Undercover Bride: The Wedding Dress Boutique

April 16, 2012

So Roo and I came up with a new blog series idea…she’s going undercover. Many wedding blogs who review the places they visit only write about the good stuff – the glittering service, the elegant decor and the impeccable attention to detail…but you know we’re not like other wedding blogs. Sure, when the service is good we’ll be telling you about it, but similarly when it’s shocking, we ain’t holding back!

And judging by Roo’s experience on her first assignment it’s going to be a very interesting series indeed!

This post was originally intended to be my Bridesmaids post for a multitude of reasons – mainly, because my SILI (Sister-in-Law-Ish) Louise had concocted what we all thought would be a funny, silly, lovely day together, doing the one thing we weren’t expecting to do as a bridal unit: visit a wedding dress vendor and ogle as I tried on all manner of meringues and a plethora of puffballs. We all presumed we’d forego the opportunity because I didn’t want to buy my wedding dress from a shop; I wanted my mum to make it for me. With that in mind, the cogs in Louise’s mind started whirring and she suggested that we go ahead and do it anyway – what better excuse to get together and act up a little before we get serious?

Lamb and I had planned a very short visit up north to finalise our venue arrangements, so Louise offered to book us in somewhere fancy where we’d be treated like royalty, and I’d feel like the (rock n roll) princess that us brides-to-be are supposed to when finding our dream dress. Neither of these things happened, and so here we are.

Unfortunately for the vendor we visited, I can smell a ring-bearing rat a mile off, especially since I have tried wedding dresses on before (with glittering service), and six years of on-off retail experience have taught me a thing or two about how to treat a customer, potential or otherwise. My experience in this bridal shop made me feel undervalued and altogether a nuisance – who you gonna call? My fairy weddingmother, of course. When I told Kat, she was as dumbfounded as I was. My dismay and her brainpower concocted this new series of posts, in which we hope to educate, reassure, and warn you (where appropriate). This is not a witch-hunt, nor is it a promotional feature. I’m simply a budding bride, just like you, and I don’t want you or I to be left jilted or jaded by the experience.  This should be one time in our life when we feel particularly invincible, so this is purely an educational exercise in marital mystery shopping. Without further ado, I present to you: Undercover Bride.

NB: As I had originally envisioned that I would write this experience up as a fond memory shared with most of my bridal party, I had asked my sister Jo to bring her camera along. When we arrived at the bridal shop, Jo asked the vendor whether we were able to take photographs, and we were told no. Jo took all the photos that appear in this post covertly, and I want to make readers aware that omitting any image of the vendor’s face in these published shots is a deliberate decision, as Kat and I agreed that it would be unprofessional to make her identity known. Anyway, on with the show!

♥  ♥  ♥

As we walked through the door of the shop, our vendor exclaimed, “I wasn’t expecting so many of you!” – this might have been a throwaway comment, but I was instantly unsettled by it. In all, there were only 7 of us; I could have taken it a little to heart, but to my ears she made it sound as if the number of us was a problem for her. She called out, “who’s the bride?” and I raised my hand, introducing myself. Instead of offering her name, she just asked me what kind of dress I wanted. After telling her I wasn’t sure (not a lie) I took to the rails with Rea and Louise. I think we half-expected for a barrage of monstrosities, but I was surprised to find a few little gems that ticked my proverbial boxes – admittedly, they weren’t really to my tastes, but this place had some genuinely “WOW” dresses on offer if feeling like a Disney princess is your bag.

I ended up picking about four dresses (I think) and the vendor kindly took them from me and placed them to one side for me to try on. She showed me to the fitting room, where I started to undress. Not twenty seconds later, she burst through the curtain with an underskirt and told me to put it on. I’m not a prude, and I know us girls have all got the same girly bits, but I do not expect a stranger to enter a fitting room when I’m in my underwear, especially without asking or forewarning. This breach of privacy, personal space – or whatever you’d like to call it – was the first and final straw for me, and I already felt like I wanted to leave. Instead, I stood my ground, hoping the experience would get better.

It didn’t.

One thing that bothered me (which I guess was out of the vendor’s control) was that all of her sample sizes were far too big for me. This meant that every time I tried a dress on, it needed to be pinned at the back with an overlap of about 4 or 5 inches (see the photo below). I was assured that “once you get the dress in your size, it’ll fit perfectly” – which is nice, but not ideal considering that dresses look totally different in different sizes. My dream dress in a size 14 is not the same as that dream dress in a size 10.

