Story By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography By Whitney Pulen
Planning a wedding – no mater how small or large – involves lots of decisions and details, from the invitation design to the guest list to the venue to the reception, the cake, the food, the flowers, the colors and more.
But on the actual wedding day, all eyes will focus on one of the bride’s most significant decisions: the dress.
That’s why it’s important to say yes to the dress with the right fit, a dress that leaves guests talking about how amazing the bride looked.
Among the people in Wichita who understands that is Reni Keen, who has helped thousands of brides pick their perfect dress for the past 42 years. Among her customers have been western Kansas farm girls to a local television anchorwoman to about 20 immediate and extended members of a local prominent family.
Keen got her start in the bridal business managing Shirley Rae Bridals in west Wichita’s Twin Lakes Shopping Center. Seven years later, in 1981, she opened her own bridal shop, Reni’s Bridal Boutique in the nearby Marina Lakes Shopping Center near 21st Street and Amidon. She opened in mid-December, anticipating that there would be several women receiving engagement rings during the holidays, she notes. She’s always been business savvy that way.
With her long tenure in the business, it’s common for her now to be dressing a second-generation of brides within a family. She also sells dresses for bridesmaids, mothers and flower girls.
Interestingly enough, Keen never had a bridal dress of her own. She eloped with the young American airman she’d fell in love with when Joe Keen was stationed at an air base near her hometown of Wiesbaden, Germany. She’s always had a knack for fashion and understanding well-made clothes, however. Her grandfather had owned a fabric factory, and every year, a seamstress would spend a week living with her family as she sewed tailor-made wardrobes for Keen and other family members.
As Keen and one of her two daughters, Tonya Keen Lorenz who has helped run the shop for the past several years, talk about the brides they dress, the trends they’ve seen and going to market in Dallas, Keen leaves to answer a phone call. It’s a future bride who wants to make an appointment to view and try on dresses. As Keen returns to her chair, she smiles as she relays the young woman’s conversation. “She said, ‘I want to be there when Reni is there.’”
That’s in part because most brides welcome Keen’s compassion, personal service and honesty. Knowing that the bride will be the focal point, Keen is intent on the bride looking her absolute best.
No bride wants her guests whispering about an ill-suited gown, so Keen – who has what’s been called “a straight-talking approach” – provides an honest assessment when fitting future brides. She also makes sure the dress will be appropriate for the occasion. For example, a dress with a train isn’t practical for a destination beach wedding, while a heavy satin dress will be uncomfortable for an outdoor, poolside wedding.
“This is the most important dress she’ll wear and she will want to look and feel good that day,” notes Lorenz.
Keen also has a knack for being able to literally size a bride, as well, as soon as a potential customer walks in. Most wedding dresses run small, so brides shouldn’t focus on the number, but rather how well the dress fits. Reni’s Bridal Boutique carries dresses ranging from a size 0 to 32, one of the few local shops that has such a wide range.
She also has a remarkable memory, which is one reason she initially studied for a medical career back in Germany, before falling in love, she says. Now she uses her ability to recall details to a bride’s benefit. If she discovers she’s outfitting someone from a family she’s worked with in the past, she’ll ensure that the bride doesn’t end up in the same wedding dress as a cousin, for example.
While shows like “Say Yes to the Dress,” which has depicted future brides picking out a dress with a large contingent of friends and family, Lorenz and Keen say it’s better if a bride limits her entourage.
“Bring two or three people who really care about you, will give you an honest opinion” and not talk you into buying a dress out of your price range or what they prefer, says Lorenz.
After all, “it’s all about that one girl,” says Keen.
And that one special dress.