Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Special Customers

A practical post with some tips and advice for a subject not often addressed: what do you do if a bride, groom or a member of your party has special needs?

Let me start by saying that, obviously, there are many people with special needs, and they can run the gamut from intellectual challenges to physical handicaps, and each person deserves to be treated with caring and dignity, regardless of their difficulty. Whether you are getting married and have special needs, or whether a member of your party does, it can be helpful to know before you arrive at the bridal shop the kind of challenges you might face.

Wheelchair: If you are shopping for a wedding gown and you use a wheelchair, the only difficulty arises when 1. the actual store has stairs and/or no handicapped accessible restroom, or when it comes time for the sizing. A bride who is planning on wearing a traditional gown while in a wheelchair, may want to consider either having the train on her dress removed, or having her dress customized so that the train is a Watteau style train that falls from between her shoulders instead of from the skirt. Do not stand up to be sized for your hollow to hem (the length of your gown), remain seated, so that the hem of your dress will fall where you want it as you come down the aisle.

Mentally Challenged: We most often see the mentally challenged at the Bridal Store when it is time to size family members of the Bride and Groom for their bridesmaid dresses and tuxes. To get a good fit, and spend less on alterations, it is imperative that the sizer be able to ask and get meaningful responses to questions such as, "what size do you normally wear? Your bust measurement and waist measurement are putting you in two different sizes - I recommend we do such-and-such. What do you think?" If the customer is unable to answer these questions, it is strongly suggested that, just as in sizing of underage individuals, an adult friend or family member be present to assist in the determination of size.

Hearing Impaired/Blind: not usually an issue, actually. I have waited on both and find that communication may be slower, but is not typically impossible. I recommend that someone who has a communication challenge, or someone who will not be able to see the dresses they are trying on very well and will be relying on touch and others' opinions, try to make your appointment be during a slow period so that you will not feel rushed.

Amputees and Other Physical Differences: Usually more of an issue in the tux department than the bridal area. Dresses cover the lower half of the body, and necklines vary, but in the tux department, every tux comes with two legs and two sleeves. I usually ask a customer's preference when sizing for a tux: would they prefer to have the pant leg hemmed up to their limb? Would they prefer a weight be placed in a sleeve to give it shape when he is standing so as not to be obvious in pictures? At our store, like all the best stores, we own all our merchandise and have it on the premises, so we can make adjustments until the wearer feels completely comfortable.

Have you ever heard the philosophy that you should not make assumptions about a person's attitude towards their challenge, but you should take your cues from them? Like, should you offer to open a door for someone on crutches, or would that person feel like your good-will is more like pity? With this in mind, I genuinely welcome every person who enters my store, and wait for them to give me cues as to how they would like to proceed. If I get none, I gently ask. ("Would you like assistance getting into your strapless bra, or would you prefer I wait outside?") It seems to be working for me so far!

**I'd like to thank DA, who treats all his customers with the utmost care and dignity and has taught me almost all of what I know about assisting those with differences. His special customers come back to him again and again!

Monday, October 18, 2010

11 Things People HATE About Shopping for their Wedding Gown

Its Monday morning, and I'm feeling kind of Monday-morningish today! I'm thinking about all the things that people HATE about wedding dress shopping. Here's a list:

1. Pushy sales people
2. Sample sizes
3. Lack of privacy
4. Opinionated Moms
5. Fear of Immoral/Incompetent Stores
6. $$$
7. Commitment-Phobia - the concern that the perfect dress is out there, and how will you know when you've found it?
8. Champagne taste/Beer Budget
9. Too much tradition/pomp and circumstance
10. Time consuming
11. Dislike own body - fear that nothing will look good

These are all reasons Brides have given me of why they have been putting off shopping for their dress. I like to think that when you come to visit me, I am able to make most of those disappear. And the ones that I can't make disappear, I can make more bearable. (For example, a Mom who is too opinionated might find herself being asked by me, "Jane obviously really loves this dress! Don't you think that her face is beaming when she puts on the gown she loves?...") In my case, when I got married, I had already been working in the wedding industry for several years, but not with gowns directly, so my fear was that I would not be able to get a good sense of the dress from the sample size (since my readers know that I am busty and tended to wear a size 14 suit blazer and size 6 pants. My fear turned out to be unfounded or irrelevant.

A consultant at the store was let go last week. Too many brides expressed that they would be happy to come back to our store again - beautiful dresses, fair prices, excellent reputation - if only they could be assisted by someone different. Sounds like someone failed to help our brides overcome their fear and dread of the process!

