A long time ago when a woman became engaged she headed to a small, local boutique and ordered her dress which was nearly made-to-order.
Her other option was to hire a local seamstress to create her dream gown. Expensive designer gowns were limited to the mega-rich and superstars. Those small boutiques were based on one thing: customer service. Many times the owner knew the bride, sometimes her whole life and could very easily help her select her gown since they had a personal relationship.
For the most part, almost all department stores had bridal and bridesmaids gowns but they began to fade in the 1980’s and by 1990 were almost completely gone. The rare exception to the department store shut-down, Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) expanded the bridal department and has become a Chicago legend with their unique level of customer service and selection of gowns. I cannot speak for the other Macy’s stores but this brand has become synonymous with bridal success in Chicago.
Since late 1990’s everything is available at the click of a button on the internet and some brides are quite comfortable buying a gown they have never seen or tried on, in an undetermined size, off of a site that may or may not have any real credentials in order to save money. To me this sounds like a bad idea and I always discourage brides from buying gowns in the internet for one reason – customer service. Plus, we all know you get what you pay for.
A few years ago Target tried selling wedding gowns by Isaac Mizrahi. They were priced around $99. I had the ‘honor’ of seeing the entire collection as it arrived in boxes at a media event. The only one I recall was made of what I would consider to be the cheapest fabric I’ve ever seen. The collection lasted about as long as this blog and I doubt if anyone even remembers that belted monstrosity or its similarly cheap counterparts. I am not sure whatever happened to Mr. Mizrahi’s failed attempt to enter into the bridal market but I would guess it had something to do with ….. (wait for it) ……customer service?
Recently select Costco stores began selling Bridal gowns at weekend trunk shows. Don’t get me wrong – I love everything about Costco, I’m just not sure that I would want to try on a bridal gown next to a 50 lb bag of dog food and a 15 lb bag of frozen chicken breasts. I saw the gowns and they were lovely but I couldn’t help but think something was missing. What was it? Oh, yeah – customer service.
This week when I read the news that Priscilla of Boston is closing all of it’s stores nationwide by the end of the year, my heart sank. Priscilla of Boston has been dressing brides for 65 years from every walk of life – including former first daughter Tricia Nixon who was married in the White House’s Rose Garden (it’s the only Rose Garden wedding to date) for her wedding to Edward Finch Cox. She appeared not once, but twice on the cover of Life magazine in a dress designed by Priscilla Kidder herself. I remember this very well because I was about 10 years old and was so enamored with the gown and all of the trappings, I persuaded my mother to buy the “Tricia Nixon Paper Doll” set for me. My love affair with weddings and bridal gowns began with Priscilla Kidder and Tricia Nixon.
So what’s next for Bridal? Will we be seeing bridal gowns stuffed on the clearance racks at Wal-mart next to the team apparel? Hopefully not. If my hunch is correct, this will move brides back into the direction where they came, directly to the bridal salons and boutiques who specialize in service. The same salons who hold trunk shows where you can get the ultimate in customer service by the designer him or herself. The ‘cash and dash’ of big box stores is just not suited for the bridal industry. Brides need assistance. They need ( at a minimum) someone to help them into the gown and more often than not an honest opinion.
Anyone in bridal retail will tell you that it is unlike any other form of retail sales. The level of service is so high that consultants are expected to be encyclopedias of information. Bridal Consultants are trained to know about shipping, fit, construction, size, fabric and every single detail of the process…. especially customer service.
-Penny Frulla for Bridal Expo Chicago