the hem can be sewn. Once the hem is complete, the trim is replaced. Since this detail will usually not be detached from the side seams to the train, it is a complicated maneuver to replace it without buckling.
- If you have strapless dress, it especially imperative that your side alterations be as good as possible so that your gown will not be inching down all day long. Who hasn't been to a wedding where the bride was hiking up her dress?
- A poorly constructed bustle will have the biggest impact on your day. If it is not even and part of it touches the floor, someone will likely step on it, causing footprints on your gown, and it will probably tear out the bustle. Losing your bustle means that not only will you lose your beautiful look, but that now you will have to carry your train around as you move amongst your guests.
- Typically, the delicate fabrics and beading involved with a wedding gown, and the fact that the dress is probably some shade of white, make it difficult to work with. The dress may get dirty during sewing and need to be cleaned. The fabric will wrinkle while in the sewing machine, and need to be pressed. Does your Great Aunt Fanny have the tools to deal with the cleaning and pressing of a fine fabric? A professional has special spot-cleaners and high-end irons designed specifically for wedding gowns.
I will never tell any bride that she should not use her "Great Aunt Fanny" for her alterations. And I know there are many bridal stores that have internet reviews claiming that their alterations are overpriced. My advice is that now that I have given you this information, talk to your Great Aunt Fanny about the specifics of your gown, the beads and trims, the alterations you are likely to need and her experience with them. The problem with badly done alterations is that often they cannot be undone. I remember a favorite bride from my past that had had an "experienced" seamstress working on her $4000 Christos dress. The seamstress took her lace dress completely apart to solve a problem with making it more short-waisted for the bride. Once she had it apart, she did some cutting of the lace that she shouldn't have, and she could not get the dress back together again. I met this bride 3 weeks before her wedding, as she came to my dressing room as a referral looking for a new dress. Don't let a generous and well-meaning Great Aunt Fanny get in over her head with your gown and do this to you.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I decided to write about bras today because I get asked about them all the time, and because it seems to be a hot topic of the moment. InStyle has a great article about bras in their current issue. There is a whole page devoted to special occasion bras, that is, bras that offer support without the traditional silhouette. You will find bras to suit a variety of dress styles: strapless, halter, low back, plunge neck, and criss-cross straps.
So my advice is this: when you come to your appointment, bring your best, most supportive and smoothing, best fitting bra. If you don't have one, go to a specialty store or department store and get fitted for one. This is an investment that will allow you to focus on the gowns you are wearing, instead of suffering angst as your focus is drawn to your trouble spots, back fat, cup bulge or whatever your issue is. I have seen countless girls wearing beautiful gowns that they are not really seeing, because all they see is a lump resulting from an ill-fitting bra. And does this bra need to be strapless? Not in my mind... but I make a living being able to visualize a dress on a girl even if it isn't the right size or color, so imagining away straps on a bra is no problem for me... only you will know whether you can do that too.
Once you have found your perfect dress, go back to your favorite lingerie spot and describe your dress to them. These women can recommend the perfect undergarment to suit the lines of your gown and its construction, and may have to special order it for you. Leave the tags on the bra and bring it with you when you try on your dress for the first time. Most professional lingerie stores will allow you to return the garment with the tags still on if it isn't exactly right, that is, it is visible under the dress, it causes a pinch or bulge it shouldn't, etc. If your dress is a very difficult cut (like a very sheer fabric that is showing every stitch and seam), bring your dress to the store to shop for bras until you find the right thing.
Remember that many photographs will be taken of you on your wedding day. You want to look smooth, supported and contained from every angle. And when the day comes to a close and it is time to remove your gown, try slipping into the restroom discretely to remove the supportive undergarments in favor of something a little "flirtier"... after all, the undergarments you wear throughout the getting ready, pictures, ceremony, reception and dancing are likely to be a little sweaty anyway, right?
Monday, May 17, 2010
In these economic times it is difficult for stores to compete with the warehouse stores (like David's), the pseudo-bridal market (like JCrew), and the no-inventory dealers (like websites). When you order a dress from a bridal salon, you are typically asked to pay for a portion of it up front. The store then orders your dress from the manufacturer. The bridal store pays the manufacturer for your gown on delivery. This means that the bridal store is holding your money for several months until your gown arrives (at which point the bride pays the balance). Stores that are in trouble are operating at a loss, and are therefore forced to spend the money from a bride that left a deposit today for her gown to cover the bill for a gown that is arriving tomorrow for a bride that ordered six months ago. Can you trust that this store will have had another bride order a gown from them six months from now when your dress arrives and they need to pay the COD to UPS so it doesn't get sent back to the manufacturer? After all, the money you gave them was spent months before...
