The mother of the bride may look forward to watching her little girl walk down the aisle in a gorgeous gown, but picking out her own dress for her daughter's special day can be as stressful as it is pleasant.
Erica Jensen, owner of family-run Darien clothes shop Helen Ainson, knows that feeling all too well.
"I have to ease out of them that they're the mother of the bride, because they often don't want to be looked at as the mother of the bride," says Jensen.
It was Jensen's mother who opened the original Helen Ainson store in New York City in 1948. Erica followed in her mother's footsteps, opening Helen Ainson's boutique in Darien in 1977.
Lucky for mothers of the bride (and groom), Helen Ainson's woman in charge and supporting staff know a thing or two about helping women find flattering apparel for special events.
Jensen, along with store manager Suzanne Griffin and a small staff, have dressed women for special occasions that run the gamut from Oscar parties to White House dinners and royal weddings.
Jensen says what sets Helen Ainson apart for gown-seeking mothers of the bride — or any wedding guest — is a combination of several things.
The first is personal attention. As soon as a customer walks underneath Helen Ainson's yellow-and-black sign, Jensen and her staff are at attention to help her find what she's looking for, whether a formal gown or a casual summer Maxi dress for a beach party.
"I have an incredible staff of knowledgeable fashion consultants who can look at a person and decide what's most flattering," says Jensen. "We know how the clothes run in terms of style and cut and color."
The second distinguishing factor, says Jensen, is the uniqueness of the dresses sold at the store. While many boutiques have shifted their wholesale buying practices online to save time, Jensen says she hand picks the store's gowns in person, often in New York City.
"I carry many, many small designers that people have never heard of before," says Jensen. "It's very exclusive, it's very rare you would have on the same dress as someone else."
Because online photos can be deceiving, "I have to see the quality of the fabric, the quality of the workmanship."
Thanks to repeated print-media advertising and word-of-mouth testimonials from happy customers, Jensen's shop has survived some of the worst economic slumps in history.
But it isn't just local Darien dress shoppers that are keeping the store in business: two out of three shoppers aren't from town, says Jensen, adding that some drive from in 25 miles or more to shop at the store.
To help finish a mother-of-the-bride's look, Helen Ainson also offers a selection of stoles and jewelry.
"We've had customers burst into tears that they never thought they could look so pretty," says Griffin.