Monday, September 27, 2010

An Empassioned Plea: Part II

I have attended two weddings in the last month or so, and BOTH of the brides wore strapless gowns, and BOTH of the brides were visibly suffering from droopy dress-itis.

I don't know if this was the result of poor alterations, or wedding-week weight loss.

But the end result was me sitting on my hands in an effort to not butt in where I wasn't wanted, and watch these beautiful brides attempt to casually watch their cleavage when they should have been watching the eyes of their intended.

If you read my previous post about strapless gowns and about the importance of good alterations, you'll recognize this rant for what it is. Frustration at anything that distracts from what is important here: the marriage.

Sounds funny, coming from a dress person. You hear of photographers that seem to forget that there is a wedding here, and this isn't just a photo shoot, and of DJs that think your wedding is their own personal one-man show. So you would expect a dress person to be the one who would insist that the train on the bride's dress be straightened and that photos of the dress are of the utmost importance. In reality, I am a sentimental fool who believes in romance, forever, undying love, all of those cliches (The Princess Bride = best book and movie EVER!) and I believe that the most important thing is the vow, not the dress one wears when exchanging them.

Just one woman's thoughts. I have more empassioned pleas here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where There's a Will...

A very short post:

Life has been so busy I haven't had time to write a full-on blog post decrying the trials and tribulations of selling wedding gowns. But I did want to tell you about something wonderful that just happened.

A wonderful, sweet bride who came referred to me by a dear friend of mine, was struggling to find a dress. It became clear why when we met: she's what you might call a large girl. Even though I have wedding gown samples in sizes up to 30W, I could not get a dress on her well enough to get a truly good idea of the style.

But there were no tears, no drama (like some of my size 6 brides have had when they think their behind looks big), she just kept her eye on the prize - marrying the man she loved, and who loved her, just the way she was.

The solution we found was custom. We took a dress that we had been able to get on most of the way, and ordered it with custom changes. What was a tank, would now be a 3/4 sleeve with beautiful detailing, we took some custom measurements, so that instead of a specific size, we would be ordering the dress to be made to her shape. We took careful notes and measurements, crossed our fingers and prayed to the God of dressmakers (there has to at least be a patron saint of dressmakers, n'est pas?) that all would work out.

And it has! She LOVES her dress, although has admitted that the whole process made her nervous, and the beautiful Italian silky-satin drapes like fluid on her body, the neckline frames her face and the overall result is elegance.

Congratulations, LW! I couldn't be happier for you! Every bride deserves to be beautiful, and you are. Every bride deserves to be treated with dignity, and I hope I have treated you so that you have felt pampered and in competent hands. As with all my brides, I continue to feel blessed to have the role I play in this most exciting of life's journeys.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back to Basics

What could feel better on this Friday than finding that perfect dress? You know, the one that when you put it on you feel like a Bride? Like yourself, only all grown up and highlighting all the parts of you that you like best? THAT dress.

Here are simple instructions how to find it:

1. Set a wedding date and location. It is imperative that you do these things before you start your search.

2. Work out a budget for your whole wedding, and for your dress specifically.

3. Start looking through magazines and internet sites for dress ideas. If there is a specific dress you are drawn to, find out the designer, who in your area carries it, and call to find out the price. If it is within your budget, make an appointment to go in.

4. Look for a reputable store in your area that carries dresses in your price point and with your timing in mind. Don't be afraid to tell the store your needs, "I'm looking to try on wedding gowns in the $800 range. I will be getting married in 6 months. Do you have dresses in that price range that I can get by then?" There is no point visiting a store that is too pricey, or one that offers special-order only when you need something quickly. Your time is valuable, and a store will be grateful to know that you aren't wasting their time as well.

5. Once you have found the store you want to visit and have made your appointment, gather your dress ideas and decide who will accompany you. As you have seen in previous posts, the people you choose to bring can make the difference between a support system, or disorganized chaos. Strongly consider bringing only 2 or 3 people. If you are not paying for the dress, bring the person who is (Mom, Nana, etc.), and make sure your group has a representative from your age group as well as someone a little older who has known you for a while.

6. DO NOT make an appointment to shop if you know you cannot buy a dress yet. This is not to say you MUST buy a dress at your first store, just that at many stores the styles change rapidly and dresses can be discontinued or sold off the rack with no notice. It can be heartbreaking to walk away from a dress you love because you need to wait for your next paycheck. It is doubly heartbreaking if the dress is gone once you are ready to buy.

7. Arrive at the store a few minutes early, leaving coats and valuables in the car if possible. Use the restroom, take deep breaths. This is much easier if you are unencumbered and not distracted.

