It’s time to start planning for 2016’s special events. Stephanie Smith visits Snooty Frox, which specialises in dressing mothers of the bride and groom.
Not every mother of the bride wants a fuss, with the big hat and the strikingly co-ordinated matching outfit. It’s not actually their “big day”, after all.
Except that it is their big day, increasingly so. Today’s mothers of brides and grooms tend to be women from perhaps their late forties to their sixties – arguably the prime of their life. They like to look stylish, they have learned the power of dressing well, and they have earned the right to do so. So yes, it is their big day too.
“It’s the new age of mother of the bride,” says Hilary Haresign, owner of special occasion wear shop Snooty Frox in Harrogate. “Ten years ago, perhaps the mother of the bride dressed slightly older.”
Snooty Frox dresses hundreds of women every season for ladies’ days, royal garden parties, award ceremonies and weddings, including mothers of the bride and groom, and, these days, mothers of the groom and groom, and the bride and bride.
Special style seekers come from all over, from Scotland, Cheshire and Ireland, and outfits are even ordered online and sent out as far afield as France and Canada. Snooty Frox has outfitted guests for royal weddings and even a U2 wedding.
“We stock more than 50 different brands of occasionwear, and that’s where we score,” Hilary says. “That’s why people travel, because of the size of the stock that we carry, from some sixes, but mainly eights, to a size 24. If you’re a size 20, there are very few places you can go to make sure you look and feel fabulous.”
Hilary, a former chef, bought Snooty Frox 16 years ago for £250. “It was a little evening wear hire business,” she says. “I knew that, if it was an out-of-town store, we’d have to do something special to get people to come to us.”
Now Snooty Frox is really a mini department store, selling a huge range of special occasion wear and all the accessories to go with, plus casual wear too. There are 31 members of staff working in sales and admin, and a lovely cafe on the first floor.
“A woman came and bought two pairs of jeans which we altered while she had her lunch. It’s all about service,” says Hilary. “How many shops do you go to and they don’t even acknowledge you?”
It’s a complete one-stop shop for special occasion wear, with show-stoppingly beautiful hats made to order by milliner Vivien Sheriff in Salisbury, and shoes and hats can also dyed to order, to match dress fabric. Plus Hilary buys in the fabrics that the dresses are made of, so they can be used on hats or perhaps as a matching wrap.
The brands come from Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere, and include Teresa Ripoll, Mashiah, Olvis, Ispirato, Ian Stuart, John Charles, Condici and Irresistible. Camille Goldberg runs the personal shopping service, styling women from head to toe. “What I’m trying to do with ladies is take them out of their comfort zone and do colour-popping, not just in the casual, but in the mother of the bride – and they like it,” she says.
We’re all sitting in the Wild Plum cafe at Snooty Frox and Camille has picked out some key looks. Fifties-inspired lace dresses are popular, she says, holding up an Olvis multi-colour pattern dress in handmade lace. She likes to pick out a colour in the pattern for accessories to make the outfit “pop”. Citrine is a popular shade, as is ice blue and soft shell pink with a metallic pearly sheen (and Snooty Frox has pearl jewellery made to match).
With many dresses, linings can be changed and embellishment added for a bespoke look. The Jackie O shape in silk is another key style and some designs feature back detail, such as a cross-over style – important as the wedding party is generally first viewed in church, from behind.
General manager Rachel Atkinson is herself soon to be a mother of the bride. “I want to find something that’s a little bit different, but I want my whole outfit to be toned in and co-ordinated, so I’m going to get my hat made and dyed to the colour of my dress,” she says.
Camille, meanwhile, has plenty tips and suggestions for essential pieces of “big day” kit, including shoe stoppers (clear plastic stops to place over stiletto heels so they cannot damage floors or sink into grass, £4.99); nipple shields; body shapewear and shapewear tights. Shoes can be supplied in two different heel heights for when you start to flag, and you can also buy arm wear for sleeveless dresses, plus wraps and pashminas.
Dresses transform from day to night by replacing a jacket or coat with a pashmina or even a matching gossamer feather-trimmed cape.
Snooty Frox staff do not divulge what exactly has been bought by others, but will steer women away from making same dress clashes, if they know something has already been bought for an event.
“It’s probably the most that they have ever spent on an outfit in their life,” says Hilary. Indeed, for many women, probably more than they spent on their own wedding dress.
It’s all about the happy couple, of course, but it is a big day for the mother, too. Some might feel shy and have to be persuaded to try on a hat or a statement outfit, but Camille has her ways. “I say to them: ‘You’re important. You’re the mother of the bride’ and when they actually put it on, they like it, because we don’t dress like this all the time.”
Snooty Frox is at 34-36 Hookstone Road in Harrogate and at snootyfrox.co.uk.