Also worth a mention is my bra (woof!). Other bridal shops offer a sample bra, and ‘chicken fillets’ if necessary (which is totally necessary for me, being a petite-chested lady!) Admittedly I should have had the foresight to pack a nude bra in my suitcase, but foresight isn’t my strongest point sometimes, and I was sad that this service was overlooked – particularly since all of the dresses were big on me, and some of the bodices gaped open at the top. Still, my mum and sisters were kind enough to keep telling me that I looked “lovely”, even though I didn’t vaguely feel it. Any retailer of clothing, whatever clothing it may be, should be on hand to reassure their customers – if something doesn’t look right, then politely suggest something else. If you think someone looks like a knockout, then shout it from the rooftops. This vendor did neither of those things. She wasn’t on hand to tell me what complimented my shape, or to offer any alternatives. At one point I even told her that I didn’t know what suited me, and instead of helping me brainstorm flattering cuts for my shape, she just let me flail about in the wedding water, leading to lots of awkward silences and a lot of me sheepishly muttering “can I get changed yet?”

I was pretty switched-on to the situation at hand. I walked in to her “high-end” bridal shop in a jersey tea dress and granny boots. I was wearing a boys’ tweed jacket and goofy glasses. I have tattoos. I was not her usual customer, and she was not interested in serving my kind. I can say this with absolute confidence because I have absolutely no doubt that I am right in my suspicions. If you’re not with me on this, I’ll tell you what happened next.

On my way to trying on the second dress, I asked if drinks were offered (I wasn’t exactly expecting champers, but I could’ve killed for a cuppa). I was very briskly informed that drinks “are for customers only”. Well, I never. As I was about to step into the next number, it was announced that it was an Ian Stuart design.

“Oh, I know Ian Stuart,” I said. Only one of the most renowned wedding dress designers, like, ever? Who doesn’t?

“Ah, you’re familiar with his work?” I was asked, quite blankly. So I thought, sod it. I’m having a terrible day – let’s play with this a little.

“No, no!” I chuckled. “I know Ian Stuart. I write as an intern for a really big wedding blog, so I get to meet all kinds of industry people.”

You know how clouds suddenly disappear after a thunderstorm, and the sun comes out, and the birds start singing? Imagine that happening to someone’s face, because that’s exactly what happened to hers.

“Oh REALLY!?” she exclaimed. “How WONDERFUL.”

Quite so.

Her attitude change was so drastic that I was even a little afraid. All of a sudden she was the helpful assistant that I was expecting and kept hoping for – telling me how certain dresses could be changed to suit my tastes, letting me try on different underskirts to show how they can drastically alter the feel and shape of a certain style, and cooing about how nice I looked. I still didn’t feel it, because now I felt like it was all a façade. I dropped a name, and she dropped the attitude. It shouldn’t be that way, surely?

Still, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Midway through asking her a question, her office telephone rang, and instead of dealing with me she decided to cut me off and answer the call. By freakish coincidence, Daniel was on the line – you’re probably thinking, who’s Daniel?, and so did I – our lady informed me that Daniel wrote for Ian Stuart’s website, and at the same time she informed Daniel that “Louise here writes for your blog!”

Louise? Ian’s blog? What?

Embarrassed, I politely reminded her that I was not Louise, I was Lisa, and that it was Louise who had booked the appointment on my behalf. I was also quick to remind her that I had no affiliation with Ian Stuart or anything bearing his name – that I wrote for this blog and no other. I was met with a giggle and a blank stare that can only really mean I’m not listening to you lalalalalalalala, just like she hadn’t listened to me from the get-go.

Needless to say, I was grateful to leave. I was furthermore grateful that I was not buying my dream dress from her, and grateful yet again that I was in a position to get all of this pent-up frustration out in this here bloggy-wogg.

I’d like to think that I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care what people make of my appearance, because on the whole I’m comfortable with who I am. I didn’t leave this lady’s shop feeling like crap, because why should I? I’m not the one deeming paupers of perfect strangers, she is. I’ve been treated properly in shops before, bridal or otherwise, so I know how good service goes. The problem I have is that it could have easily been my first and only visit to a bridal shop. It could just as easily have been the day that I was expecting to fulfil all my heart’s wedding desires. I could have been completely crushed by this woman’s conduct, and I dread to think that someone else might be.

I wouldn’t dream of lacking enough professionalism to name and shame this lady, but there’s a chance that she could be reading this right now. If that’s the case, I hope she reflects on how she made me feel, and I hope she thinks twice about her assumptions the next time someone walks through her door in less than what appears to be their Sunday Best. I hope she knows how horrible she made this experience for me, and I hope she realises that the next time I hear someone mention her business or the establishment in which she is based, I will sound the alarms and tell them to steer abundantly clear. Above all else, I hope she rethinks her game plan because with this level of “service”, something’s gotta give.