8. Talk to your consultant about your wedding, the location, date and time of day. Tell her about the feel of your day, formal, simple, sophisticated, romantic, elegant, etc. Then talk about your ideas of things you like or don't like about dresses you've seen. Tell her your budget. A good consultant should be listening here, and asking questions, but not talking much. Once you have finished with your thoughts, she should guide you through the process. Every store has different procedures, and she should help you to understand how your appointment will work, "Susie, if you step in here you'll see we have hundreds of dresses for you to look through. Browse through and pick several favorites. Based on your ideas, I have some suggestions for you as well. Once we have picked a few together, we'll move to the dressing room and start trying on, sound good?"

9. Follow your consultant's lead. Your consultant has done this before, and knows how to run an appointment. She will keep you on track and moving forward. Don't waste valuable time on dresses you don't like. Try to identify what it is you don't care for and move on.

10. Allow yourself to take suggestions from your consultant. She has no motive other than wanting to find you a dress you love, and she knows her inventory and has experience with a variety of body types.

11. Typically, Brides will find that they have one or two dresses they like above the others. Try the dress(es) back on, if you aren't in it already, to see if you still have the same reaction. Ask your consultant to accessorize it for you with a veil and such. Step out of the dressing room, look at yourself in movement, look at it bustled. Look from the front and back.

12. Not all Brides cry! I know I was way to pragmatic for that! But that doesn't mean you don't love it. Ask yourself: Does the dress flatter you? Is it appropriate for the wedding you are planning? Is it in your budget? Can you see yourself walking down the aisle in it? Will you enjoy looking at pictures of yourself wearing it for years to come? Does the dress make you feel beautiful? If the answer to these questions is yes, then,

You have found your dress!

13. Do it! Jump in with two feet! Don't question whether there is another dress out there because, yes, there are lots of dresses out there, and you can NEVER try them all on and what you don't see won't hurt you! You have already researched the store where you are standing right now, so don't second guess yourself and risk losing your perfect gown.

-If, of course, you cannot answer a resounding yes to the questions posed in #12, then it is best not to make a hasty decision. I assume that most consultants are like myself - I like to be able to sleep at night, and I look forward to a long relationship with each Bride that buys from me, so I would never push a Bride to buy a dress she is wishy washy about.

Bookmark this, print it out and happy shopping!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To Strapless, or Not To Strapless; That is the Question

If you have looked at a bridal magazine, or Say Yes to the Dress anytime recently, you have probably seen that the bridal styles are dominated by strapless dresses. But many brides come in and say they don't want one - what then?

Now, I happen to be a big fan of dresses with straps, cap sleeves, one shoulders, etc. But the reality of it is, if you decide before you shop not to wear a strapless, you are eliminating a huge percentage of the available styles. It may be harder to find a gown that has all the other aspects you like, if you are only looking at styles with a certain neckline. So the first thing I do when a bride tells me she doesn't want a strapless is find out why. There are many reasons people give - some are good, some not so good. And by not so good, I don't mean to say that brides should be forced to wear something they don't like, just that their reason for not even trying on a dress with a certain feature is based on a fallacious premise.

Bad Reasons Not to Try On a Strapless

"I have a big chest, and I don't want to have my dress keep slipping down." - If you have seen someone wear a dress that is slipping down it has nothing to do with the size of her bust, but with the quality of her alterations. Either she lost a few pounds at the last minute, whoever tied her corset back didn't do it tightly enough, or she skimped on alterations.

"I have a small chest, so there's nothing to hold it up." - Your chest does not hold up a strapless. Your waist and hips do. When the dress is fitted well to the smallest curve of your body, it can't possibly slide down because, by definition, the dress is to small in the waist to slide down over your hips. The boning inside the bodice helps it to hold its shape, and so the dress is held up by the curve of your hips.

"I don't think a strapless will look good on me." - People have many reasons for thinking this, and it may be because you have tried on a strapless in the past and not liked how it looks. But all strapless dresses are not shaped the same. For example, some petite girls don't look in a strapless because they don't have a "pleasing proportion" of skin showing from the top of the dress to the hollow of their neck (the standard is about 4"). On these girls, a strapless can appear to look like it is too high and right under their chin. I would suggest a sweetheart-style strapless to open her up through the throat and show a little more skin and decolletage. A girl might think that a strapless shows too much cleavage. This bride should try a gown that does not dip in the front in any way, and maybe even has a detail like scalloped lace or a crumbcatcher for extra coverage of the bust. Tell your consultant your concerns to see what she thinks.

