As fast fashion gives way to more sustainable trends, Susan Ruddie Spring wants to help brides look their best on the big day by introducing them to the art of dressing. The Pikesville native recently opened a second location for her bridal boutique, The Wedding Dresser, in Baltimore that offers its clients “everything but the dress.”
Baltimore Roots, Broadway Dreams
From the time she was a little girl growing up in Baltimore, Spring was in love with theater. She was always involved in her school plays and designing costumes when she was 14. Upon getting her driver’s license at 16, Spring got a job with the F. Scott Black Theater at Essex Community College, the only community college with an accredited theater. She attended the University of Maryland as an art management major while working in various theaters including the Johns Hopkins University’s John Astin Theatre, the Corner Theatre and Center Stage.
Spring moved to New York City in the ’80s and worked in fashion and theater doing fabric dyeing and painting, millinery, hair accessories and costumes. She’s worked alongside some of the biggest designers in the world and has crafted costumes using innovative techniques for Broadway shows including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats,” to name a few.
When a Broadway strike in 2008 caused the theater industry to take a temporary hiatus, Spring went to work for Kleinfeld’s, the largest bridal retailer in the United States that’s famous for its TLC network program “Say Yes! to the Dress.” It was at Kleinfeld’s where Spring came up with the idea of dyeing and painting the dresses so that brides could wear them after the wedding. She ran ad on The Knot wedding website and offered to restyle bridal gowns and vintage dresses. The business quickly took off, and Spring knew she’d hit on something big.
“That was the moment I realized the bridal market had completely changed,” says Spring.
An Evolving Bridal Fashion Market
It was 2010, and J.Crew had released its first off-the-rack bridal line. The first preowned wedding gown website launched. Brides started sourcing their gowns direct from China. As the industry was evolving to become a more ready-to-wear mode, the dresses got more complicated, made with stretch fabrics that most bridal professionals didn’t know how to work with.
“Today’s dresses look like the red carpet with tulle, beading and appliqué,” says Spring. The problem was that brides who got their dresses elsewhere didn’t have a bridal salon to dress them and struggled to pull their looks together.
Through her business The Wedding Dresser, Spring employs talented couture designers, dress makers and costumers who love a challenge and use inventive techniques to give brides the personalized style they’re after.
Spring offers bridal dressing, gown customization, cleaning and preservation. She also sells and rents high-end accessories, including wraps, capes, jackets, cashmere, jewelry, hats, lingerie, belts and sashes. The Susan Spring Collection is a curated collection of accessories sourced from women- owned businesses in the United States or fair trade.
Bridal client Maya Dimant bought her gown off the rack before COVID-19 and showed up at her wedding in a bespoke couture dress thanks to The Wedding Dresser. Colorful embroidery is fashionable now, and Spring painted into the lace to get the look of embroidery and applied flower petals all over the $1,500 sample to make the dress look like a $12,000 Marchesa.
“I wanted my dress to feel surprising, unique and bizarre, but my more traditionally fashionable mother wanted to make sure it was flattering and tasteful,” says Dimant. “I was so impressed at how deftly Susan was able to meet both of our needs in the same fantastic dress.”
Kim Pestalozzi wanted to wear her mother’s wedding dress and modernize it. But when her now-husband’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, their wedding date got moved up, which meant she had little time to restyle the dress.
After researching multiple tailors, Pestalozzi came across The Wedding Dresser.
“I loved that Susan worked on Broadway for years, so I knew she would be thorough, quick and careful,” says Pestalozzi. They eliminated the 1980s puffy sleeves and created an off-the-shoulder cap sleeve, repurposed lace into trim on her mother’s veil, removed layers from the ballgown skirt to create an A-line look and sewed in a corset and strapless bra to make the dress a perfect fit.
“The best part was revealing the updated gown to my mom on my wedding day. Seeing how it brought happy tears to her eyes made it all the more special,” says Pestalozzi.
Another client, Virna Di Palma, became pregnant soon after getting engaged. She and her now-husband decided to turn their engagement party into a surprise wedding. She found a Carolina Herrera wedding dress online and worked with Spring to fit the gown to her tiny and quickly changing frame.
“In the end, it looks like the dress had been made for me,” says Di Palma. “They are now storing the dress for me until after my pregnancy so that we can transform it into a cocktail dress. I can’t wait to wear it again!”
Spring is excited to be back to her old stomping grounds in Pikesville offering Baltimore-area brides the opportunity to have dresses made to fit their unique shapes. “I want to elevate the art of what we can do with a wedding dress,” she says, “and raise awareness of the high-quality work itself.”