MANCHESTER, Iowa – Business picks up at Brides & Weddings in Manchester as prom prep students and brides-to-be search for the perfect dress.
The past year has been a devastating blow to companies selling evening gowns as COVID-19 forced the temporary closings of retail stores and the cancellation of events such as dances and weddings. Now that many government restrictions have been lifted and more people are being vaccinated, these companies have cause for optimism.
“This is an interesting year and we knew it would be,” said Jill Carpenter, co-owner of Brides & Weddings, which sells wedding and prom dresses, tuxedos and other formal wear. “It was a tough time for brides and these high schoolers trying to plan these special events. The mood that comes from them is just a little more optimistic. We can all see a little of the light at the end of the tunnel. “
Carpenter said over the past few weeks her store has had a steady stream of customers and many wedding dress buyers have booked appointments over the weekend. Before the widespread shutdown last spring, many students were buying ball gowns in anticipation of dances that were later canceled, she said.
“Some of them get new clothes, but some students who graduated last year have friends who buy their old clothes,” Carpenter said. “I think we see a lot more shows.”
When events like prom and weddings were canceled last year, many designers slowed the number of dresses they made, Carpenter said. Stores like yours have a delay in supplying them as designers work to catch up in time for this year’s events.
“Even our designers, one of them, didn’t make any new 2021 prom dresses for this year,” she said. “It’s not even how we can offer it to our customers, as we’ve done in the past.”
Although Shelby Duggan had only a year of experience owning a wedding clothes store prior to the pandemic, her store had its best sales ever in February, she said.
“When we reopened in May (2020) I was very busy,” said Duggan, owner of Vintage Chic Bridal Boutique in Dubuque. ”
She sold about 30 dresses in February and has booked appointments every weekend since, she said.
“Even though COVID is happening, I think people still want to get married,” Duggan said. “Love is not canceled, and that has remained true. It’s a little different when partying, but girls still want that special dress. “
Mee Xiong, co-owner of Sun’s Alteration in Dubuque, said her store recently added about 15 dresses in a week and is trying to keep up with demand from customers who are hoping for prom and wedding dresses to be changed in time for their spring event .
“We look forward to prom and weddings,” she said. “COVID has affected us pretty much, but hopefully it will end soon so we can hopefully get better.”
Many last-minute prom gown shoppers have stopped at I Do Bridal in Galena, Illinois, said co-owner Molly Kieler. However, it was difficult to meet the demands of so many buyers with the store’s low inventory levels.
“We also found that our (design) companies are struggling to keep enough inventory,” she said. “This is a big expense for companies to bring out a whole new line, and when everything has been down for such a long time, that’s understandable. The girls for the prom were very open-minded and easy going, and understanding of certain styles that they can get. We are also a full service change business. Even if we have a long ball gown and want to make it short, we can do it with a pretty quick turnaround. “
Kieler said the store recently started booking a lot more wedding dates as last year’s brides start planning again. Her advice to brides planning weddings or college students returning home this year – plan ahead.
“If you have an upcoming prom or wedding planning, try shopping early so you get the best selection you can get,” she said. “Plan ahead this year.”
Last year, Cathy Enabnit, owner of Rumor Prom and Formal in Dubuque, only accepted clients by appointment. She said she plans to continue doing this even after the pandemic has ended.
“I recently had eight dates on a Saturday and most of them were buying (clothes),” she said. “I think I’ve heard from a lot of business owners that we’d just like to continue dates. The people who come (to the appointments) are committed. “
Enabnit said she loves helping girls find the perfect ball gown and is excited to offer the service again this year.
“Only the whole ‘girl meets dress’ aspect is magical,” she said. “It suffocates me and there are mothers who cry. Getting good feedback always means a lot because I know how busy people are. “