Tag Archives: The Brides Project

New Job = No Blog

Not really too much else to say about that.

I’d been volunteering for a local not-for-profit here in Ann Arbor, The Brides Project, since January, after finding my wedding gown there last November.  The Brides Project sells gently loved wedding dresses; everyone’s a volunteer, the shop space is donated, and all the dresses have been donated; 100% of the proceeds benefit The Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor that provides free services to anyone touched by cancer.

The former shop coordinator (the only staff person) decided to stay home after having her second child, and because I had been in involved in so many aspects of the operations from a volunteer perspective, The Cancer Support Community Executive Director asked me if I wanted to step in as the new coordinator.

In loving this mission and the fun of helping brides find wedding dresses, how could I say no?!?

Well it’s been about a month, and it’s been crazy hectic trying to get up to speed on all the various aspects of the operations and meeting everyone – 99% of whom are fabulous volunteers.  But it’s been rewarding, and I finally feel like I’m starting to get into a routine with it.

But in juggling all the emails, events and volunteers, other things – like this blog – have slipped through the cracks.  I wasn’t writing much for Eater.com, but I finally was able to publish a few articles a few weeks ago…an interview with a master sommelier…and a list of October wine events in Metro Detroit.  Anyone have any good leads for other Eater articles I should write?  I’m currently lacking in inspiration…I need to get back to downtown Detroit one of these days, and I also have some errands to run in Royal Oak if anything needs to be covered there.

Hopefully more to come here!!

Come to Ann Arbor, Get a Wedding Dress

As I discussed in my wedding dress post, I purchased my previously-worn wedding dress from a not-for-profit, volunteer-run shop called The Brides Project in Ann Arbor.  Dresses are donated second-hand by brides or donated new by boutiques or designers that have overstock.  (To manage inventory and make sure that the dresses have some market value, they typically only accept styles from the past 5 years.)  All proceeds from the dress sales (which are priced at least 50% off the true retail price or more depending on the condition) benefit the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.

tbp

(Photo from thebridesproject.org)

A) I had so much fun working with my two bridal consultants at the shop (open by appointment only for now), B) I was impressed by the selection and range of sizes and styles available, C) I was touched that so many people had donated their dresses, and D) I loved the idea of benefiting a good cause in buying this dress, that I just had to sign up to become a bridal consultant myself!

I had my training a few weeks ago: half at the Cancer Support Community (CSC) itself and half at The Brides Project (TBP).  I went in initially interested in being a bridal consultant at The Brides Project wedding boutique, which would mean helping brides try on and pick out dresses (yesssss, so fun!!!), and I did sign up to do that.  But being the volunteering overachiever that I am (I just get really excited about projects, okay?) I may have checked the boxes for all sorts of other volunteer opportunities too: yoga teacher at the CSC, photographer/blogger/social media correspondent for The Brides Project, dress intake/inventory/processing assistant, special events volunteer (the CSC holds a number of annual events such as an Ann Arbor version of Amazing Race, so you know I had to sign up for that!!).

I hadn’t realized that the CSC is a national organization and this is the local chapter, which is great because it means they have national resources but local autonomy to create programming that meets their members’ needs.  They offer so much, all for free, to those in all stages of cancer/remission, as well as to loved ones and care givers who are either dealing currently with the effects of cancer or have lost someone from cancer.  Not only do they have support and grief groups, they also hold weekly yoga and meditation classes, kids karate, nutrition and cooking demonstrations, knitting circles and “walks with docs” where a different volunteer doctor will host a nature walk through one of Ann Arbor’s parks, where members can informally ask questions or chat with him or her.  Here is a seriously touching video on the Kids Kicking Cancer karate class, which was started at Children’s Hospital of Michigan; I was trying not to cry watching this during the training!  There are lots of other videos out there if you google “Kids Kicking Cancer youtube”.

At first, I will be a bridal consultant trainee, which means that I will shadow a more experienced consultant on appointments.  I will do this until I feel comfortable dropping the trainee designation to become a full-fledged bridal consultant able to run appointments myself.  Every bride is given a two-hour appointment, and they try to only schedule one bride at a time so that she can have the run of the store.  They also typically schedule two consultants for every appointment so that one can help with the trying on and one can run/return dresses to and from the racks.  They are very good about creating a true bridal boutique experience with great customer service and selection.  You don’t feel like you are shopping in a second-hand store by any means.

