Carrie Marsden shadows one bride’s first dress shopping experience and shares some surprising feedback…
For most people – bridal boutique owners and staff definitely excluded – waking up on a lazy Saturday morning brings with it the joy of knowing that stretching luxuriusly ahead of them, is nothing more taxing than the promise of some excellent hearty fodder; perhaps a spot of light and relaxed shopping; time to read the paper from cover to cover, and perhaps indulging in all 327 minutes of Pride and Prejudice.
Well my last Saturday – and mirroring, I suspect, something like your every single Saturday – was a little different. Because I spent last Saturday – an adrenaline-packed, fast and furious, “you can’t sit down now” and “lunch is for wimps, Carrie”, 24 whole hours – with my friend, The Recently Engaged (let us call her Lily).
To be clear: Lily is pure delicious-ness in female form and I love her to bits. But Lily represents that unique demographic of womankind who has but one
thing on their mind: My. Wedding. To. Plan.
Lily came over for dinner the Friday night before. After the meal she pulled out two DVDs from her bag – Bridesmaids and Father of the Bride – and asked which one I wanted to watch. “Lily, you complete loon,” I said, “it’s 10pm – have you totally lost your mind? (Sigh). Oh, go on then: Bridesmaids.”
I was somewhat unnerved by her response: “No, I mean which one do you want to watch first…?”
Five hours’ sleep later, and the next day brought a vortex of indescribable activity. It’s been almost a week now and I still can’t shake the experience (or the slight twitch). But perspective is key and from this vantage – a day in the life of the newly engaged – there were some wonderful insights to share with our readers at Wedding Trader.
Lest an ever-widening chasm should exist between those of us who cater for today’s brides and the brides themselves, the onus is on us to step inside these ladies’ sky-scraping T-bar shoes, and to really empathise with their thoroughly modern experiences. A day with Lily was exhausting, exhilarating, illuminating, infuriating, deeply moving, and mostly conducted at near-starvation point.
But fortune favours the brave, dear reader: if you are open to some surprising and unexpected feedback, read on…
“That’s a guideline, not a rule, Carrie…” Lily had read to avoid arranging too many bridal appointments in one day. The advice given was one booking for the morning and a second appointment in the afternoon, with lunch in between for a debrief on the morning appointment. Obviously – and I think you get the measure of the woman by now – Lily did no such thing. We had six appointments lined up that Saturday. And apparently no lunch.
Hmmm… interesting. Your brides will be exhausted. Bear in mind they’ve probably just come from another boutique, which means your shop is being drawn into sharp contrast with possibly many others they’ve seen that day. In addition, I fully recognise that you’d need a double-first in psychology to navigate the minefield of a
The first appointment we went to, Lily was an upbeat ball of fiery excitement, but the one before lunch was dreadful. She could have tried on a dress that instantly transformed her into the goddess Aphrodite and still she would have been thoroughly glum, nit-picky and tetchy. She was HUNGRY! To everyone’s benefit, I wonder if boutiques would be best advised not to schedule any lunchtime appointments with brides, especially if they are first-time customers…
“I have literally NO frame of reference!”
During an ever-so-slightly tense moment early on (I think I’d foolishly suggested that Lily perhaps ought to just carry her six-inch stilettos around rather than wearing them boutique to boutique), Lily began to look a little lost.
Instinct told her to wander round the boutiques and ‘browse’ (“I thought it would be, you know, a bit like Topshop…”), and she was taken aback when the bridal consultant reassured her that she would do the leg work, handle the initial selection of dresses, and present Lilly with a hand-picked choice.
Hmmm… interesting. It is easy to forget that many of these women have never tried on a dress of this magnitude or scale before. Their shopping experiences will be online or high-street and in significant ways, a bridal boutique seeks to distance itself from both of these.
But how clear is it to the brides that they can, and should, expect something totally different? Not knowing the ‘process’ made my friend Lily feel nervous and under confident. I wonder if this needs a bit of explaining, perhaps on a retailer’s website, to prepare brides in advance. Similarly, should websites state how many people is appropriate to accompany the bride? Lily’s newly-engaged friend Rachel (“who thinks she’s Beyonce”) anticipates bringing eight other women along… if this is some brides’ expectations, but perhaps not every boutique’s ideal, should that also be made clear?
“Oh dear God, am I a Sultry Temptress or a Grecian Goddess?” The conversation went like this and I kid you not: Lily (increasingly panicked) “Do I want to be a princess or a bohemian bride? There are so many styles, how do I know what will look good? What if I’m a Sultry Temptress and I just never knew? I could be denying my inner Sultry Temptress, Carrie, why aren’t you more concerned about this?!” On her first bridal-shopping experience, Lily was overwhelmed by the choice available.
Hmmm… interesting. One of the boutiques really stood out that Saturday. I cannot tell you the difference it made to Lily’s sense of equilibrium to have a professional team of consultants, clearly well-versed in current bridal styles and fashions, who listened to Lily’s hopes, fears and dreams, and then made her experience as tailor-made as possible. This particular
boutique asked Lily about what dresses she had at home and what she had previously chosen to wear to friends’ weddings. We both thought this was an inspired touch. Again, I truly marvel at the psychology involved here; this afforded an excellent starting-off point and it helped Lily find her bridal ‘home’ in the shop very quickly.
“But how would I have known that?” In a truly beautiful boutique, we had a truly awful moment. Lily tried on a dress the likes of which the word ‘sumptuous’ cannot even begin to cover. She was glowing. She was a vision. She fell in love. We were told the price and her face crumpled: it was leaps and bounds beyond her price limit. She felt understandably dejected and a little confused. Why hadn’t the website listed the prices of the dresses?
Hmmm… interesting. What are the pros and cons of making prices available in advance and ahead
of brides’ visits? (the debate continues in the next issue…)
“Do you think they’ll think I look like a bride?” Finally, Lily was nervous about what YOU would think of her. She was worried you would judge her. Should she wear make up? Would the boutiques think her a slob for not having had a manicure? In a whisper, she confided to one boutique owner that she didn’t happen to look like any of the women from Pronovias in wedding dresses…
Hmmm… interesting. This particular brilliant boutique owner consoled a tired and emotional Lily with the following: “Well no, lovely, none of us look like that. Those are seriously edited images – and edited images of models. You and I are actual human women, and
you’re going to look stunning in this dress here…”. Lily later told me she’d never been quite so appraised for how she looked. It was a revelation to see just how intimidating dress-shopping is for some women from the bride’s perspective.
All of Lily’s experiences that day have this in common: the best boutiques were consistently the ones that worked hard to put themselves in Lily’s shoes, and then to put her at her ease.
After Lily left, my 12-year-old daughter wandered in with a blanket on her head for a veil, asking if we could watch Father of the Bride… Ultimately, it is these brilliant brides – and the future ones – who fuel our industry. Shadowing Lily afforded a much-needed prism through which to view the bridal industry. It was an absolute privilege!