Tell me about a misgiving or bad experience you had... I love gossip!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why You Do It All

I am still smiling a day later, so here's my post from yesterday... Feel Good Friday

Why do you put all the energy, thought and, yes, money into planning your big day?

Is it because you have family and friends coming to witness your vows and you want to treat them to a big party? Maybe.

Is it because you have dreamed, ever since you were a little girl, of the day you married, the dress you'd wear, the song you'd dance to? Perhaps.

But the reward of all your hard work is where I am today. You see, today my Husband and I are celebrating our ten year wedding anniversary. Although our lives have become full of children and homework and jobs and housework, we'll sit down tonight after the kids are in bed and pull out our wedding album. We'll look at the pictures of the ceremony, I'll groan (as I always do) about how much eye makeup I was wearing, he'll tell me to stop, I was beautiful. We'll point to the photos of the children that were invited and comment on how young they look. We'll smile as we look at the pictures of the family members that are no longer with us, my Dad, his Nana. We'll talk a little about how styles have changed, who has lost hair, who has lost weight, and relationships that have changed since that day.

Then we'll put the leather-bound album back into its protective case and back on the shelf. We'll smile at each other and say, I love you.

Then we'll probably watch House.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why a Man Might Shop for a Dress...

If you have been reading my blog, then you know that there are areas of the store, namely, the dressing areas, in which we don't allow men. Sorry, guys! Most men don't mind being excluded from this most feminine of rituals (they roll their eyes and yawn at the 17th dress and everyone gathered round saying, "do you think THIS might be the one?"...!) and are happy to remain out of the bridal area.

But what of the handful of men that arrive and are surprised, even annoyed not to be allowed in this area of the store?

They fall into several categories. The first and most common is the "Dad Shopping with his Daughter". He sometimes cares about the dress, and sometimes not. But he always loves her and thinks she's beautiful and wants to share in whatever makes her happy. And, of course, sometimes he is footing the bill. He comes to make sure Mom doesn't go nuts giving her little girl the dress of her dreams!

Occasionally, a Dad is shopping with his daughter because Mom has passed away. This always makes me get a lump in my throat. I don't know what I would have done without my Mom during the planning of my wedding and picking out my dress. In these cases, Dad is usually fumbling to be a "Surrogate Mother" to his daughter, trying to offer advice he thinks she would have said had she been there.

I have discussed in previous posts about another category of men disappointed not to be allowed in the bridal changing areas. These are men who would like to be the ones wearing these dresses. But this is another discussion for another time!

The other big category of men arriving who wish to enter the bridal area of the store are fiances. Now, I am kind of an opinionated woman, so if something I say frustrates you, please leave a comment and I'll let you have your voice (as long as it isn't vulgar or profane!). But this kind of irritates me. Now when I say that, I am not referring to the number of cultures in which the groom is responsible for selecting and paying for the wedding gown. I have taken too many etiquette lessons, cultural differences classes, and sensitivity training seminars for that.


I am referring to the irritating overbearing fiance. The one who wants to control his girlfriend, from what she wears, to who she talks to. I am a strong-willed woman, so it is hard for me to understand how some of these girls can tolerate the prospect of spending the rest of their lives being in a partnership with someone who won't let her make her own choices and express herself.

I remember one man who arrived to take his bride shopping for a dress. It happened to be a slow day, so we were able to set him up in a separate room where he wasn't in the bridal area, and his fiance, let's call her Jaden, had to be dressed in the dressing rooms, and then take a long walk with each gown to the room where he waited, only to look her up and down, order her to spin, and ultimately give each dress the thumbs up or down. It was such a emotionless kind of experience for me that I wondered if he would ask her to open her mouth so he could check for wear on her teeth. (Get it? Like at a horse auction? Okay, bad one.)

Anyway. He picked a dress. Pulled out a credit card. I measured the Bride. That was it. I didn't see any love or excitement from either of them, and even wondered if this was some sort of arranged marriage or mail-order-bride kind of deal. Kind of weird.

So if you are a bride looking to shop for your dress, and you have a man you'd like to bring with you, do yourself a favor: call the store ahead of time to check whether men are allowed, and in which areas. There is nothing more awkward for the man in your life, as to feel as though he is unwanted by the store. And that may not be the case, it may just be at your store, as in mine, the concern needs to be for not just you and your guests, but the feelings of the other brides shopping at the same time. Remember that the other brides are trying on dresses that are sample sized and often don't fit properly, and they may be hanging out of the gowns. So although there are private dressing rooms, they may not be fully covered when they emerge to show their group their dream gown!