Costumer to Brides
"THE RING—where is the ring?" The bride wrung her hands distractedly, the attendants fidgeted nervously, the ushers looked puzzled. In the background the deep notes of the organ throbbed with the first strains of the wedding march.
Into this scene of near-tragedy moved a petite, sparkling-eyed brunette. Soothingly she murmured, "Never mind, I'll find the ring." And she did.
For Mrs. Roxie Rhodes of Nampa, Idaho, emergencies such as this are routine. Short minutes before she had made a dash to her home for the satin pillow that would cradle the token of union. The bridesmaid delegated to carry the pillow to the church had been so excited that she forgot her responsibility.
Not only does Mrs. Rhodes make a hobby of assembling the gowns for a bridal party, but she often caters the actual wedding itself. The ceremony that proceeds without a hitch is the exception and, in the confusion of the last minutes before the march down the aisle, she is prepared to handle the ultimate details. Calming the nervous father, holding back the flustered mothers until the propitious moment for the usher to escort them to their appointed pews, reassuring the attendants and coaching them in the proper way to hold their bouquets, Roxie is everywhere at once.
For Mrs. Rhodes these are loved chores. Smilingly she explains: "I fall in love with every bride I dress. The most recent one always seems the prettiest and sweetest of all, but each one is darling."
WITH HER short dark curls and trim figure Mrs. Rhodes looks young enough to be a bride herself rather than a grandmother. Wearing dresses that she makes for herself, she personifies style. The dressing of brides is the culmination of a series of events that began with the wedding of her only daughter, Connie, two years ago. As Mrs. Rhodes recalls:
"I had always wanted to make my daughter's wedding gown and to give her a lovely wedding. As I began to plan, I learned that there were many things I didn't know about the proper etiquette of weddings, the little extras that contribute to a perfect occasion, Those who attend weddings see the beauty of the spectacle, but they fail to take in the fine points. For many women the marriage of a daughter may afford their first close experience with a church wedding.
"Fulfilling my desire to design Connie's gown and veil was only the beginning. When Connie's bridesmaids came to me for aid in their own wedding plans, I couldn't say no. Then next it was their bridesmaids and their bridesmaids' bridesmaids."
When the first bride-to-be asked for help, Mrs. Rhodes agreed to make the veil. "I'm not going to have my home all cluttered up with giddy girls, samples, and fittings," she declared staunchly. "Then came the persuasive bride who wouldn't take my dictum literally. With the first complete ensemble I had so much fun that I've never tried to go back to my original intention of accessories only.
"When the girls come to me for their initial consultation, not one in a dozen has any idea about what she really wants. In the early fall a bride-to-be announced that she would like a Queen Anne collar; beyond that her ideas were nebulous. So you might say that we built a wedding ensemble around a collar."
ON THE first visit by the girl and her mother, Mrs. Rhodes and her clients sit down and thumb through magazines for brides. As they turn the pages, the bride may indicate that she likes a veil from one picture, a sleeve from another, a cap from still another. Mrs. Rhodes notes her preferences and then proceeds to design a gown that is individual—hers alone. No two follow any set pattern and each is unique.
Because they are not versed in styles, the girls often ask, "What do you think would look attractive on me?" Without exception the brides always say, "Please make me look tiny at the waist." Deciding on the kind of material to be used and, in particular, the amount of beading and lace, precedes an estimate of cost.
Laughingly Mrs. Rhodes remarks, "I really ought to go into the business of selling cinch waists, for that is almost the first suggestion I give." Being referred to a Boise department store for this purchase, the bride-to-be starts slimming down months or weeks ahead of time.
Other queries that determine the formulation of a plan are "How many attendants do you expect to have?" and "Do you wish a chapel, cathedral or court train?" Most important of all is "How much do you wish to spend?"
"Most of my brides are working girls who would like to be married in church and who do not have too much to spend on their weddings," Mrs. Rhodes explains.
AFTER TWO years of gowning brides, Mrs. Rhodes can figure almost to the inch how much material will be required for the dresses. "I am constantly amazed at the way the yardage works out," she says. "I scarcely ever waste any." She attributes this uncanny accuracy to years of sewing for herself and her daughter. Before the first visit ends, she makes an overall price that will cover everything, including the value of her labor.