Good Reasons Not to Wear a Strapless

#1 Most Important: Afraid to be bare. Often I will have a bride in my dressing room in a dress that fits perfectly and she'll be yanking up at the gown to lift it up higher. I'll ask her if it feels like the dress is slipping, and I'll even demonstrate that if I pull down sharply on the gown it still won't come down over her hips and expose her. She'll nod and agree and a few minutes later be yanking at her dress again and stealing downward glances at her cleavage. Why? Because she feels so bare she will never trust that she isn't hanging out. This is the kind of bride I would prefer just choose a different dress rather than be fidgeting throughout her wedding day.

Shoulders that need to be covered - whether you have a dark tattoo that you don't trust to concealer makeup, or linebacker shoulders that are broad, muscular or sloping, these are often best disguised or visually broken up by a strap or a one shoulder design.

Religious or Modesty Concerns - Although more churches are getting away from this, many faiths or individual Officiants are still enforcing rules that require the Bride to cover her shoulders, arms, back, etc. Even if a Pastor doesn't require it, some Brides and their families feel that a certain amount of skin coverage is appropriate for such an occasion.

A very thick middle - if your waist measurement is your largest measurement, it will be difficult to alter the dress in a way that will allow it to be secure without sliding down.

My lesson in this is that it is, after all, your wedding and your dress. It would just be a shame to eliminate a possibility because of a reason you hadn't shared with your consultant. So make sure to talk to her and share your concerns. She may find a solution, like a dress perfect in every other way, that can be altered or customized with straps, or that the right accessory like a veil or bolero, will complete your dream look.

Happy shopping!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Feel Good Friday: Wedding Karma Part II

Unlike a mother with her children, I do NOT like all my brides the same. I like almost all of them, but some I REALLY like.

About a year and a half ago I met a bride, K.D., who already had a dress she had ordered from another store. It was a pretty dress, in fact I had the same style in my store. But pretty wasn't what this girl was going for - she wanted stunning!

Now this I can provide! I immediately pointed her in the direction of an ornately embroidered gown, styled after an opulent Amalia Carrara for Eve of Milady dress that has been featured on Say Yes to the Dress and in many bridal magazines. Our version of the gown by a lesser known designer was about 1/6th of the price, but without compromising quality. Swarovsky crystals studded the bodice, and the fabric was a fine satin that flowed like water. The train was dramatic, and the box pleats at the back of the skirt gave volume to add grandeur to her walk down the aisle. She loved it!

Now, I don't have warm fuzzy feelings for this bride because she liked a dress I suggested for her. I like her because whenever she came into the shop over the next few months (and I'm guessing she was in about 15 times!) she was always the sweetest, kindest person - the exact opposite of bridezilla. Her personal accomplishments are many, both in career and hobby, so she was interesting to talk to, but never bragged about anything. And her mother? I could've added her to my family as well.

Well, she got married this past weekend. I saw the pictures - she WAS stunning! And as much as I loved the dress on her, the part that made her so beautiful (aside from the fact that she is a very pretty girl anyway) was the absolute JOY beaming from her face. That is why I love weddings!

But there is a moral to this story. Have you ever heard the expression "the squeaky wheel gets the grease?" In this case, I am pleased to announce the opposite axiom holds true - "you win more flies with honey"... in the end, everyone, including the Owner of the store loved her so much, and she ended up referring so many brides to us that bought their wedding gowns from us, that the Owner of the store gave her a full refund on her wedding gown. How's that for Wedding Karma?

Congrats, K.D.! We'll miss you!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

All Brides Are Not Created Equal

So now that you have heard some of what it takes to work here, let me tell you another quality that is very helpful: diplomacy.

I'm not talking about diplomacy as it may pertain to the running of interference between a bride and her quarreling mother. Oh no.

I am talking about a rare and very dangerous form of the word, where failure to be the perfect Switzerland can mean the difference between peace and lawsuit.

Let me explain. Our business, the selling of beautiful and ornate gowns, attracts a lot of people. Some of them are brides who are envisioning themselves in these beautiful dresses. Some of them are fashionistas, for whom being around such opulence is its own pleasure. And some of them, a very small minority, are shopping in our store to fulfill a need other than love of man or dress.

I was working at the counter one day when an individual came in and announced the desire to make an appointment to try on wedding gowns. I brought the homely "bride" downstairs to look through the racks with me at the styles available and to look at the appointment book at what appointment time might be available for trying on dresses. As this long-haired, heavily made-up and lipsticked, skirt-wearing bride browsed through the gowns I noticed something about her. Her hands. They were sturdy hands. Strong, actually, like she might do some sort of manual labor. Upon closer inspection, they looked a little hairy on the knuckles, but stubbly, like they had been shaved. Such a shame, I thought, that this bride felt so self-conscious that her hands looked like they belonged to a man that she felt the need to shave them... wait a minute, is that an Adam's apple I see?