Since the shop is run out of donated space, The Brides Project has had to move locations a fair amount since its inception, as landlords tend to want to lease out space to a paying tenant if possible.  The current location isn’t quite large enough to house all the dress inventory that they’ve collected, so they decided to experiment with a weekend trunk show held at the main offices of CSC.

The trunk show was my first hands-on training experience, and it was fantastic.  They opened up the CSC (a larger space than TBP) from 10-4 on Saturday and Sunday.  Even given the crazy snowstorm going on all weekend, 42 brides came through the door.  We helped them pick dresses that suited their styles and try on the gowns, advised them on how they could be tailored, and closed the sales.  The mood was upbeat and fun, with music pumping and families swooning and clicking away with their cameras.  They raised $8400 for the CSC over a goal of $5000, and sold 21 dresses, which is typically what they sell in a month!  Most of the brides came to the show because they had heard about it through social media and word of mouth, and I hope that the event will have a ripple effect on TBP’s brand recognition in the community.

Already the show has created a demand for weekend appointments at the shop through February.  Two other consultants and I helped a bride, who had lost her mom to cancer when she was young, find a great dress last Saturday (you know someone loves the dress when she cries seeing herself in it! So touching!), and I’m scheduled to meet with brides both days this weekend and the following weekend.  I can’t say enough about how much fun it is combing through dresses, swooning at new arrivals and fancy designers, and seeing the look on brides faces when they know it’s the one (or definitely NOT the one).

I’m excited to continue helping brides and have even offered to staff some afternoon hours to keep the shop open for walk-ins…there goes that volunteer-overdrive again.  So come visit me in Ann Arbor and together we’ll find the perfect dress!

I Got A Wedding Dress!

Okay, obviously I’m not going to post a picture of the one I’m actually going to wear – it has to be a surprise!  But keep reading to see some of the options 🙂

Two weeks ago in Texas, my parents, sister and I went to the Nordstrom Bridal Suite (the Nordstroms with bridal departments are so few and far between we had to go to the one in Houston) and BHLDN, the bridal store associated with Anthropologie, of which there are only 3 stores in the country, and luckily one of them is in Houston also!

I tried on lots of pretty dresses, and I was contemplating one at BHLDN and one at Nordstrom.  However it is shocking and disheartening how different a dress can look in the mirror versus in a photo.  (Sorry dad for getting annoyed at all the photos – they were quite helpful in the end.)  For instance, the one that I liked at BHLDN was a V-neck, ivory colored, sheath style with art deco-patterned beading.  It was different than what you might consider a traditional wedding dress and looked great in the mirror.  It was definitely the best one I had tried on during the day and because BHLDN creates sizes that you purchase and then have tailored at your own seamstress (as opposed to many bridal collections where the designer makes a dress to fit your measurements and then has fittings to get it just right…a process that can take over 6 months), the size 4 pretty much fit me and probably only needed an inch off the hem and tightening of the straps.  I was so excited to maybe have found THE dress!  Later in the day, I asked my dad to show me the photos he had taken of the various dresses, and I was distraught when I saw the picture of this dress.  The golden color, the empire waist and the very delicate beading on the bodice made it look like I was wearing a huge, nude-colored maternity bra!  Ew! Not flattering!  I will spare you an embarrassing picture and let your imagination run wild with this.  How disappointing that #1 in the mirror actually looks like poo in the pictures.

At Nordstrom, I tried on all sorts of cuts, from sheath to A line to modified ball gown.  Surprisingly, I really liked the full organza skirting and sheer straps on this Anne Barge “Emmanuelle” gown (this link will only get you to the collections page, then you have to hit “Anne Barge” under “Fall 2013,” scroll over to the right 7 clicks, and then the Emmanuelle style will be the dress farthest to the right at that point…the model is wearing a flower and net fascinator), which isn’t the style I was anticipating liking going into the day.  I think the wide cummerbund-style waist was very flattering, but the $3000+ price tag was not as attractive.  Next.

