A market for modesty

by Kara Hansen

SHAWNEE — Many women dream of the day they’ll become a bride.

Laura Mease, on the other hand, dreamed of the day she’d own a bridal shop.

She even told Marty — the man who would eventually make her his bride — that very thing on the day they met.

But Mease’s road to opening that bridal shop was a little unconventional, to say the least. She was, by training, a certified public accountant —who had gone back to law school to become a corporate attorney.

But in 1993, the parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Shawnee finally saw her dream come true, and Laura’s Couture Collection became a reality. She even found a way to utilize her previous training.

“Having that strong business background has been really helpful in running the business side of the bridal shop,” said Mease.

Patti Gehring, a wedding consultant who often works with Mease, agreed.

“Laura is a very ethical and honest business-woman, and I’ve found her to have extremely fair business practices,” said Gehring, who belongs to Church of the Nativity in Leawood. “Plus, the work Laura and her husband do — it’s much more than just a sale to them. They really develop a relationship with the bride that lasts after the wedding.”

Mease was certainly no stranger to the wedding industry. She worked for a bridal shop growing up in Michigan, which she says gave her a taste for how she wanted to run a service-oriented business. She tries to meet one-on-one with each of her brides in order to get a good idea of each one’s vision for her wedding.

That element of service is not lost on her customers.

“From the moment I first called on the phone to set up an appointment to going to the shop and working with the same people each time, it’s been just a wonderful experience,” said Shannon Lindemuth, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Topeka. “Walking in the door for the first time, I felt so welcome and extremely comfortable, and you don’t always find that with these stores.”

Lindemuth said she particularly appreciated the style of dresses carried at Laura’s Couture Collection — something Mease prides herself on.

“The dresses she carries,” said the 28-year- old Lindemuth, who is marrying fiancé Adam Peyton in October, “are extremely appropriate for Catholic weddings.

“They are very simple and beautiful, very modern and yet traditional at the same time. You see a lot of wedding dresses out there that aren’t nearly as classy as the ones at Laura’s.”

With an estimated 80 percent of her clientele marrying in the Catholic Church, Mease purposefully tries to carry dresses that are tasteful and modest while being fashionable at the same time.

“We want everything the bride is wearing to be appropriate for the setting, but we also want to go off the look they are wanting,” said Mease. “If what a bride says she wants really isn’t something appropriate for a wedding in a Catholic church, then we try to find the middle ground.”

Mease said modest wedding gowns were basically a nonissue when she first opened her shop 17 years ago. In recent years, that has changed tremendously.

“In the past eight years, we have seen strapless dresses come into style and necklines have plunged,” said Mease, who works with approximately 20 brides in a given week. “The first time I saw a strapless dress at a trunk show, I did not buy it and was hoping it was just a passing trend. It’s not; it’s proven to be a very popular look and one we carry because we have to stay in business.”

Mease said the Internet has also made an impact on the wedding industry, as brides-to-be are viewing a multitude of dresses online with styles becoming more and more edgy.

“Brides see a lot of styles that are really not appropriate, but they get used to that being the norm,” she said. “The red carpet and pageants are really dictating the brides’ look more and more.”

To offset the modesty concerns inherent with strapless dresses and necklines, Mease works with brides-to-be on adapting their dresses as needed. Accessories such as jackets, wraps, veils, modesty pieces and gloves can all help provide coverage, said Mease.

She said her seamstresses can even design cap sleeves that snap in and are detachable for strapless dresses. Laura’s Couture Collection also does its own alterations, so each bride can have a good, close fit at the neckline to prevent any gapping.

“We like to have as many choices of neck-lines and sleeve options as possible, but a lot of our brides really gravitate towards the strapless design,” said Mease. “A lot of the extras we encourage address the current styles and the issues that come with them. You can adapt these dresses without sacrificing fashion.”

Gehring professionally endorses Laura’s Couture Collection — in part because of the style of dresses carried there.

“Laura is known for her customer service and that really sets her apart from the other shops, plus she offers a variety of dresses and modest gowns as well,” said Gehring. “Other places offer great fashion but they’re not necessarily thinking about how it will look in a house of God.”

Upon finding out a bride is marrying in a Catholic church, Mease says she will first ask if the parish where a bride-to-be is getting married has any guidelines or rules on style of dress at weddings. If the parish does, she will guide the bride toward dresses that are a good fit.

Where her brides are marrying is important to Mease, who said Catholic weddings are set apart from nonreligious and even Protestant weddings.

“We have many brides come in who are not Catholic but are getting married in the Catholic Church,” said Mease. She works hard to explain to them how a Catholic wedding is “different from [weddings of] other denominations because it’s a sacrament and because Jesus is present in the tabernacle.”

Most of the time, Mease said the brides she encounters are aware of the concerns about modest wedding gowns being worn in a Catholic wedding. When needed, she uses a standard litmus test to help a bride-to-be measure the modesty of a gown she is interested in buying.

“I will ask, ‘Would you wear this dress if the pope was marrying you?’” asks Mease.

“Most of the time the answer is no,” she said.

“It’s a simple way to remind the girl there will be a priest present at their wedding,” she added, “and the dress should be appropriate to being married in a church.”

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