Adventures in dress shopping

eb-dress-photoOkay, I admit it. I’m spoiled. After owning Elisa B. for 21 years, I’m just not used to shopping like a civilian.

As a store owner, I would peruse designer showrooms on both coasts and channel the collective style of my fiercely loyal customers—and my own fashion cravings—to choose dozens of pieces for the upcoming seasons.

As a consumer, I’m at the mercy of whatever is on the rack at a store. This disturbing truth was hammered home when I attempted to find the perfect dress for a very special wedding.

The bride was Lisa Haas, an Elisa B. customer who became a good friend (another benefit of owning a store!). She met her future husband at a Bruce Springsteen concert and several years later accepted his proposal—at a Bruce Springsteen concert. With Bruce’s help.

The venue was La Belle Vie, an estate in Bel Air that was picture-perfect for a late-afternoon into evening affair. It promised to be a wonderful celebration.

While I have plenty of dresses, the only one in my closet that would have worked for this very special event was a Marchesa from a few seasons ago. It was perfect! However, my booty begged to differ as it would not fit.

So like so many women across the country, I set out to find “the dress.”

After striking out at Barneys and Bloomingdales in Glendale, I made the trek to The Grove and hit Barney’s (again), Nordstrom and Vince, and found nothing.  Nada.  But my hubby met me there and we had a lovely lunch at Short Order, so the excursion wasn’t all for naught.

A friend who was a fellow wedding guest had ordered a couple of dresses to try from Rent the Runway, and I considered going the online route for a nanosecond.  Until I realized that with the wedding less than a week away, there wasn’t enough time to order, try on and ship back.  Plus, as frustrating as these shopping expeditions were becoming, the experience of feeling, touching, trying and buying in a good old fashioned brick and mortar is irreplaceable.

Next up: Saks and Neiman Marcus (Beverly Hills).  By now the wedding was just days away! It was time to get serious.  The designer departments had some beautiful pieces but I didn’t have money to burn.  And, once again, the contemporary floors fizzled.

My last stop was my last hope: the 125,000-square-foot Barney’s flagship on Wilshire Boulevard. If I didn’t find anything here, I’d have to shop my closet and make do.

What I found was a a lovely dress collection by Lisa Perry and a wonderful saleswoman named Elizabeth. The collection, a Barney’s exclusive, hangs with the likes of Dries van Noten, Jil Sander and The Row, but it’s priced more like a better contemporary line.

The fabrications are gorgeous, the colors vibrant and the dresses have that flattering 60’s silhouette I favor.  I fall in love with a purple 3/4 sleeve V-neck dress but I cannot commit. It’s beautiful, but heavy Italian wool.  And this is L.A.  Where it’s 150 degrees. In October.

I ask the lovely Elizabeth to hold the dress while I peruse the racks one more time and VOILA — there it is!  THE DRESS.  The one I pictured myself in.  There’s one left, and it happens to be my size. It’s by Thakoon and while it’s more than I wanted to spend, it’s not $3,500.  So I cross my fingers, go into the dressing room, slip it on and IT FITS.

I’m ecstatic!  I mean, really, really happy.  I share my excitement with Elizabeth and she’s genuinely happy FOR ME.  I get the dress and I also get a nice warm hug from Elizabeth.  And I leave Barney’s with a dress that I love and the satisfaction of knowing I made the right choice.

Unfortunately, the unique experience I had in the designer department at Barney’s happens so rarely, and we are forced to wade through a jungle of bad or nonexistent customer service and uninteresting merchandise to get to the Holy Grail. But a distinct point of view, a unique, wonderful experience and 100% customer satisfaction is what we at Elisa B. strive to provide to our clients at all times, regardless of how much they spend.

By the way, I referred another mutual friend who was attending Lisa’s wedding to Elizabeth at Barney’s.  She had an equally pleasurable experience and wound up purchasing a different Thakoon dress for the wedding.

I’d love to hear your shopping stories. Leave a comment here or on the Elisa B. Facebook Page.

Next blog post: The hunt for the perfect location!


    Hi Elisa,

    LOVED your story :))) And you are a fantastic writer! While I really enjoyed my dress from Rent the Runway — and love the fact that I did not spend an arm and a leg on something I would probably not wear again, it is not the same as “the real thing, which is going to a great store and finding THE dress, and having a lovely connection with a great salesperson. My issue is that I am pressed for time, but if I had to do it again, I would go the “real” way too.

    And I noticed that you went shopping alone; when I shop seriously I go alone too as I don’t want any distractions. I would like to know how many gals go it alone? Or like a group effort?

    And btw, you looked amazing, I would love to shop with Elizabeth someday soon…or with you again.