Friday, July 30, 2010

Tessa: Engaged!

For this Feel Good Friday, I'd like to write briefly about a happy occurrence this week at the bridal shop: one of the consultants got engaged!

I remember when I got engaged. I had already been in the wedding business for several years at that point. (Click here if you need a reminder as to my resume!) And as you can imagine, working with weddings can make you look differently at this blessed event. Some people who become engaged after being wedding professionals are so jaded that they have a minimal event or even elope. Some will jump into the planning with a vigor reserved only for those who finally get to make their own choices after some time of watching other people's missteps. Let's face it, watching brides put together teal and orange for their wedding colors or encouraging the bridesmaids to wear cowboy boots with their formal dresses can be frustrating. Every unmarried professional repeats the mantra in their head, "I will NOT do this when I plan MY wedding." I certainly did! I remember creating a list of all the things I had seen other people do that I was SURE I wasn't going to do at my wedding. Items that made the list were:

1. Serve rubber chicken
2. Make guests pay for their own drinks
3. Pay $7,000 for a dress and sacrifice having enough food
4. Waste money on "token" favors like scrolls and matchbooks that would get thrown away
5. Have carnations and filler greens in my bouquet
6. Have bridesmaid dresses in wine or hunter green, since that was what everyone was doing at the time
7. Wear a dress in which my ample bustline was exposed and prominent, such as in the Victorian or Elizabethan age
8. Use banquet chairs that would make the wedding look like we were having a corporate leadership seminar
9. Attempt to squeeze too many people at a table in an effort to keep centerpiece and server costs down, but resulting in my guests being unable to push back from the table without the express consent and cooperation of the people sitting on either side of them.
10. Put disposable cameras on the table, unwittingly encouraging semi-intoxicated guests to take inappropriate pictures that my Mom and Dad would develop while I was on my honeymoon
11. Hire a DJ that would pull out blow-up instruments and ask my guests to play air guitar
12. Hire a DJ that would, in an attempt to engage my guests, play some sort of embarrassing game like blindfolded dance contest or wave the dollar.
13. Hire a DJ that was under the impression that my wedding was his show

This was not the entire list (10 years and two kids later, I'm surprised I remembered this much) and as you've probably guessed, I opted to hire a band.

So now it is time for my colleague and friend, let's call her Tessa, to undertake the planning of her wedding. She is the sweetest of girls, and very grounded. Her taste has always been impeccable, so I know that her wedding will be a feast for the eyes and that she will be a gracious bride. I couldn't be more excited for her as she begins this journey, and I wish her everything she hopes for and peace and joy in the planning process. However, I wonder what items she has on her "absolutely NOT" list...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bad Choices

Brides, brides, brides. Let me tell you about something that happened his week.

About 6 months ago a bride ordered a dress from me. It was a beautiful dress, I loved it on her. It was fitted all the way from the strapless top to the knees where it had a soft flare. It hugged her curves in all the best ways, at least the sample did. She had tried it on at another store before visiting me, but as I've heard before, this other store doesn't have a great reputation, and after giving them a try and getting some bad service, she decided to come look at us.

So here she is in my dressing room and she decides that this is The One. We hug, we take pictures, and now it is time to size her. I take her measurements and compare them to the Maggie Sottero size chart. She is about a size 6 (remember from my previous posts that bridal sizing is not the same as American sizing, so this size 6 is like a American size 2) which fits with my comparison of how the other dresses she tried are fitting her and how much extra fabric I am able to pull in the back. Then she drops the bomb.

"I would like to order a size 2," she says.

I explain to her the differences in bridal sizes vs. American sizes, I explain that dresses are easier to take in than to let out, and I discuss why the size 6 is the right size choice for her.

"I would like to order a size 2," she says. She explains that when she tried it on at a previous store she was able to try it on in a 2 and it fit perfectly, so that's what she'd like to do.

Now this is not adding up. First of all, her measurements and what I am seeing in front of me are not size 2. Plus, I don't know a single bridal store (aside from warehouse stores that deal in off-the-rack gowns) that would pay for a sample in a size 2. The only people that would be able to try it on are girls that wear a bridal size 2-6, and because it is so fitted, I'm not even sure a size 6 could get it on enough to see it. A store wouldn't make that bad investment. I shared this thought with her, gently asking if it was possible that she was mistaken. She told me that the other store had told her that the dress was a size 2.

