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In Character with Jan Schumacher

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jan Schumacher plays Peekaboo in between a row of bridal gowns in her  which has 300 dresses alone stored there. Schumacher who operated one of Portlands biggest bridal stores, has over 1000 bridal dresses stored at her house that she sells reasonably. Southeast Portland resident Jan Schumacher used to own one of Portland’s biggest bridal stores. But there’s a reason she doesn’t want to reveal the name of her shop — then she couldn’t tell her favorite stories.

Portland Tribune: Was operating a bridal store a lot of fun?

Jan Schumacher: The funny times were before I opened the store. You know how you build out a store, there’s lots of details? The windows are all papered over, it’s a hot August night, we’re inside working without our shirts on ...

Tribune: Wait a minute. A respectable bridal shop and the owner doesn’t have her shirt on?

Schumacher: We’re steaming hundreds of gowns. A wedding gown comes smashed down in a box, maybe 50 of them in a box, they come over from France or Australia or China, and they’re pancaked. You put them on hangers and hook it on rigging and you run it up to the ceiling.

Tribune: I’ve heard of high-society weddings, but what’s on the ceiling?

Schumacher: It’s so I can climb inside the gown and steam it all the way from the top out to the train. And you get inside, and you’re steamy and you take your clothes off.

Tribune: So it wouldn’t be a stretch to say you’ve been undressed inside thousands of wedding gowns?

Schumacher: Oh yes.

Tribune: You must have had some nightmare customers.

Schumacher: How do you pick just one? You have the bride who refused to order the gown size you recommended, and it comes in two sizes too small for her.

Tribune: Hold on. She’s there in front of you. You see what size she is. Why let her order a gown that is too small?

Schumacher: I start out

by taking her measurements. We look at a size chart. Sometimes people just didn’t like the number. Logic only goes

so far with a bride. I give them a piece of paper, they write down the number they want

to order and they sign the

document.

Tribune: So what happens? If it’s a June wedding, is June busting out all over?

Schumacher: What do you think? We have a disaster. A month before and the wedding gown arrives, then I have to start alterations and make it fit her.

Tribune: And that’s probably costing her plenty.

Schumacher: Of course, it does. And then she’s mad at me. I don’t know what I was thinking, getting into the bridal business.

Sometimes girls would come in and have tattoos on their bodies and their mother or grandmother is sitting outside the dressing room waiting for them to come out in the gown and doesn’t know about the tattoos. They’re on her breasts, back, sleeves. She’s all nervous in the dressing room confiding to the salesgirls her deepest fears of showing grandma her tattoos, and we’re consoling her and scurrying out trying to find gowns that can do what needs to be done and not letting on. There aren’t many wedding gowns with sleeves.

Tribune: Ever have a mother from hell?

Schumacher: That’s a whole type. She was probably a hippie and got married in a field with cornflowers in her hair in a $29 dress from J.C. Penney. Now what she wants is the wedding she never had, the grand wedding.

Tribune: So why is that a problem?

Schumacher: It may be totally not in sync with what the poor bride wants. Mother is just talking over the top of her, you’re asking the bride a question and the answer comes from the mother’s mouth, and she doesn’t even glance at her daughter.

Tribune: So what do you do?

Schumacher: You dance.

Tribune: Really. And it’s not even the wedding night yet.

Schumacher: You very tactfully remind the mother that this isn’t her wedding while trying to direct questions to the young bride and trying to get the answers coming out of the right mouth.

Tribune: Any other favorite customers?

Schumacher: Sometimes you’d have a quiet call that would come in and it would be a man who wanted to know if he could buy a wedding gown for himself. They would call first because they wanted to know if it was an OK thing to do, and I would make a private appointment for them after the store closed. It was always interesting. They’d want a bustier.

Tribune: A little while ago you said you’d size a gown by taking three measurements and going for the largest of the three. What do you do with a man buying a woman’s wedding dress when measurements count?

Schumacher: They really don’t want you taking measurements. It was always a quick and easy sale compared to women. And I can look at a person and tell what size they’ll wear. Anybody.