Here are warning signs that a store is desperate for immediate cash flow:
- Willingness to discount a dress, particularly a special order, below MSRP. Since discounting a special order gown can result in the line being pulled from them, why are they willing to take that risk for one customer?
- Disregard for the rules imposed on them by the manufacturers. For example, more and more manufacturers are requiring that their stores disallow the taking of photographs of their designs unless the dress has been purchased. Since they reserve the right to pull their line from any store that doesn't follow their rules, why is the store letting one customer's desire for a picture jeopardize their future with the manufacturer?
- A store that will tell you anything you want to hear. The most common I hear? Brides will tell me that although I have told them that this dress will take about six months to arrive, and another store said the same thing, there is another store that said they can get it sooner. Dresses take as long as they take, and unless you are doing a Rush Cut, which involves a higher cost, orders are processed in the order received. End of story. No bridal store in America has "more pull" with the factory in China than another. Why are they misleading you? Because once they have your money, you are committed, and when it arrives in six months there's nothing you can do about it. Stores will also under-quote alteration prices and tell you things will be altered that can't. Anything that will cause you to leave a deposit with them.
- A store that lies to you. I had a bride recently who came in after having seen a dress she loved. She told me that the other store told her that the dress was made of silk. I showed her our sample of the dress and explained that it is called "silky satin", a beautiful fabric, but not silk. The word "silk" in the fabric refers to the weight of the satin, not the natural content of its fibers. She insisted that the previous shop told her it was silk, that they even suggested this dress when she said she wanted a real silk gown. I opened up the dress and showed her the label, "100% polyester" and even went into the office to get the manufacturer's trade catalog to show her that the manufacturer only offered this gown in one fabric, silky satin which is polyester. She was stunned that someone would lie right to her face. People will do anything when they are desperate for cash.
There are plenty of honest, stable stores out there. Check reviews first. Do not choose a store simply because they have the lowest price. Ask your consultant lots of questions and you'll probably get a sense of whether they are telling you the truth, or hiding something. Does an offer sound too good to be true? Probably isn't. Never pay for a special order dress in full.
Follow these tips and trust yourself to know whether the person with whom you are dealing can be trusted too.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Like so many bridal salons, my store also provides attire for other members of the party: bridesmaids, flowergirls, Mothers and the gentlemen in the party.
In was in this last capacity that I happened to be working on a particular Monday morning in question in the tux department. I was cheerfully processing the returned tuxes of a bridal party, counting shoes, ties, etc. and chatting away with the groomsman who sat looking decidedly partied-out. I love to hear the details of the weddings, how was it? Did the bride buy her dress here? How did she look? How was the weather? That sort of thing. As I have mentioned before in earlier posts, I love my job and love weddings, so I always love to hear all the nitty-gritty of what went right and what went wrong (some great stories!) after the event.
As we are chatting, I unzip the rental bag that contains one of the tuxedos being returned. I notice that the vest, tie and shirt are covered in brown all down the front. This is not a concern, for that is what laundry is for, but I still jokingly say to the groomsman, "Somebody had a good time at the chocolate fountain!" and proceed to unbutton and sort the pieces into the laundry piles. Just as he looks at me quizzically and says, "there wasn't a chocolate fountain at the wedding...", the smell hits me full in the face. And it had had a day and a half to ripen in the tux bag in the back of this groomsman's car. In the heat.
Did I mention I love my job? Sometimes I wonder if I should get hazard pay.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
What this leads to is quite a bit of attempted bartering in my dressing room. Let me educate you about how my dressing room (and if you have read my previous posts, my dressing room is in a bridal salon that carriers dresses in the $500 to $1500 price range, the price range about 85% of the population espouses) differs from the Kleinfeld experience.