Prior to development of each individual gown, she takes the basic size of the bride's dresses; that is, size 32 or 34. Then she notes the waist, sleeve, and bust measurements. Length and special adjustments are made as the gown is being fashioned.
Mrs. Rhodes orders all her materials direct from houses in New York City. In this way she can offer superior workmanship and more costly fabrics than those to be found in factory-made gowns. Her source of ribbons, flowers, beads and sequins is a millinery supply house.
For cutting, Mrs. Rhodes lays the material on the living room floor, then begins the tedious task of arrangement. Carefully she places the pieces of a basic pattern upon the satin or brocade. Sometimes she will superimpose one piece upon another in order to arrive at the effect she desires. First she cuts all the parts for the waist, the sleeves, and last the skirt.
She eliminates the need for basting by pinning together the two halves of a waist; for example, front and back. Next she stitches. As each seam is completed, she presses it. Thus, when finished, the gown is ready to wear without any additional pressing. This method is much easier than trying to get underneath to press the inside seams of a completed gown.
By using pins she avoids the risk of extra mussing and wrinkles, Mrs. Rhodes explains. "I never touch the skirt until I have perfected the bodice and the sleeves," she says. "After seaming the skirt pieces, I use pins to fasten the skirt and waist together in preparation for the first fitting."
Mrs. Rhodes is old-fashioned about the taking of hem lengths. "I have no patience with the chalk hem-liners used by tailors," she says. "My brides stand on a table and I go around the skirt with a yardstick and pins. This is the only sure way to get an absolutely even hemline." Hems are put in by hand, using horsehair braid to make them stand out.
Crinoline skirts are a must, but she does not make this item of apparel. Since crinoline is hard on her electric sewing machine, she advises the bride-to-be to buy the skirt in time for the second fitting. Comparing pictures of brides in a newspaper, she points out the need for stiff under-skirts. Without them, materials lack body and appear limp.
THREE FITTINGS are required, but the third is really a sort of party. At this time everyone has an opportunity to admire, to be complimented, to tease, and to enter into the spirit of the occasion. Often photographers will come to the house to make the bride's pictures on this day, forestalling the disappointment of bulbs that fail to flash at a crucial point in the actual wedding or the stiffness of expression on the last day.
The ensemble that started with a Queen Anne collar blossomed into a wedding party of two attendants and a ring bearer. For the bridal gown of Skinner satin Mrs. Rhodes started with the simple lines of a tight bodice and a full skirt, just touching the floor. Covering the bodice, she used Chantilly lace, accented by small satin-covered buttons from the V-neck to waist in front. Cutting out the rose and leaf motif in the lace, she appliqued the design in sequins from shoulder to elbow, and from elbow to wrist. This same matching design was used on the side of the skirt, too. The sleeves were long with a point above the hand embroidered in sequins. Sheer stiffening was used to make the Queen Anne collar of lace stand up.
The nylon tulle over-skirt was individualized by wide Chantilly lace insertion which came to a point in front and swept to the floor in a V-pattern in the back. To achieve gracefulness, Mrs. Rhodes laid the insertion on the tulle and let it fall of itself.
For the cap she fashioned silk-covered wire to fit the contours of the head, covering with satin and accenting with the same lace applique. From the cap fell a short illusion veil of chapel length.
FOR THE attendants Mrs. Rhodes designed ballerina length gowns of waltz time faille. The color scheme was alternated with one attendant wearing American Beauty accented by Adour rose; the other Adour rose accented with American Beauty. The gowns were shaped with a tight bodice, tiny cap sleeves, and a scooped or boat neck highlighted by an inset of puffing in the contrasting color and a full flowing skirt. A cummerbund of the two colors was brought around the waist and tied in overlapping loops in the back, giving the effect of a small but flattering bustle. With these gowns the attendants wore tiny caps made of velvet leaves embroidered with sequins to match the gowns.
