Prior to opening His & Hers Formal Wear, Susanne Larson and Annette Beckstrand were prepared to shoulder a largely administrative role for their clientele, including dressing entire bridal parties, carrying out alterations and ensuring that all bridal wear was delivered on time. They never envisioned playing therapist, too. But after five years in operation in downtown Brentwood, these longtime best friends and business partners have heard and seen it all, and felt their customers’ anxiety and joy at the mere idea of donning a wedding gown.
“People – primarily women; not so much with the men – come in here with different concepts of themselves,” said Larson. “They see with their own goggles everything that’s wrong with them. Women have a preconceived notion of what they think they are, and they rarely celebrate what’s good about themselves. When they come in, we can tell right away; for example, some of them don’t want to take off their current outfit because it’s a comfort zone. We get them to look at the dresses, steer them to a dressing room, lace them up, put them in front of a mirror – and then an attitude change can happen.”
“There are so many twisted flaws that have been embedded, and that’s where the psychology comes in,” said Beckstrand. “We have to break through that so that they become comfortable and envision themselves as the bride they’ve always dreamed of. Then we can move on. Basically, the dress is the basis for everything else that’s going to take place on the bride’s wedding day.”
Fortunately, Larson and Beckstrand are skilled in the art of alleviating stress, and the duo takes great pride in the exceptional customer service they deliver daily. Whether they’re catering to an entourage, educating customers about various modesty regulations enforced by area churches or scrutinizing every detail of the designer dresses they stock, they do everything in their power to streamline the extensive process a bride undergoes when it comes to her and her bridal party’s appearance.
“What got us into this position goes back to when, at about the age of 15, independent of knowing each other, we were being hired out as seamstresses, doing other people’s prom gowns and wedding gowns for years,” said Beckstrand. “Each of us made our own wedding gowns, too, and as we have families of our own – including being moms of brides – we’ve experienced firsthand the terror that brides and mothers go through.”
Speaking of terror, the pair pointed out that wedding gown sizes differ from the size of, say, your jeans. In fact, they often use the term “index” to pinpoint a specific number rather than invoke “size,” which ranges from 0 to 36.
“What matters isn’t the number on the tag inside the dress,” said Larson. “What matters is that it fits you. When it fits right, the number is irrelevant.”
When Larson and Beckstrand aren’t juggling their personal and professional duties, these full-time wives and mothers are happily giving back to their communities. For the past three years, His & Hers has participated in Brides Across America, a national program that invites qualified military brides to pick out a wedding dress for free. (Visit www.bridesacrossamerica.com for details.) If the bride is deployed overseas, she may enlist the groom, her family and/or a proxy to assist her in choosing her gown via phone, text or Skype. His & Hers hosts this special event twice a year, around the Fourth of July and Veterans Day.
His & Hers also partners with the Brentwood Senior Activity Center and with Heritage, Freedom and Deer Valley high schools for fashion shows, and donates gift certificates to Toys for Tots and dresses to Grace’s Closet and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church.
“When it’s time to clear the racks, I can’t think of a better way than donating to those organizations that reach out to these areas of the community that might be afraid to walk through our door otherwise,” said Beckstrand.
His & Hers Formal Wear is located at 623 First St. in Brentwood. Call 925-634-5900 or visit www.hisandhersformalwear.com.