Here are some of the others I tried on that day:

dress 2This was the first one I tried at Nordstrom, and I really liked it for the beading and interesting sheer cut out pleats at the bottom.  The straps were thin and delicate so as to show off the back.  Contemplating the dress later, however, I didn’t love it, and I wouldn’t want to face buyer’s remorse, seeing as I have more than a year until our wedding.  That’s a long time to change your mind/find something better.

dress 3This is the first one I tried at BHLDN.  Sort of a ’20s art deco style (as were most of their dresses this season) with the silver beading in triangle patterns, translucent buttons down the front leading to a high front slit and flouncy cap sleeves.  I liked this for the artsy styling, but I don’t think it flattered my body all that well, and I would have nixed the cap sleeves, although looking at this photo now, I kinda like them.

Not feeling 100% confident about any of the ones I tried on that day, I figured I would keep thinking and keep looking, probably back in Baltimore next time I was home.

My sister came to visit this past weekend, and she said she wouldn’t mind, and would even be happy, to keep looking for dresses in Ann Arbor if we could get appointments.  I knew there was a gown shop on Main Street, but after looking at their website, it seemed that most of their dresses would be out of my price range.  They even said on the website that there is a separate showroom for dresses under $1500 and that most of those are short dresses or samples.  Not wanting to spend thousands and thousands on a dress, I didn’t get the most promising feeling from this shop’s website.  And how icky to separate out those of us whose budgets might not be all the huge?  I still want to look at the crazy-expensive ones!

The weekend after our Texas trip, I went to NYC for a friend’s birthday party.  Her good friend went to grad school at UMich and suggested a shop called The Brides Project.  She said one of her friends found a dress there.  The Brides Project is a volunteer-run shop of “pre-loved” dresses that are donated by previous brides, as well as new dresses donated by boutiques and designers that have overstock.  All the proceeds from the sale of the dresses go to support “families touched by cancer through the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.”  I thought it sounded like a place I should check out – at the very least because I knew the dresses would be reasonably priced.

My sister and I made an appointment for Saturday morning and were met by two super cute and friendly girls about my age.  The volunteer wedding stylists run the shop out of donated space so it’s not the fanciest of bridal salons, but it clearly serves the purpose of warehousing many many many dresses.  After washing our hands (because the dresses on the racks are the ones you buy – there’s no making dresses to fit your specifications here – and they don’t want them to get dirty), we started combing through the racks and racks of dresses, sorted by size.  We pulled anything that caught our fancy, no matter the size, because The Brides Project works with a seamstress who discounts her rates and apparently can work miracles resizing, tailoring and changing the dresses.

dress 1I really liked this one – especially the neckline and straps, – and would go so far as to say it was my runner up.  But it was a bit heavy for a beach wedding and I would have had to make some semi-major changes to the waistline, ruching on the front skirt panel and taken out some of the extra skirt material.

Here is another one I liked for the lower waistline (after realizing that empire waist is not my jam and just makes me look preggers) and low V-neck.  Also the back was beautiful with a little bit of draping falling to the waist: see the second photo below.

dress 4                               dress 4I think the back was my favorite part of this dress.

The straps would have had to be taken in a bunch and there was some weird stiff puckering in the boob area.  It would’ve been too much of a risk to see how the tailor could have managed that since you have to buy it first before tailoring.

Then I tried on a dress that seemed to be perfect (or as close as I’d gotten to date)!  It had the details I was looking for:  V-neck, not too long, very tiny train.  That’s all I will divulge, except that I do need the tailor to do a bit of touching up and shortening of the straps.  There’s no label in the dress, so I have no idea if it was handmade or what its story is.  I do think it was worn though and not a new overstock designer dress.

I also tried on an Amsale gown and a Pronovias dress (two well-known wedding designers that would have been a lot more expensive in a traditional bridal boutique), and apparently a Vera Wang gown recently came through that was obviously bought quite quickly.

My dress was $300, and I couldn’t be more excited about it and the fact that I’m helping a great cause in the process!  Also, they said they are always looking for volunteers to be wedding stylists in the shop and that they only come in 1-2 times per month when there are appointments (they are open by appointment only), so that may be a super fun volunteer activity for me.  The only downside would be if I saw some other amazing dress come into the shop.  Although at these prices, I perhaps could afford to change my mind one time! 🙂