By Catherine Wayland
“I don’t want to wear beige and sit in the corner.”
Leslie Rigler (on quoting her mother-of-the-bride clientele)
Today was a beautiful, sunny day in Manhattan. In fact, it was a perfect day for imagining a wedding. But that ship has sailed. Gone are my days of strolling along Fifth Avenue, looking in the bridal shops and fantasizing about my big day. Ahhhh yes. I have had my “princess” day. Now, I must imagine a more subdued affair. A secondary kind of imagining. “Old, washed up princess?” “Retiree?” “Last year’s Miss America?” No, even better – “Monster (I mean Mama) of the Groom.” Today I window-shopped at Miriam Rigler’s “Mother of the Bride” shop. I walked in filled with nostalgia and self-pity because I will never wear the tiara again. But I danced back out with chiffon skirts a-twirling. Amen, sister mamas, amen. My “princess” days may be gone forever, but now I get to look forward to being “queen.” I too never want to wear beige and sit in the corner.
Miriam Rigler’s “mother of the bride” bridal shop sits just a glance off Fifth Avenue on 55th. It feels like the New York City I love the most. The shop has been a fixture at 14 West 55th Street for years and it exudes gracious elegance; it is a part of New York City’s garment industry history. The Rigler shop is a family business originally owned by the store’s namesake, Miriam Rigler, and now managed by her daughter, Leslie. Miriam Rigler started out in the rag business on the millinery side. Miriam was a hat lady by trade, but after a visit to Europe and a teasing of her own locks, she simply stated, “That’s the end of hats.” That sister mamas, is how the Rigler dress business was first introduced to the garment world.
As you walk into the Rigler shop, two of the prettiest, most fashionable women you will ever meet greet you. Leslie awaits you alongside her right-arm lieutenant of couture, Frankie. Like Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, they are a team. You want to know their beauty secrets and borrow their clothes. But they are well-bred women and they know to tell you just enough to be polite and helpful, and save the greatest of ingredients for their own brand of magic. Sitting atop the settee in the dressing area playing with her Play doh and LEGOs, is the latest heir to the Rigler apparel dynasty, granddaughter Rebecca. Even at three years of age, she is already charming and engaging. This shop has such history to it – I could sit for hours listening to the stories.
I brought Leslie my dilemma. If I project forward thirty years when my 2-year-old Jackson might be of age to marry, how do I become a dazzling, gorgeous, mother-of-the-groom, and not just second-runner up. Like the poised woman that she is, Leslie explained the very important role of the mother. If handled well, it is a place of honor in a very important ceremony of life. It is a ritual of passage for your children to become adults in their own personal lives. If handled with grace and dignity, your place will be secure. You have the wisdom of the ages, and a successful life to be proud of. If handled well, you can become both advisor and friend. The repeated line, “if handled well,” had me a bit nervous. How should I “handle” this?
For Leslie Rigler, the answer flowed like one of her beautiful dresses. Handling the role of mother rather than bride, is a role of respect and style. Ask questions of the bride and her family with deference like, “Do you have a color preference?” or, “Is there a style or color you would not like to see worn?” Then of course there are the more obvious questions, “What time of year?” and, “What time of day is the ceremony?” Once you have asked these questions with courtesy, you can begin to shop for your big day as queen.
Importantly as mother-of-the-groom, Jax’s father, and I actually have a very special role in the wedding of our son. As parents of the groom, we will be the hosts of the rehearsal dinner. So, Leslie started me there. I told her that I imagined myself wanting something evening-appropriate, like a fun black dress I could dance in, but also something serious enough for my meeting-and-greeting, and arranging responsibilities. She suggested a dress and jacket combination. Ooh la la! Gorgeous. Leslie suggested a deep v-neck black cocktail dress with a sheath and panels. The material would be crepe satin back and “dance.” Mmmmhhh…wonderful. For my meeting-and-greeting, I would wear a sequin bolero.
Then of course, there is the evening of the wedding reception. I would need a gown. There were dozens to choose from. Colors could be taupe, emerald, and navy. Leslie mentioned sensitivity to black. The bride might specify a very dramatic black and white occasion, where she is wearing white as the centerpiece “swan” surrounded by everyone in black. However, unless the bride requests such a theatrical look, black could be seen as a “protest” color. Ultimately, I was drawn to a deep v-neck top in khaki chiffon, with ruffles and a criss-cross midriff. My skirt would be layered and trimmed with ruffles. Again, beautiful, elegant, romantic. It is my greatest hope that my dearest friend and soul mate John, will still be awestruck as I enter at room at age sixty-eight or so.
Finally, we arrive at the brunch. Whether on the morning of the ceremony or the morning after, many weddings include a brunch. I decided to go with a pin-stripe pantsuit. Leslie pulled out a gorgeous light blue pin-stripe suit with below-the-waist pleats for a playful but elegantly stated look. Ms. Rigler is fabulously adept at understanding your style and colors. I guess she should be – she has been playing and twirling among these dresses since was a little girl, just like Rebecca. And just four years ago, within seven months, Leslie outfitted her two daughters and her own wedding. Wow! Now that must have been quite a memorable year in their fashionable family.
Well mamas, it’s time for a story from my attic. Almost three years ago, little Jax was just 3 months old and we took him out for his first restaurant dinner. We picked a place that was family-friendly but also with a quieter back room. Jax did wonderfully well. He is and remains, our social gentleman. Jax is charming, beguiling and quite the entertainer. Sometime throughout the evening, he began to tire and fuss, so I took him and danced around the semi-private room to calm him. As I did, he began to smile and coo. It so touched my heart that tears began to stream down my face. My husband asked what was the matter. After so much trouble with fertility, and my little miracle in my arms, I answered that I was just so happy. And then I said to John, “I just thought of the fact that someday I will be dancing with Jax on his wedding day.”
14 West 55th Street at 5th Avenue