SHE'S BOSSED 12,000 BRIDES
Claire Dreier will field-marshal your marriage on a split-second schedule from cake to confetti. Fainting fathers, mournful mothers won’t faze her a bit
CLAIRE DREIER (rhymes with buyer) has attended more weddings than any woman in Canada. As head of the wedding bureau in the downtown Toronto store of the T. Eaton Company she spends seven days a week, 24 hours a day, planning, arranging and going to weddings —sometimes four in one day. During the past 12 years Miss Dreier, now fiftyish and greying but still handsome, estimates she has supervised more than 12,000 of them—Chinese, Japanese, Buddhist, Italian, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, as well as one gypsy wedding.
She has struggled with fainting brides, pregnant brides, drunken grooms, jealous mothers, overbearing relatives. In one day she has had a wedding canceled and rescheduled, and one memorable afternoon she extinguished a fire started by a bride who, in a fit of pique, knocked over the candles and threw her veil in the groom’s face. She has had $50,000 weddings and $50 weddings.
Only once has she walked out of a wedding—the bride’s father, after several trips to the punch bowl, called her an unprintable name.
A neat summation of the wedding expert’s job was made once by a rather irate clergyman who said, “A wedding director is to a wedding what a funeral director is to a funeral.”
The Dreier service attends to all the following details and some others besides. She and her five assistants arrange announcements, music, artists, catering, reception, flowers, gift displays, wedding rehearsal, hire halls (or convert homes), commissionaires and detectives, and finally supervise The Day.
The client’s first (and almost last) duty is to describe what kind of a wedding she wants. Claire Dreier then estimates the cost, the bride’s father deposits that amount with Eaton’s and Miss Dreier then spends it. There is no direct charge to the customer for the wedding bureau service, but the amount of money it brings in to the store more than pays the cost of running the bureau.
Spinster Dreier believes in weddings as thoroughly as Douglas Abbott believes in taxes. To her, a world without weddings (and the bigger the better) would be both uneconomic and depressing. Going through a wedding with her is much the same as accompanying Sherman through Georgia. There is a fine triumphant attitude; you are standing right next to the commander-in-chief.
A recent, day began at 7.30 a.m., when tall Miss Dreier arose at her medium-sized home on Jarvis Street, made breakfast for herself and her 90-year-
old mother, tidied lip Lhe house (she has no maid), and headed for lair office around 9 o’clock. Dressed handsomely and expensively, her hair-do a smart upsweep, her figure well corseted, she breezed through Eaton’s and ensconced herself in her cubicle on the fourth floor.
Mere she consulted with her five assistant», answered letters about, out - of - town weddings, answered the interminable telephone, pruffered advice on countless cjuestions of etiquette (How is the receiving line formed, and who stands in it?I, inspected a couple of wedding dresses, talked with a salesman promoting a new type of flower container, interviewed a couple of brides-to-be, and left the store about 12.30. Then she went home for lunch and more household chores, and dressial (or that day's wedding.
She has plenty of clothes to choose from. At all times she tries to keep equipped with at least six evening dresses, six afternoon dresses and six suits. Two seasons is about the maximum wear any dress is allowed. After that it is given away to friends. Hats, she confesse«, are her main extravagance. Two years ago her collection numbered about 50. but the present score is 20.
This day, since the wedding (a modest hut attractive $4,000 affair not. (he wedding pictured on these pages) was scheduled for 7.30 p.m., Mi«; Dreier chose an elaborate blue dinner gown trimmed with sequins. Pink and white carnations in her hair, a gift from the bride’s family, completed the costume.
At 4 p.m. on the dot she and one assistant arrived by taxi at the bride’s home. Within 45 minutes they had the bride dressed and had averted a few minor crises, such as late-arriving flowers, unexpected wedding guests, and father’s recalcitrant tie. During this time the bride was transformed from a somewhat sallow, nervous youngster into a glowing, excited young woman in while satin and lace. The transformation was accompanied hy a steady flow of quiet chatter from Miss Dreier who exuded confidence and assurance. At one point the bride expressed nervous doubt a bout the stability of her veil. "Go on. just yank at it .’’ Miss Dreier commanded. "It can't fall off.” It couldn’t.
At 5.10 the photographers arrived. Under the careful Dreier sujiervisinn the bride sat, stood, lient forward, bent backward, turned her chin right, left, centre, up, down, smiled, didn’t, smile, looked into mirrors, looked at her mother, smiled at her father, stood alone, stood in family groups and in pairs for nearly two hours. Father brought in his Kodak, and snapped a couple of pictures too. Before the wedding was over the bride would have been photographed in about HO different post».
During this session Miss Dreier patted, cajoled and directed along with the photographers. "Hold it—that lace Lunie sticks out. Turn a bit more, dear. There now, that's lovely, just lovely. Come on now, smile just a hit, you don't want to look glum today." Unbecoming bulges were concealed, draperies prinked, until t he bride must have felt like a prize heifer at the Royal Winter Fair.