Kleinfeld's sells high-end designer wedding gowns. These gowns can go all the way to $30,000 and higher. There is not a lot in the way of fabrics or beading that cost that much, and so it is no surprise that what you are paying for is the label. There is also quite a bit of overhead and profit built in to the price as well. Let's say for the sake of argument that Kleinfeld's, or another high end store like Priscilla's, follows the 2 1/2 times rule (I don't know that they do, it is just a common rule of the market) , and that a dress that costs them $3,000 to purchase will be sold to the bride at 2 1/2 times that, or $7,500. That means that Kleinfeld's gets about $4,500 for themselves for that dress to cover their expenses and the consultant's commission. Any accessories sold with the gown are marked up significantly more. Alterations are additional. So when a bride walks in and says, "I can't afford this dress... if it was in my budget, I would buy it!" and then Joan goes to the office with her calculator and comes out to say, "I can offer it to you for $6,200 but no lower," keep in mind that this whopping $1,300 discount is still allowing them a profit of $3,200, plus whatever they make on the accessories and alterations.
Contrast that with my dressing room in a somewhat different price point. There is something called MSRP, which means that when a store agrees to carry a certain line, they agree to not sell it below an agreed upon price, although they are free to mark it up and build in as much profit as they would like. The manufacturers discourage price wars because they want their gowns to have a certain status, and would not like them to be the "discount" dresses you can get at a bridal warehouse. But the ratio is a little different, often a 2x mark-up instead of a 2 1/2 x mark-up. So a gown that costs about $500 would often sell for $1000, leaving the store with a mere $500 to pay their expenses, consultant commission and profit. So not only is the bridal salon working on a much tighter margin, but they are also held to an agreement regarding the price they can charge for the garment.
That being said, there is a notable exception to this rule: if you are buying a sample off the floor, the salon has the right to sell it for whatever price they want since it is their property and considered to be "used". So if you love a deal, and you have found the dress of your dreams, and the sample fits you, is the color you want and is in good shape, consider asking for a discount to buy the sample off the floor. You may just get lucky and find that the salon is happy to do so!
I'd like to reiterate that I'm not associated with Kleinfeld's in any way and have no knowledge of their business practices other than considering them to be very service oriented. I am also a big fan of Say Yes to the Dress.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Ask a consultant who helps girls choose their perfect wedding gown and they'll give you an enthusiastic "YES"!
It is well-known in the bridal industry that if a bride shops at many stores, or for many weeks, or buys a dress and then immediately calls to change her mind to a different dress, she is enormously more likely to cancel the wedding mid-planning.
Does every bride who can't immediately identify "the one" when it comes to her attire end up without a husband? Of course not. But every store gets its share of canceled weddings, and in most cases there were warning signs.
I found out this week that a bride of mine has called off her wedding. As I look back, I could have predicted this outcome. She originally picked out her dress and accessories about a year ago. Over the course of the past year she has changed her mind on her dress once and on her veil and hair jewelry 3 times. She has made multiple trips to my store to order and select different items. Each time we have had a conversation about how special order items cannot be returned, yet she is so insecure in her choices that she continues to reselect. How can I be surprised that she seems unsure of her choice of a life mate?
Monday, May 3, 2010
But you can't see the inside of the dress, so what does it matter?
You might not be able to see it the offending marks from the outside, but a dress that is damaged inside or out loses its value. Most stores do sell their samples right off the floor in cases of close weddings, or if a dress is not selling well, sometimes the store will offer the bride a deal for taking the sample if she wants it. The goal is to keep the gowns as pristine as possible so that the shops can get a good price for their sample, helping every bride by allowing the store to recoup some of their high expenses and therefore enabling the store to keep their prices low.
Some stores around the country have taken drastic measures to ensure care in the handling of their garments. Many stores require a professional assist you in and out of the gowns to protect against broken zippers and ripped seams as a result of dresses forced over busts and hips too large for the size. Other stores require all visitors to remove footwear at the door during the snowy or rainy seasons to prevent puddling on the salon floor that can be damaging to hems and trains. The newest trend is surgical masks offered to brides who show up for an appointment heavily made-up so that difficult-to-remove lipstick stains will not mar their valueable inventory.
If you come across any of these measures, please note that these are signs of a store that cares about the quality and condition of their dresses. It may be an inconvenience, but it is the best bridal salons that are willing to ask for a little consideration in order to offer you a premium quality at the lowest possible price.
So if you wear a body bronzer to try on wedding gowns, do not be surprised if you are either turned away and politely asked to reschedule your appointment, or if you are at a self-service store and a passing consultant notes that you have damaged a gown by wearing it, you are asked to either purchase the dress or pay for its professional cleaning.