Fabulous. Here I am in the female-only part of the store where the brides walk around in a state of half-undress, with a man clearly dressed as a woman. What do I do now?

As a social liberal, there is part of me who feels like this poor confused individual deserves the same dignity and service that I would give to any other bride who comes into my dressing room. My empathy told me to make an appointment for him.

But the legal questions abound; am I compromising the rights of the women in the dressing areas by allowing this man to be in their midst? And can I ask one of my consultants, or even myself, to dress this individual should he decide to try something on, would that violate the consultants' rights? Remember, it is the store's policy that, in order to protect the merchandise, a consultant must help each and every customer into the dresses. No self service allowed. Will that violate HIS rights, to insist that he be dressed by a consultant of the opposite sex?

And either way, do I acknowledge that I have guessed the true nature of this bride's gender? It was not shared with me, and I do not know whether acknowledging the truth would be hurtful or not. What if he thinks he's beautiful and the epitome of femininity, and that he's got the whole world fooled. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone.

What would you do in this circumstance? I'd love to hear your thoughts, and then I'll share the true ending to this story.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

So You Want to Work at a Bridal Store...

It seems like almost every day that people (mostly women) come to my store asking if we are hiring and wanting to work with us. Part of this is the economy, but more than that, I believe that women have always held the idea that my job is glamorous. Thus the popularity of the show "Say Yes to the Dress". And if you have been a regular reader of my blog, you are familiar with my frequent repetition of the words, "I love my job". But not everybody loves this job, you know.

Over the course of my career as a wedding gown consultant, I have seen numerous women be hired and then be gone within days or weeks. This, mind you, is after the new hire has been VERY carefully considered from amongst a pool of qualified individuals, for there are always many applicants for every job that opens up. Applicants are usually phone interviewed first, then interviewed by myself in person, I will give my short list of candidates to the Owner, who interviews them again and makes her selection. This is not your typical retail job, where you submit an application, the Manager checks your job history and references and you get the job. The demands and knowledge base required are enormous, and since we work as a team, a personality that fits with the other consultants is a must.

I remember training a new girl (Forgive me if the term is derogatory, but it's what we say. I was a new girl once too, and I was married with two children and a long career in the wedding industry already under my belt.) who seemed to be doing so well shadowing me and working with the customers, but ended up quitting at the end of her training because, as she told the Owner, she was so overwhelmed by all there was to know, that she could never possibly learn it all. Then there was the girl who left for her lunch break after 3 hours on her first day and never returned. We never heard from her again, but the rumor is that she was taken aback by the criticism of another employee who chastised her for shouting across the sales floor at a customer, announcing this prom girl's size to the room at large, "Sue, why don't you look at these dresses over here, if you need a size 16, this is where they are." And then there was the trainee who was simply so short of stature (maybe 4'10") that we discovered she simply couldn't perform important tasks like putting a wedding gown over a bride's head, or reaching the racks to get a dress down. A bridal meltdown was narrowly avoided when she couldn't read the tag up high on a bride's dress, and brought her the wrong gown from the back room. The bride had a freakout since she had ordered a ballgown and this petite consultant had brought her a mermaid. I intervened and discovered the mistake, however, and smoothed things over. The majority of the new hires that don't last long are those that are unable to sell dresses to brides, for whatever reason.

When we are looking for a new consultant to join our team, we are looking for the following traits/experience:

Must Have
Self Starter
Good Personality
Basic Math Skills
Common Sense
Maturity (not necessarily age - we have some young and talented consultants)
Physical Strength (stand on feet for 8+ hours, lift heavy dresses over your head, carry boxes)

A Plus, but not Required
Sales Experience
Fashion Experience
Wedding Experience
Sewing Skills
Knowledge of Wedding Gowns/Bridesmaid Dresses/Tuxes/Accessories
Customer Service Experience

Let's face it. I get to work with beautiful dresses and with people, and do not have to sit at a desk all day. My job is awesome. But it IS a sales job, and before you consider working with me, you'd better think long and hard about how you feel working in sales. And as I always tell my trainees, sales does not mean pushing brides to buy dresses they don't want. Heck, I have told brides that they should go back to another store and buy the dress they keep talking about in my dressing room, because they clearly love it. I'm talking about sales, which in my mind is the natural progression of connecting with a bride, helping her to find just the right dress with my inventory knowledge and experience, allowing her to ask questions to the point where she is comfortable and trusts me (and rightly so!) to provide her with a well-fitting dress. This is what develops into a sale, and this is why I'm so good at what I do.

So, what do you think? Do you want to work with me?