At 7 p.m. everyone relaxed with cookies and milk or ginger ale. The six-year-old flower girl said the reason she couldn’t smile for the pictures Was because a pin was sticking into lier bottom. The bridesmaids Continued on ¡Mine .7.7
Continued on ¡Mine 53
She's Bossed 12,000 Brides
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received their gifts of brilliant-studded bracelets with “ohs” and “ahs” of delight.
Miss Dreier took time off to expound to me a few theories on weddings. “I don’t believe in undue extravagance, but I do think things should be arranged correctly. I mean, why have a big cake when a 16-pound cake will do just as well? Particularly when it has our special stand under it. Nobody eats it anyway. And besides, I always feel that what is not spent on the wedding is available to be spent in the home furnishings department.”
These revelations were cut short by a frantic call from the bedroom for “Miss Dreier! Quick!” Miss Dreier rushed out. The bride’s train had slipped out of its careful folds onto the floor. The expert rearranged the dress, glanced at her watch, and announced it was time to start for the church.
The doorbell rang, announcing the arrival of the three taxis and everyone lined up in the hallway.
In the first taxi went the bride’s mother, a bit wet-eyed, the maid of honor and Miss Dreier’s assistant. In the second went the two bridesmaids, anxiously recalling “Start with the right foot.” In the third, went the bride, her father and Miss Dreier.
Miss Dreier carefully settled the bride into her seat and wrapped her wedding gown around her in such a way that it remained uncreased. “I’m such a fuss-budget about my brides” she apologized. (A second method approved by some counselors is to remove the dress from beneath the bride and spread it over the back of the seat. This, however, is sometimes chilly for a winter wedding.)
A Tip for the Township Cop
At the church the party rushed under the long marquee and down into the church basement, a cold and depressing place. The respective parents greeted each other, and then the bride repaired to the bathroom with Miss Dreier. The coats were put handy for a quick exit. Last-minute make-up was applied. The bridal party moved upstairs to stand in the lobby of the church.
At the centre aisle Miss Dreier pointed out in whispers to the ushers exactly where they were to stand. She made a last quick checkup on make-up, gowns, ring, license. Then she started each pair down the aisle at the right speed and distance. Watching critically as the bride approached the altar Miss D. murmured with vexation, “Wouldn’t you know it? The flowers completely hide the bridesmaids. I must remember to tell the florist before tomorrow’s weddings.” Then, hustling outdoors, she delivered gratuity envelopes (previously prepared) to the commissionaire and the township police-
After the ceremony (the parson has to get along as best he can) Miss Dreier hurried the bride and groom down to their taxi, got in with them, and off to the King Edward Hotel. The time,
At the side door of the hotel she hustled the pair through the lobby and up to the 17th floor. Quickly she had hats and coats checked in a special corner and had the bridal party lined up for more pictures. “Hurry and get one of them cutting the wedding cake,” she urged, “before the guests get here.”
She examined the ballroom, checked the catering, rearranged vases o'f flowers, and answered questions. (Should
I leave my gloves on or off in the reception line? Which door shall we show the guests through first? Where shall I stand?)
By the time the first guests appeared she had the reception line in place, and all signs of hurry and confusion had disappeared.
Since more than three dozen of the 400 wedding guests were former Dreier brides her status was more one of a guest than that of an employee. One guest, in fact, surged up and announced gaily “You know, Claire, you’re due to become a grandma any day now.” Miss Dreier pronounced herself suitably pleased.
“All the Happiness There Is”
After the formalities of the opening dance (posed suitably for the photographer) Miss Dreier and her assistant enjoyed a 20-minute rest. And I heard some more of the Dreier philosophy on brides and weddings. “The bride is the first consideration,” she announced. “After she is satisfied as to her own gown then she chooses those of her bridesmaids as background. Flattering the bridesmaids is secondary to background.” (This is a bit tough on the bridesmaids, since it is customary for the bridesmaid to pay for her own dress.) “Then the bride’s mother should choose a color which blends with the bridesmaids’ colors, and finally the groom’s mother chooses i e • dress to match the bridesmaids’ corsages.”
At this point Miss Drier looked at her watch and hurried back to the ballroom. The speeches went off according to custom and Miss Drier’s signals. (In a pinch she will also write the speeches.) Then she hurried the bride and groom to a hotel room to change into going-away clothes.
The couple were planning to drive to Hamilton for the night so Miss Dreier went to the kitchen and had a box lunch made up for them.
Everything ready, bags packed and locked, she called for porters, arranged for the luggage to be transferred to their car, and returned the couple to the ballroom so that the bride could throw her bouquet.
After the good-bys and cheers were over, Miss Dreier led her married couple down to their car, tucked them in it, wished them “Good luck and all the happiness there is,” and finally returned to the ballroom (11.30 p.m.) for a bite to eat.
By 12.30 most of the guests had left, some of them carting away large armfuls of flowers and congratulating Miss Dreier on “another job well done.” Another Dreier success was
Soon after 1 a.m. a taxi dropped Miss Dreier at her front door, more than nine hours since she left it.
