A dress for the mother-of-the bride can be tricky. We’ve all seen the poufs of mint, pink, and pale yellow—those dresses that age women by ten years? You’ve got an image in your mind right now, don’t you?
How not to look like those images was our challenge at the beginning of the month with a client I’ll call Val.
[Client name and designers of the actual chosen dresses have been changed or omitted because the wedding is next month and I want to honor the intimacy of the special event for my client.]
Erin (my assistant) and I met our client at our planned rendezvous spot, Neiman-Marcus on Union Square. But all the way from the underground parking garage to the swinging doors of Neiman’s, I wasn’t feelin’ it.
Val was waiting for us at the beauty counter on the first floor. I said, “I know we planned to start here but I’d really like to duck into Barney’s first. Do you mind?”
“Any reason?” she said.
“No, just that it’s smaller, more of a specialty store and I have a hunch. We can always take a five-minute cruise around the dresses and turn around and head back up the street if we don’t see anything.”
Let me give you some background: I’ve worked with this client for ten years. I know her wardrobe inside and out. She’s a big fan of neutral colors, nothing fancy, everything understated. She can have a designer label in her closet only if there’s no hint at all that it looks like it’s got a designer label. She’s got a great figure and is happiest with little or no attention heading her way. But she likes looking good and deeply appreciates our work together.
We entered Barney’s, headed for the elevator and got off on the third floor. I started flipping through dresses on the racks, looking for something that was attractive, appropriate, but low-key. I pulled one contender right away—a beautifully made, exquisite black and white floral print dress in a jersey fabric.
On about the third rack, I noticed a dress that was pretty—pretty darn special, actually, but wistfully dismissed it. It looked too … everything! Too out there, too sexy, too spectacular. Not low-key.
She was behind me a few paces. I looked over my shoulder as she touched the same dress that had gotten my attention. She said, “Oh, this is …” and didn’t finish the sentence.
I tried to help her finish her thought. I said, “A dress that’s …?
“Well, nice for someone but not for me,” she said.
“Let’s try it on,” I said. “When you take a dress off a hanger and put it on a body, it starts to talk to you. Let’s see what this one says.”
Heading for the dressing room for no surprises and then surprises
She agreed to try it and we headed for the dressing room.
She stepped into the black and white floral print dress first. it was a perfect fit. She liked what she saw in the full-length mirror and I did too: gorgeous—her kind of gorgeous. Pretty, lady-like, certainly appropriate for the wedding setting, which was the St. Francis Hotel just a couple of blocks away from where we stood. With a short-heeled pump and some fancy jewels, she could head to the church right now if the wedding was in thirty minutes.
“Wow, ‘the dress’ on the first try? Fabulous!” she said. There were big smiles in that dressing room!
She wasn’t entirely surprised that it was this easy. She said, “I set an intention that we’d find the dress with ease. Well, not me, you! But we’d find it.”
We were busy patting ourselves on the back when I said, “Okay so let’s try this one on.”
I reached for the dress that had lured us both.
Why bother? you may ask. After all, we’d found the dress, right? Knowing my client so well, this second dress truly looked out of her comfort zone, but here’s the thing: she had touched it. That’s all that mattered to me. There’d been a connection and I honor the strength of non-verbal communication.
She slipped into it. It was a black sleeveless floral lace and netting tea-length dress. The bodice was close-fitting and corset inspired with black groisgrain trim outlining the bust like a corset would. Groisgrain ribbon outlined the waist. From the waistline, the full skirt flowed in layers of netting that ended in an unfinished hem.
We looked at her in this perfectly fitting not-the-dress dress, and we were speechless, except for one word: Wow!
This dress had a lot to say! It said adorable, charming, and a whole other direction.
If I’d pre-shopped for her the day before, I would not have pulled that dress. Over the years, I’ve trusted the live shopping experience with the client there beside me because I can watch her body language. I notice the obvious—like when she winches or pulls away. But I also notice what draws her in when no words could explain why.
Time to think it over
We had time. The wedding was still a few weeks away. We could change our course but I suggested she purchase both dresses, take them home and we’d review them in a couple of weeks at our next regularly scheduled closet appointment.
When Erin and I showed up for that appointment, Val answered the door wearing the first dress we loved so much, the black and white floral print, lady-like one. It was as beautiful as ever!
We all agreed it was still wonderful, a real catch of a dress.
Now it was time to try the other one on. I was anxious to get a second look at it outside of the store. I helped her get into it and stood back to look at her. It looked like it was hers already. It wasn’t the designer’s dress; it was Val’s dress. She moved so easily in it.
I said, “It’s such a happy dress! So expressive!”
She said, “I know! Where has this dress been all my life? I just want to twirl in this dress!”
The twirling dress won top honors
This was definitely “the dress” for the wedding and it didn’t take much to finish it. Luckily we’d found a cropped black cardigan as a wrap that day in Barney’s. We agreed she’d probably only wear it from her room in the Fairmont to the wedding space and then take it off before the ceremony started. I chose a small clutch for her, added the low-heeled pumps we’d picked out also at Barney’s, and some earrings we’d recently purchased. The dress had so much personality already that we really didn’t need to add much to it at all.
The other dress will be perfect for two upcoming weddings my client is attending in the coming weeks in different states. They were both perfect dresses; they just switched positions on us!
The lingering breakthrough
Once we settled on the dress, I created some transition outfits for her to wear as we move from summer to fall. I could feel the influence of the corset inspired dress all afternoon. I took more liberty in the way I styled her Monday through Sunday outfits. Using the clothes she already had, I gave each “new” outfit I created a little more punch, more action, more edge than she’d been comfortable with so far. Each outfit seemed to be more fashion forward and she liked it!
That dress has left an imprint that can’t be washed away. There’s a new style horizon ahead and we’re ready for it!