As is our policy, the bride is in charge, so although I gave her my expert opinion that 6 was the way to go, she decided to order the size 2. You can probably figure out what happened this week. Her dress arrived, she came in to try it on and could barely squeeze it onto her body. Contortions and the assistance of two people were required, and once she had it on the seams were maxed out. The taffeta was stretched so tightly across her backside that her mother said, "will you even be able to sit down?" Her answer? "Why would I need to sit down?"

I felt awful about the fit of her dress, and our seamstresses are going to try to help her because her wedding is about a month away, but the bottom line is: she took the word of the shady store to which she had been previously over my good advice. My guess? When they told her that the dress she was wearing was a size 2, they were using American equivalencies instead of the manufacturers sizes. By using their own sizing system they would accomplish two goals, 1. make the bride feel better about the size dress she requires and 2. sabotage a bride who decides to order her dress online (see my post about wedding karma). And so although I was measuring her, showing her the size chart and even using other Maggie Sottero gowns as an example of how a fitted dress would be, she couldn't get that little "I'm a size 2" bug out of her head.

I hope she has a beautiful wedding and that everything works out for her. The lesson to be learned here is to trust the person who is giving you evidence to back up their advice. When you are buying a dress, size charts should be made available for you to see. Your consultant needs to explain to you the reasoning behind the size she recommends (believe me, I know that there are ruthless stores out there that will do the opposite, order you a big size to get the alterations income) so don't be afraid to ask questions and not commit until you understand and agree.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Second Chances

There are nay-sayers out there that are ready to criticize people, especially brides. And when a bride breaches a rule of etiquette, they will line up to point fingers (heck, I've been guilty of that). But on this Feel Good Friday, I'd like to tell you a quick story about a sweet bride that made me smile.

I'll call her Minnie, and she is a petite, quiet bride, whose eyes light up when she comes into the store, even if her tone of voice remains low and understated. When I first met her she was coming in to shop for her wedding gown. She was accompanied by friend, no mother. She apologized as she described the ball gown she wanted, strapless with a full pick-up skirt.

"Why are you sorry?" I asked. "You are the bride, you can have anything you want!" (I left out the obvious condition on this statement, she could have anything she could afford, but that is a different bride, a different story and a different day.)

"My Mother thinks it is inappropriate of me to want a big gown. She thinks I should have a small wedding with a simple dress. It's my second wedding, see, and she is embarrassed by the whole thing."

I take her to the dressing room and begin to show her the collection of dresses we have with full pick-up skirts that are strapless and that look good on a petite figure. As we are trying them on, I learn more. She had been married previously, but that marriage had ended when her husband was unfaithful to her. After some time, she found herself in a relationship with a friend she had known for years. They fell in love and decided to get married. It being his first marriage, his family offered to plan and pay for their wedding. The couple agreed.

Around this time in the appointment, she found the one. It was beautiful on her, it showed off her shoulders, framed and complemented her bustline, and the diamond-white taffeta and crystals looked like a natural extension of her body. But although she loved it, she suddenly found herself afraid to go against her Mother's wishes and order such a traditional wedding gown.

"What if we were to make it a little less traditional?" I suggested.

And that is how Minnie ordered and fell in love with her PINK wedding gown!

When it arrived in the store and she tried it on, it was perfection. The peachy-pink of the skirt with the diamond-white lace overlay was the perfect marriage of celebration and tradition-busting.

There will be no apologetic wedding gowns in my dressing room, no sirree!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dog Days of Summer


Time to lay back, relax and chill.

Take your time, there's no hurry, cause it's summer.

People often come into the store and say, "it's wedding season, you must be very busy!"

Nope. People don't buy their dresses during wedding season, they buy their dresses just after engagement season, which means the store is SLAMMED just when the credit card bills start arriving from our Christmas shopping. Works out well, actually, since I do work on commission.

But summer is slow. No one wants to put their sweaty body into heavy dress after heavy dress, especially with an audience. I can hardly blame them.