With hours like these there is no such thing as the private life of Claire Dreier. But while other people might find this never-ending repetitious job tiresome she is happiest when planning and supervising weddings. In her spare time she even lectures women’s clubs on proper etiquette and wedding manners.
The life dedicated to bigger and better weddings started about 50 years ago in Durand, Wis., where little Claire soon became the plague of the neighborhood selling magazine subscriptions door to door. When the Durand churches had a combined drive for funds adolescent Claire brought in more cash than all of the rest of the church memberships put together. It was obvious that selling was Claire Dreier’s forte.
She went on to become program manager for the Chautauqua Lyceum circuit, then sales manager for Lewis E. Myers and Company, New York book-
sellers. For Myers she came on loan to the Toronto Eaton’s with a consignment of supplies. The Myers outfit went broke soon after her arrival in Canada so she stayed on with Eaton’s, first as a toy adviser.
After supervising the gift displays for a couple of large weddings for Eaton directors’ offspring Claire Dreier was convinced that an organized department was needed to handle weddings. And on November 17, 1938, Eaton’s Wedding Bureau was open for business.
Although Eaton’s won’t reveal their sales volume and profits, Carson Pirie Scott, the large Chicago department store, admits to more than 5,000 weddings a year handled by their wedding bureau, bringing in about $10,405,000 in sales each year. Eaton’s Toronto wedding bureau is considered one of the most outstanding on the continent with regard to volume and efficiency.
About 30 Canadian stores supply wedding information in some form or other, but none of them quite equals the Japanese store Mitsukochi which supplies the groom as well.
A Guest Pulled a Gun
How much more trouble supplying grooms would mean to the wedding expert is hard to say, but just supervising brides alone can cause headaches. Take the girl who decided to elope with another man on the morning of her wedding. When I asked Claire Dreier the obvious question, she answered casually, “Oh I locked her in her room. Of course, they’re divorced
Wedding licenses sometimes go missing, rings vanish and attendants faint. Thanks to the instant co-operation of cab drivers, jewelers and her first-aid kit (which she always carries) Miss Dreier handles these crises with the ease of a seasoned lion tamer.
The most colorful wedding she recalls was not a Dreier-planned affair. Some years ago the daughter of Toronto’s “King of the Gypsies” was to be married. An army of colorfully dressed gypsies invaded the dress department at Eaton’s in search of a bridal gown.
Miss Dreier entered the crowded fitting room, took one look at the girl (“The most beautiful girl I have ever laid eyes on”) and ordered out a $90 New York number. The gypsy groom who had been watching the fittings with great interest said laconically, “That’s it,” and produced a thick roll of bills.
In appreciation they invited Miss Dreier to attend the church wedding at 9 o’clock the following morning. When Miss Dreier arrived sharp at 9 the place seemed deserted. Exploration, however, revealed a light shining
in the top floor of the Parish Hall. She investigated and found the bride and groom busy tying colored streamers to the ceiling lights. The groom wore only a pair of trousers, and the bride a blouse and skirt. The wedding dress was still in its box on the kitchen table.
Gradually guests began to drift in. Trestle tables were set up and covered with large sheets of brown wrapping paper. Floral designs of celery and radishes were arranged, and a centre piece of suckling pig. Huge platters of steaming potatoes in their jackets were placed on the tables in a fruitstore-window pattern.
The “King,” standing 6 ft. 4 in., welcomed the guests. The groom struggled into a stiff shirt and collar, while the bride waited for the groom’s parents to arrive before dressing. Miss Dreier asked where the bride’s mother was. “In the kitchen where she belongs,” answered the “King” in a surprised tone. He brought Miss Dreier a glass of corn whisky.
Soon the guests were digging into the food. “But,” protested Miss Dreier thinking no doubt of the rigid formality of a Dreier wedding, “don’t you wait for the bride?”
“What for?” asked the “King.” “We eat when we’re hungry.”
Then he bowed formally to her. acclaimed her'as “Honorary Queen of the Gypsies” for the wedding. Tne regular “Queen” remained at the stove.
Two guests livened things up arguing about dowries. One pulled a gun, the other a knife. The “King” shrugged it off as “a little business argument,” and indeed the dispute was soon settled without bloodshed.
By the time the bride was dressed the groom had removed his collar. On his shirt were three neat rows of lipsticked mouths where his former girlfriends had bidden him a fond and last farewell. The bride bridled at this and turned sulky.
The pay-off came after the simple, Spanish ceremony, when the traditional first dance took place. Gypsy custom decrees that the bride and groom each turn to the person standing next to them (not each other) and start off the dance. The groom’s partner turned out to be a handsome ex-flame of his. while the bride drew another woman. Halfway around the room the bride pitched her unfortunate dancing part ner into a corner and stalked out.
Claire Dreier, being somewhat of an expert in bridal tantrums, hustled out after her and soothed her down. The groom put on his collar and danced attentively with his bride. The crisis was over and the guests ate, drank and danced for the rest of the day. It wasn’t a wedding in the Dreier tradition to be sure, but it was just as binding, if