We’ve all heard of Kleinfeld Bridal. Actually, I hadn’t until all my friends told me. “You’re going wedding dress shopping? Are you going to go to Kleinfeld? I’ve seen every episode through season 7 of ‘Say Yes to the Dress’!” So, of course, I had to add it to my dress circuit. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a maximizer, so rather than optimizing for speed of dress selection, I embraced my inclination to visit every store and planned the most efficient route between boutiques.
First, I selected for density of shops. Racked.com gave me an excellent layout of the playing field. If clustered appropriately and combined with a clear schedule, I could fit up to four boutiques in a day, assuming 1.5 hours per shop and a minimum of 20 minutes of transit and transition time. I left the ones closer to work lower on the list, assuming I could find a long lunch break or a 5pm departure on some occasion. And for biggies like RK Bridal, I assumed a whole afternoon would be required to a) get there and b) sift with limited assistance through the thousands of dresses on offer of every design and designer. Then, I tossed out the options that were a poor fit for me. The easiest ones to de-prioritize were the custom houses and the department stores, as I didn’t have a vision to fulfill but did want some expert assistance.
By my fifth shop, I felt I’d found my dress. But as most of the luxury bridal businesses require bookings well ahead of time, I was still making doubly sure that I’d found the one, and enjoying the bridal shopping experience with more leisure when I arrived at Kleinfeld.
Kleinfeld, I was expecting, would be the cherry on the cake. At Pronovias I experienced impeccable care, warmth, and charm. At Designer Loft, they put the Fashion in Fashion District, with elegant designs and balanced variety. At Kleinfeld, I met…a nose in the air. “How many will be in your party?” the receptionist asked as I made my appointment. Glancing around looking for mafia sized wedding entourages, I saw no such intimidating crowds and turned back to the receptionist. “Two,” I replied.
As I waited for my room, I leafed through their album of blond women in gigantic dresses, cuddling with their new husbands on large suburban estates. My name was called, and my heavily made up consultant offered a hand and a strained smile. I realized I needed to break the ice of her wintery introduction.
“Hi Veronica, great to meet you! How has your day been?” We settle into my fitting room.
“So busy…people just don’t know how hectic bridal is. It takes nine months for the dress to arrive.” She paused meaningfully, and I nodded somberly. “And with alterations, you need one more month. So you need to find a dress at least 10 months ahead of time. Bridal is very busy.”
Really? That's fascinating, because my friend who has worked in fashion his whole professional career tells me he can make an entire line in 10 weeks, and a made to measure wedding dress in 6 or less. Are you sending it to China and then back again for alterations? Or maybe you're just trying to maintain a line like a hot club in Soho...
Maybe I’m thinking about this the wrong way, but that sounds like the opposite of hectic. That sounds deeply inefficient! Thinking back to Management 101 from my MBA, it seems that every other business in the world carries some inventory, and no doubt bridal in effect is the same, as the same designs and dresses are loaned to hundreds of bridal shops in the greater New York area alone. Now I understand these samples are used for marketing first and sold in “Sample Sales” later. There is no substitute for seeing fashion items in person, which is why our favorite Wharton all-stars Warby Parker got storefronts. But if it’s worth the investment to have a few floaters in showrooms, why not have a few in stock for purchase in season? It creates an operations nightmare not to be able to batch production and, instead, hand sew each item in the order that it was purchased. But if it’s for a weeeddding, everyone is suddenly willing to suffer slow and sometimes poor service, and pay extra for it. To the untrained eye, it rather feels like a marketing tactic of artificial scarcity. Brides are made to feel more grateful that we have the privilege of paying thousands of dollars, and are glad that we receive anything at all for it. All the while we are funding the inefficiency of the system. But that’s the cynical view.
“What’s your price range?” Veronica queried.
“I’m taking a you-know-it-when-you-see-it approach.”
“Well sooome of our dresses are fif-teen-thousand dollars”
Did you watch Austin Powers on repeat to get that effect? It was Dr. Evil with a dash of Sandy from Daria. Wait, I can’t answer a question with a question, pick a number…and something high, so that she still talks to me...
“I’d like something below $8,000.” She looked relieved, or perhaps willing to suspend disbelief.
After answering some more queries about style preferences, the parade of try-ons began. The other consultants cooed, “You look amazing!” to the second and third dresses as a strode into the hallway to get the feel of each dress. I took these complements with a shaker of salt. I’d gotten positive feedback from wedding dress consultants on all sorts of outrageous dresses by that point. I definitely looked like a piñata in one of the first dresses I tried on that the consultant glowed was “a show stopper”. Yes, but not in a good way, I thought after reviewing the photos. You couldn’t find me amidst all the tulle on another dress that a consultant thought was “the one”. But what’s wedding dress shopping without a blooper real?
“Ooooh, I like that one - how much is it?” My friend asked a few dresses in.
“Probably $2,000” I ventured, as there were no price tags, and it was a less attractive version of one I’d tried on previously priced at $1,600. I spoke too soon. Veronica walked in.
“It’s two thousand, six hundred dollars,” she half glowered.
Maybe I should make this a bidding war to emphasize my price insensitivity… “I’ll pay $3,000! It’s less? Make it $4,000!” Yes, there’s the unspoken rule: if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. And we’d already broken it, so screw it, let’s take this all the way down hill!
She presented another dress. “This one is a Kleinfeld exclusive.”
Yes, you’ve said the magic word! Exclusive? I want to be a part of anything exclusive to feel meaningful! If you’re not busy later, can I join your Mean Girls crew? And no, you can't sit with us.
I nodded with a weak smile, trying to feign continued interest. By that point, everything looked like a tackier version of something I’d already tried on elsewhere. I had reached my saturation point.
“Thanks Veronica. I’m not going to make any decisions today, I’d like to bring my mom back so she can see my favorites.”
“Could your mom not make it today?” She asked. She’d mastered that fine line between bored and exasperated.
Do you see my mom next to me? One would have thought that was apparent by the lack of my mom being here. “No.”
Yup. I Say No to the Dress.