As much as you have heard me repeat how much I love my job, the summer is the one time when I look out the window and dream of being elsewhere, prone on a chaise, fruity drink in hand, the kind that wears an umbrella. I watch the cars drive by, get excited when one hesitates outside the window like it might stop and release a flood of brides with wallets held aloft and a hungry look in their eyes that can only be fed with tulle and crystals. Yet no one stops. Window shopping does not satisfy my need for human interaction, or my more basic need for a paycheck of a certain size.

I look down at my appointment schedule and see that I have a return appointment for a bride of mine who has bought a beautiful gown from me that will be arriving in the store in a couple of months. She has an appointment for an unspecified purpose, right at the time of day when I might actually get walk-in traffic, and my heart sinks with the realization that this is the dreaded "dress visiter". Yes, she loves her dress, and I am glad for it, but I have convinced her so much of my wonderful service that she has decided to bring someone visiting from out of town (could be Mom, bridesmaid, Aunt, doesn't matter, it's always the same) to come in so that I may put her in our sample again and she can stand and stare at herself in the mirror and ask her friend, "do you love it?!" which, by the way, is a NON question because there is only one correct response when the dress has already been ordered!

But what is the one saving grace during the dog days of summer? They get out of their cars with a sense of purpose, open an organizer and show me. It is filled with pictures of dresses they both like and despise, notes are written in two ink colors, red for wedding gown info, blue for bridesmaid info. They attack the store with a drive similar to Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music, giving each member of her group instructions, "Sally, you hold my purse, Jane, you take that row of dresses in the back, and Mom, you come with me. If anyone sees something they think I'll like, whistle twice in succession and I'll come look. " She is on a mission, and she plans on buying dress, if not today, then in the next couple of weeks. They have this down to a science you see, because they have exactly two months in which in which they plan to organize their whole wedding even though it won't be until the following summer. Have you guessed yet?

In the summer, I pray for the arrival of the teachers!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Surprise! I Do!

Another week has passed, and it's Feel Good Friday once again. I thought I'd tell you about a bride who really surprised me with a neat idea, and let me tell you, after 15+ years, that doesn't happen all that often!

As I've mentioned before, I love weddings, and I love to chat with my brides while we're in the dressing room about the details of their big day. So here I am on the day in question chatting with a bride, let's call her Erica, about her wedding. She describes to me the food, the reception site, the centerpieces. Everything she describes sounds beautiful. I ask her about her colors for the wedding, and whether she is having bridesmaids that will be wearing that color, and she tells me that she has one bridesmaid who will not be wearing the color she has chosen for her flowers and invitations, but will be wearing something of her own choosing.

Okay, I think, not unheard of for a bride to let her bridesmaids pick out whatever they want. But usually this is the case in a very informal wedding, not a formal reception such as she has described.

She finds a dress and looks just beautiful in it - it is all over lace, strapless, beaded with pearls and sequins, with just a hint of a train. As we are measuring her and doing her paperwork to order her dress, she asks me about our privacy policy.

Hmm. We DO have a privacy policy, actually. It is our policy never to reveal which dress a bride is wearing to anyone else unless she has given us permission. (I get a lot of referrals from my brides, and if their friend asks me, "Can I see the dress she bought?" I will never show them. I will however, make sure they don't get the same dress!) But when it comes to our privacy policy, no one has ever asked me if we have one. This piques my interest! Is she concerned that someone in her group will try to peak at her special gown before the big day?

It's not that, she explains. She and her fiance have been dating for over ten years, and are very excited to finally tie the knot in front of all their family and friends at this quaint inn by the water. They are expecting a group of about sixty guests or so. Some of them will be traveling from across the country to be there. The only catch is, they think they are attending a birthday party for the groom, the wedding is a complete surprise for everyone! After dinner, just before the dancing starts, Erica will quickly change into her dress while the groom moves to the dance floor and the DJ begins to play the wedding march. An officiant will appear as Erica enters the room in her dress, holding a bouquet and she and her fiance will be joined in holy matrimony in front of their amazed guests!

She is wanting to make sure I know to keep the secret, don't accidentally mention her name to anyone, don't call the house and leave a message in case someone hears it. No one knows they're getting married, she says, and besides her and her fiance, I am the first person she has told.

"Then let me be the first to congratulate you!" and I hugged her. Her smile revealed her pleasure at finally letting her joyous secret be shared.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Would You Give Your Son Cancer for $500?