For the bride's gown Mrs. Rhodes used ten yards of satin, two yards of illusion veil, six yards of lace insertion for the overskirt, one yard of Chantilly lace for the bodice and sleeves, and six yards of nylon tulle for the overskirt. The gowns of the attendants required approximately seven yards of faille, each. The nephew of the bride served as ring bearer and carried a pillow of satin edged in Chantilly lace and crossed diagonally by white ribbons for tying the ring in place.
Mrs. Rhodes states that the tendency seems to be toward simplicity in the headwear. Very few brides choose a coronet, perhaps because they do not wish to look regal, but sweet and womanly. Big floppy hats are popular choices for many attendants. Among the unusual ideas Roxie has worked out is the use of fans made of bamboo frames with brocade lace woven through the spreading section. For these she asks that the florist arrange a few flowers at the juncture of frame and lace. Muffs of satin and lace are a demure accessory chosen by some brides. For each bride Mrs. Rhodes provides a traditional blue garter of lace and satin.
Most of the girls ask her advice regarding their bouquets. For a very small bride she recently suggested a variation of the traditional bride's bouquet, which often seems heavy and over-large. A nosegay featured a gardenia surrounded by very tiny Garnet roses of deep red with cascading streamers broken by an occasional rosebud. For the attendants similar bouquets utilized shattered carnations and Cecil Bruner roses.
ALL SORTS of emergencies are likely to occur and Mrs. Rhodes is equal to the most annoying. At a very large wedding which she catered in Caldwell, Idaho, the florist did not carry out the bride's instructions as to flowers. The mother was too harried to notice and the bride, too happy. Hastily Mrs. Rhodes contacted another floral company. Within minutes the offending bouquets were whisked away and inside of a half hour they had been returned in perfect order.
Trying situations can sometimes be humorous. There is the bridesmaid who neglects her nail polish and must stand to complete her manicure, bent over in stickpin fashion lest she rumple her dress. How to get to the church without being wrinkled can be a real problem. Wherever possible, Mrs. Rhodes advises the bride and her attendants to dress at the church. For a wedding in Payette, Idaho, the entire party had to dress at home, more than a mile from the church. Mrs. Rhodes then apportioned the female members of the wedding two to a car and ordered them to stand in the back seat with elbows gently leaning on the top of the front seat cushions for support.
In the winter months she personally escorts brides through muddy streets, so that no trace of slush soils the train. Once inside the sanctuary she whips out folded cleaning tissues, kneels and lifts the bride's white-clad feet to wipe the soles. Nothing must mar the pristine beauty.
With photographers Mrs. Rhodes has some quarrel. They are prone to ask brides to sit for portraits prior to the ceremony. Against this practice Mrs. Rhodes cautions each bride, lest her gown appear rumpled on the long march down the aisle when she is the cynosure of all eyes.
Often ministers call and ask questions regarding the etiquette of the ceremony and almost all brides have queries concerning such matters as the propriety of a kiss at the conclusion of the nuptial rites, the correct order for the receiving line at the reception, the starting time for the bridal procession.
TYPICAL OF the requests that come to Mrs. Rhodes was that of a bride-to-be of last December. Arbitrarily the young couple decided on a day just two weeks in advance. Immediately the mother of the bride drove to Boise, thinking to purchase the wedding ensemble at one of the large specialty stores. To her dismay, she learned that even in a city, stores will carry one or two sample gowns but no range of sizes. The bride must pick out her dress and then wait months for it to be ordered.
Late that evening the girl and her mother knocked at Mrs. Rhodes's door. Tearfully they begged her to make the gowns for the three attendants and the flower girl, offering to "pay anything you ask." The mother thought that she might manage the bridal dress herself. Because of the time element, Mrs. Rhodes demurred. As they entreated her to reconsider, Mr. Rhodes came on the scene. Recognizing their plight and firm in the belief that his wife was equal to the task, he intervened, "If you want to do that wedding, Roxie, just forget about the house and everything else. The boy and I will take care of the rest."
So Mrs. Rhodes wound up by making all the gowns, including that of the bride. Privately she confides that she wouldn't care to duplicate that feat many times. Now when brides ask her how far ahead they should order, she always replies, "Just as soon as you're sure of the date."
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.