In an industry of happiness: Woman spends decades putting brides-to-be at ease
Racks strain against the inventory, the gowns with their taffeta and beadwork encroaching on the small shop's walking space. Hanging everywhere is the couture of proms and christenings and, as June arrives, weddings. The attire serves the landmar...
Racks strain against the inventory, the gowns with their taffeta and beadwork encroaching on the small shop's walking space.
Hanging everywhere is the couture of proms and christenings and, as June arrives, weddings. The attire serves the landmark events of local lives, and Phyllis Fetter toils in this industry of happiness.
For years, brides-to-be have arrived at her St. Joseph shop, delighted with the chore ahead. The shopkeeper matches them, thousands of them, with dresses that will elicit tears when seen in a church aisle and praise when seen many years later in a picture album.
Sometimes, a fiance joins his betrothed at Bridal Boutique, tuxedo shopping, and the moment proves pure joy.
Ms. Fetter understands the mechanics of the business and her part in it. She researches fashion trends. She matches a customer's budget to expectations. She eliminates a headache from the detail-thick job of nuptial planning.
Some problems she can't smooth out. One involves the generational tensions, sometimes evidenced in-store, between mother and daughter. (Experience taught the shopkeeper: Give them space.) Another involves an industrywide divergence from the conventions of dress sizing.
Here's the harsh reality: If a woman wears a certain size in regular clothes, she requires a size or two larger in bridal wear.
Amazing how many shoppers rebel against a number.
"They are just astounded, and they're angry because they don't want to be that big," Ms. Fetter explains. "I'd like to cut the tag out that has the size."
A resident of Wathena, Kan., most of her life, Ms. Fetter learned the retail business in the most customer-oriented of settings. She worked 20 years at Einbender's clothing store in Downtown St. Joseph, first as a secretary and eventually as a buyer.
There, she learned at the hand of the store's matriarch, Sylvia Einbender, whose fashion instincts and respect for patrons made an impression.
"She always thought of other people," Ms. Fetter says. "You learn from people you're around (and) she was a great lady."
An opportunity arose to buy the nearby Little Mr. and Miss Shoppe, at 509 Felix St. When Einbender's closed in 1988, the family asked her to take over the gowns in layaway and other bridal inventory. She resisted at first the inquiries for an expanded wedding line. Finally, the shop owner gave in, and business boomed.
Bridal Boutique moved to a shopping development east of the Belt Highway about 15 years ago.
Ms. Fetter abides by earlier retail lessons. A conservative nature pushes her to save money for customers; she claims to have never pushed a bride into something she couldn't afford.
Also, she makes the most of trips to market, sounding out sellers, studying the latest styles. Customers sniff out the unprepared.
"They're going to see it on the Internet, they're going to see it in the bridal magazines," she says. "If you don't know what you're talking about, you're in bad shape."
At market showings in Las Vegas, Chicago and New York, the designers present a traditional bearing but often flock to a trend. A couple of years ago, every fashion house switched to strapless gowns. Ms. Fetter had her doubts.
"Look," she told the vendors, "this is corn-fed country. We can't hold those up."
But women embraced the style, even while self-conscious and tugging them from above.
The shopkeeper practices diplomacy when a woman falls for a dress clearly not right for her. And she practices patience on those occasions (very rare, Ms. Fetter claims) when a customer loses perspective ... "bridezilla" stands as the description in vogue.
Occasionally, a bride-to-be walks in, tries on one dress, buys it with no alterations needed.
"I think, this is too easy. Something's wrong," she says.
St. Joseph had four bridal houses in recent times, and they steered customers to one another, trying to keep business local. Ms. Fetter's shop remains.
She trades in the centerpiece apparel of a big day. The shop owner has made a career being part of the happiness.