I heard from a Mother-In-Law of the bride recently. Her son's fiancee had ordered her dress from us and now she wanted to cancel her order.

Now, let me explain to you why wedding gowns are final sale at virtually every bridal salon across America. First, once a bride places her order, gets measured and puts a deposit on her gown, the bridal store places the order with the manufacturer, who then schedules the cutting of the gown with their factory in China. Remember, every gown is made to order, at least in this price point. The manufacturer looks at how many orders they have for each style of gown they offer, in each color and in each size to determine when they will be making the dress. Once they have scheduled the cutting of the gown and have sent their estimated date and order confirmation back to the store, the bridal shop cannot cancel the order and are committed to paying for this dress when it arrives in the store. The second reason dresses are final sale is that weddings get canceled, plans change, and the worst, brides will look at their beautiful dress they just bought from you on the internet and see a host of questionable websites willing to make it for them for less.

Although our store, like others, has the final sale policy, we will at times decide to return someone's money if we feel like the situation warrants it. Examples of this have been mostly death or illness of the couple or family or unexpected deployment for a bride or groom serving in the military. These times, by necessity are few and far between because we potentially lose hundreds of dollars not of lost profit, but actual money on a dress that was made to order and we may never sell again.

When this Mother-In-Law called, she announced that the wedding had been canceled and we needed to give the bride her money back. Her consultant explained the policy and told her that she could not get her money back. Then a string of calls demanding her money back. And this is how it was handed to me, being a senior consultant and, in essence, the boss of the floor. So I returned her call, listened to her rant about how the wedding was canceled and they didn't need a dress and she wanted her daughter-in-law-to-be to get her deposit back. I listened to everything she said, and then gently explained that I could not cancel the order with the manufacturer, therefore, I could not give her any money back.

There was a silence for a few seconds on the other end of the line. Then she dropped the bomb: "The wedding is canceled because of cancer. The chemo has been so expensive and the medical bills are too much and it's hard to plan a wedding when you are fighting for your life!"

I couldn't agree more. This is a horse of a different color. But, and I hate to be cynical, I noticed that she had never mentioned this fact in her previous phone calls, which I thought odd. I expressed concern for the health of the patient, noticing that she hadn't told me who it was. She told me that it looked like the cancer was in remission and quickly changed the subject back to when could the bride get her money back. I pushed on and asked if the bride had been the one fighting for her life. She said no, and asked again about when we would issue the refund. I kept pressing and asked if it was the groom, her son, who had been so ill? There was a moment's pause, then, "yes, yes it's my son."

I felt awful. But I didn't know what to feel awful about: that her son had cancer and was fighting for his life just as he should be beginning it, or that I felt like a terrible person because, I didn't believe her.

I promised to talk to the owner of the store and call back before the end of business with an answer.

I shared the story with my boss, and my doubts about it's veracity. She decided that we would give her a refund on the dress, but told me to call the bride and speak with her directly, since she is the one we contracted with and who bought the dress. I called her and got her on the phone. She was elated to find out that she would get her money back. I told her I was happy to have been able to help her and asked her how everyone was feeling, that her mother-in-law had told me about the illness.

She said, "Oh, yes, my Dad had had a lump removed from his lower back, but he had some chemo and it looks like they had gotten it all so he's good. He's glad that he'll be able to come to our wedding, now that we've decided to scrap the formal reception and get married in Jamaica!"

So my instincts were correct. No groom with cancer, apparently no one even fighting for their life. I felt like my sympathy was used and I had an awful turning in my stomach. But I had the last word: "I'm glad to hear that everyone's healthy and doing well and that the wedding is still on. I'll be sending you a check in two days for your refund. I would like you to know, however, that your future Mother-In-Law told me that it was not your father but your fiance who was battling cancer, and that your wedding was canceled because of his fight for life and the mounting medical bills. I myself just lost my Father unexpectedly recently, and I think Dads are just as important as the groom, so she didn't need to lie and give her son cancer to play on my sympathy and get you your money back."

She was embarrassed and apologized to me. I sent her the check and never heard from her or her Future-Mother-In-Law again. These are the days when I wonder about people and the differences between them and to what lengths they will go get their way.