The other night I watched a new episode of “Say Yes to the Dress,” The Learning Channel’s long-running reality hit (since 2006) following brides-to-be shopping for a wedding gown in the famous Kleinfeld’s wedding store in New York. It was a little odd, being the first show filmed under COVID conditions. There was host Randy Fenoli on video guiding brides throughout the country on selections that had been sent to their homes from Kleinfeld’s (to be tried on and then the rejections to be sent back). Ostensibly, this is a virus adaptation of both the show and of Klienfeld’s services, but I’m thinking that it could become more than a temporary solution for all those nation-wide and international shoppers who have flocked to Kleinfeld’s for more than 80 years. Why not? At the price point of most of the gowns at Kleinnfeld’s, what’s a little shipping charge?
Okay, full disclosure: I love Kleinfeld’s because I have a long-standing relationship with them. As a wedding and marriage writer and a contributing editor to Modern Bride Magazine for many years, I knew Kleinfeld’s well and relied on them for facts, statistics, and trends about the bridal industry. Originally founded in a storefront in Brooklyn by Hedda Kleinfeld and Jack Schacter (her husband) in 1941, Kleinfeld’s started in a street-corner building with three dressing rooms. By 1979, the facility had expanded to 12 dressing rooms with over 400 styles in stock; it even added an annex just for bridesmaids and mothers of the bride. In 2005 Kleinfeld’s relocated to Manhattan to 35,000 square feet of space with 28 dressing rooms, 17 fitting rooms, and over 1500 designer samples in house. Kleinfeld’s is the largest bridal retailer in the world with a staff of 250 people serving some 17,000 bridal customers a year.
By the time I was embedded there in the early ’80s for research on my first book on weddings and marriage (Modern Bride Guide To Your Wedding and Marriage, Ballentine, 1984), Kleinfeld’s was at its heyday in Brooklyn. I reported early in the morning in my little black dress to spend the day as a bridal consultant “under cover” and Miss Hedda assigned me to an experienced consultant who would shepherd me through the day. As far as the brides knew, I was a regular consultant. I had several appointments that day, but the one that I remember most was a young woman from South America to whom I had been assigned because I spoke (minimal) Spanish. She came with her mother and her sister and she was a delight. She was also a big spender armed with photos of European designer gowns that she was anxious to see. And so she did. And so she bought one and left happy.
What I learned most from this very long day at Kleinfeld’s was how incredibly much work the day was. First of all, the discussions with the brides and the attempts at transferring their dreams to the realities of the marketplace was a psychological challenge. Then, once the parameters of design and cost were determined, the search for appropriate selections to try on began. The gowns are extremely heavy — you cannot imagine — and moving them from place to place to dressing room and back is exhausting. And then there is the tedious, often emotional, calculation of whether or not this might be a “say yes to the dress” in front of her accompanying shopping party. You become the mediator of the emotional distance between the bride’s vision of her perfect wedding day presentation and the expectations of her most immediate friends and family. For the consultant, it is a walk on a tightrope; every appointment makes for a very long day, and an important one. After all, for most women, a bridal gown is the only custom-made garment they will ever own and it will live in memory, and in photographs, forever.
Back in 1969 when I was a bride-to-be choosing a wedding gown in Victoria, Texas, it was a simpler affair. There was only one bridal salon in town offering designer gowns and only a limited selection from which to choose. Even so, the consultant/owner, in her own little black dress with her glasses hanging on a spectacle cord and her graying hair up in a bun, truly had impeccable taste and was able to “order in” whatever she anticipated would be required for her client. Under her guidance, I chose a magnolia white sleeveless gown in peau de soie with re-embroidered Alencon lace, a matching silk wedding coat in full court train, topped by a full-length lace mantilla that I had previously gone to San Antonio to purchase. It was a beautiful ensemble overall, for mid- July in Southwest Texas. The day we got married the temperature registered 104º, but never mind…
My husband and I celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary this weekend, quietly, of course, amid the coronavirus. It was about 101º here in San Antonio, but of course, I wasn’t wearing a wedding dress. (I wore a linen shirt and pearls.) We had a lovely, quiet dinner and revisited, via slide shows, some of our greatest travel hits including last year in Paris and a video of our 25th anniversary celebration in Connecticut. It was nice; calm, quiet, and memorable mainly because we are both still here and still together in this most difficult time. We can be thankful for that; the best, most lasting romance, is grounded in reality.
During those years with Modern Bride, I went on to write two more books and hundreds of subsequent articles on marriage and family, and I loved doing it. Weddings are a happy topic and one that people are eager to talk about, even when describing their wedding mishaps. Today, watching “Say Yes to the Dress” brings all those memories back to me and makes me smile.
And these days, we all need to smile, particularly on our anniversary.