Celebrating 50 Years, Julie Allen Bridals Offers Advice To Brides Navigating COVID-19 Challenges
After a 50-year career that started when she was barely 13 years old, Melanie Allen Mattegat is still successfully outfitting bridal parties and brides-to-be at Julie Allen Bridals — although she admits the COVID-19 pandemic has upended virtually everything related to long-planned wedding events.
The upbeat second-generation retailer sat down with The Newtown Bee to share some advice for anyone grappling with the many unknowns, postponements, venue closures, and other extraordinary (and sometimes last-minute) adjustments that so many couples encounter now as they plan this special day.
She also offered a look back on her family and the humble history of Julie Allen Bridals as detailed in a recently commissioned trade publication retrospect.
“As soon as couples are able to nail down their venue, if the bride or her party members need dresses, we need to know three things right off the bat,” Mattegat said. “We need to know the date and time of the wedding, and what they have budgeted.”
If the wedding date is looming, Mattegat and her team, including third-gen Julie Allen staffer and daughter Lauren Morehouse, will likely guide brides-to-be to dresses already available from the salon’s manufacturers, or a dress that might already be in stock right in the shop.
“We have to do that for some weddings coming up really quick,” Mattegat said.
With all the postponements caused by the pandemic, she said the store is currently holding about 150 gowns already purchased. She is also seeing some of her clients taking steps to move their weddings even sooner than originally planned.
“So getting the bride and her party in to make measurements and complete alterations is critical,” Mattegat said, adding that she is already looking at changing long-standing time lines to shorten the period between the time gowns are purchased and alterations are completed.
“This has been such a horrible year for so many of our girls,” she said, “and they are so stressed out and disappointed — it’s just been really rough on them emotionally.”
So Mattegat said she and her staff are trying to ease their clients’ stress as best they can in relation to their role in the bigger wedding equation. In several instances, clients have worn their gowns at small wedding ceremonies this spring, and have already had the Julie Allen team restore and clean them so they can be stored them for larger receptions now being planned into 2021.
“Some can’t get the money back from their venues, so they still get married in a smaller or civil ceremony, and are putting their big party off for as much as a year,” she said.
Because weddings have already been trending smaller, and so many others have been forced to reduce guest lists because of virus-related restrictions, Mattegat says her clients are very much attracted to the boho or bohemian look in gowns.
“We’re talking softer materials, not really huge trains, something more ethereal, or looks that will go well with outdoor weddings,” she said. “They’re matching these gowns with flower wreaths and shorter veils.”
Mattegat said some of her clients are still going with more ambitious church weddings requiring the “full attire,” and many of those clients are smartly choosing a second dress to change into that they can party in more comfortably.
Julie Allen’s owner said she has two words for anyone who is just beginning the process of considering their wedding gown — “Don’t wait!”
“The more time you can provide for delivery, the better off we all are,” Mattegat said. “We were already dealing with the coronavirus back in January before it even hit the United States, because it was delaying [gown] shipments and shutting down some of the dressmakers.”
A Little History Lesson
Mattegat’s enthusiasm for the bridal trade was cultivated as a teenager when she worked at Julie Allen Bridals, which was then her parents’ home-based boutique. Mattegat sold her first bridal gown at age 13, joined the business full-time at age 21, and purchased the operation at age 33 alongside her husband, Jay Mattegat.
Since then, Mattegat has overseen moving the store into commercial quarters, expanding into new categories and product lines, and integrating a third generation into the business — while mirroring the often frenetic pace set by her mother, the Julie Allen.
The story begins in Wycoff, N.J., in the early 1960s, when the Allens befriended a neighboring couple, Mildred and Neil Mulcock. The Mulcocks owned Mildred’s House of Brides in neighboring Hawthorne — one of the largest bridal stores on the East Coast.
Frank Allen’s sister and niece worked at Mildred’s.
When the Allens moved to Connecticut in 1964, Frank Allen had a career in the manufacturing industry while Julie Allen focused on retail, including opening a pair of Lane Bryant stores in Connecticut before taking a management position at a small ready-to-wear shop in Newtown called Jaymar Fashions. The couple retained their relationship with the Mulcocks, though, and that led to an intriguing opportunity.
The Mulcocks had earlier set up Mildred’s sister in Massachusetts as a home-based bridal business, supplying her samples as a de facto satellite location. The Mulcocks wondered if the Allens, especially given Julie Allen’s retail background, might be interested in a similar venture.
“My parents drove to Massachusetts to see what it was like and immediately thought they could replicate the business in their home,” Mattegat said.
In their raised ranch at 57 Head of Meadow Road, the Allens set up shop. The coupled devoted three rooms in the home’s lower level to servicing customers and stocking bridal, bridesmaids’, and mothers’ gown samples supplied by the Mulcocks.
In a clever marketing ploy, the Allens scoured the engagement announcements in local newspapers, later contacting the newly engaged women and inviting them to visit the Allen home for “a unique and personal bridal experience,” Mattegat says.
The couple’s grassroots marketing, combined with Julie Allen’s savvy retail mind, sparked immediate results. Within six months, the Allens began flying solo, branding their operation Julie Allen Bridals.
Destined For Greater Success
Mattegat, one of the Allens’ three children and the couple’s lone daughter, says she was groomed for the bridal industry. After working in the business as a teen, she attended college for fashion merchandising and design as well as retail management.
By 1990, Julie Allen Bridals was thriving to the point where it had to move out of the house and into its own space, so the Mattegats moved into a 3,600-square-foot commercial property in Newtown, combining four retail spaces into one bridal retail emporium holding eight fitting rooms, two alteration rooms, and the addition of new inventory, including jewelry, headpieces, and menswear.
With the lease expiring on their Newtown property in 1993, the Mattegats purchased a 4.5-acre parcel in Newtown. That December, they unveiled a new, two-story retail store on the property, outfitting the 7,200-square-foot space with ten fitting rooms.
Following the sale to the Mattegats in 1997, Julie Allen remained involved in the business, mentoring her daughter in her new role as business owner and relinquishing the reins of a business she had guided for two decades. And in a touching nod to her parents, the first thing Mattegat hung on the walls of her new shop was a plaque dedicating the building to her father, Frank, who passed away in September 1993 — three weeks after he and Julie had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
The Mattegats’ daughter, Ms Morehouse, began working at Julie Allen Bridals at age 15 before earning a marketing degree and joining the business full time in 2009. She now handles ordering, shipping schedules, and social media, among other duties.
Morehouse shares a passion for the business like those before her. She recalls her grandmother, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 86, visiting the store regularly during her final years, chatting with brides as she enjoyed jelly doughnuts from her wheelchair. That’s the legacy Morehouse has willingly pledged to uphold.
“My grandmother loved this business until the day she died and my mom has a deep love for what she does, too,” Morehouse says. “As for me, I can’t imagine myself working in any other industry.”
Looking into the future, Morehouse says her mother has “another 10 years in her” before bowing out of the business. Thereafter, Morehouse will assume ownership. That stability, along with a hearty bridal retail recipe concocted over five decades, positions Julie Allen Bridals for sustained success.
“We all want to keep the business moving forward,” Mattegat says, confessing that she has one lingering goal that continues to motivate and inspire. “We’ve never been the number-one store in Connecticut, so that gives us something to aspire to.”
Julie Allen Bridals is located at 154 South Main Street. Call for an appointment at 203-426-4378 and visit online at julieallenbridals.squarespace.com — as well as on Facebook and Instagram. Photography accompanying this feature is by Mike Yamin unless otherwise noted; some content was submitted by Daniel P. Smith.