The right fit

The owner of Moonlight Lace talks about finding dresses for the modern bride

Natalie Mills is the owner of and lead stylist at Moonlight Lace.

Natalie Mills is the owner of and lead stylist at Moonlight Lace.

Photo/Matt Bieker

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When Natalie Mills—owner of Reno's newest bridal boutique, Moonlight Lace, 777 Center St.—got engaged in 2015, she began the search for a dress that reflected her own minimalist, elegant style—and didn't find it anywhere in Reno. While she traveled for work, she stopped in bridal boutiques all over the West Coast and found inspiration in international designers pioneering the clean lines and unique compositions she was looking for.

After experiences with snooty, high-end boutiques offering gorgeous gowns, or ones with wonderful service but little style, Mills decided to combine her appreciation for modern bridal gowns with her knowledge of the market to open her own boutique a little closer to home. Since opening in November, Moonlight Lace has already served dozens of brides.

Mills remembers her own troubles with opinionated friends and family steering her dress decisions, though, and originally walked away with what she called “the wrong dress” before following her gut—now she wants to help Reno-Tahoe brides do the same.

Did your interest in opening a salon come from getting married or was that something that you were always interested in?

No, it came from the bridal experience and just feeling like I wouldn't be able to find a dress that I liked. You know, I wasn't into the trending style at that time, and I'm like, there's got to be stuff out there. And sure enough, I was tipped off to Australian designers. They were kind of paving the way of this like, you know, laid back, cool, beachy bride. And I lived in New Zealand at one point, so that kind of tipped me off into this world. And then from there I just discovered cool designers in Southern California and Portland. And we do have about almost half Australian designers just because that was the initial influence. I just thought this was a phase because I'm engaged and then once I'd get married I'd be over it and onto the next phase. But even after I got married, it was always coming back to bridal dresses.

Your website talks about finding styles for the “modern bride.” Can you explain what that looks like?

Yeah, modern is definitely laid back, but also just like clean lines, simple, timeless—like it doesn't have all the frills and all these distractions. So that's what a lot of our dresses are. Like, the clean silk crepe. We literally only have like two or three, kind of fuller skirts, but for the most part they're kind of sleek and chic and just no extra fluff.

So, not like Grandma's pre-war ball gown?

Yeah, not that. And, again, not that that's not beautiful, and there's definitely a bride for that. I just felt like they could already find what they were looking for in Reno, so I wanted to cater to the brides that couldn't find this more, like, sleek and modern look.

What does an appointment at Moonlight Lace entail?

So, she'll be greeted by either myself or [Emily Shore, shop manager] at this point. We let them look around upfront, and we always offer them either champagne or water or whatever they'd like. And then we bring them to the back, and they can get comfy here because they have the whole space to themselves so they can put their bags down, purses—everything's safe. We kind of go over what the bride's interested in verbally. And then usually Emily and myself will have some dresses in mind right away. … Her party will get comfortable here, and we'll go in the dress room, and we'll go dress by dress. We have some accessories, so you can add something fun to your hair and it's not going to, like, be too much. … Especially if that's a dress she's kind of liking, we'll ask her, ‘Do you want to wear a veil?' And we'll throw a veil on her. And sometimes that cues the tears for mom. If mom starts crying, I start crying.

On the site, you talk about your experience feeling pressured by others people's opinion about the dress. How do you help your clients with that?

That was my personal experience, and then we've seen it in here as well. And that's where I feel there is a magic number of how many people you want to bring. And I feel like it's one to three. When you have the groups of four, five, six, it's just a lot of opinions in the room. … We've literally had it where the people outside are like, ‘No, I don't like this part and that part.' And then the bride will go in the room—and that was an appointment with Emily—and she's like, I don't care what they say. I really like this dress. You should be taking the cue from the bride. If the bride really likes that dress, you should be supportive. … My first appointment was a small group because it was early morning and people couldn't make it. This was in the Bay, and I had such a great appointment. It was my sister and my friend, and they were picking up on what I was liking, and I just had the best time. Then the next appointment we added two more people, and it became like a clash of opinions between them. No one was paying attention to how I was feeling other than my friend who was at the first appointment. She could tell I was getting frustrated and then was trying to defend me in my dress. … And so if there is enough pressure there to purchase the dress that day or whatever it may be, you might make the wrong decision, and we don't want that. … I'll always bring it back to, like, ‘Before we walk out there and everyone sees it, how do you feel in this dress? What is your gut instinct?' And you need to listen to that because when do you do go out there, especially with a bigger group, you're going to start hearing other people's opinions and you can talk yourself into things like, ‘Yeah, I do really like this.' Whereas if you just go with your gut when it was just me and you in there and how you felt in it, then I feel like you'll make the right decision.

Anything else a prospective bride should do to prepare for an appointment?

When they book their appointment, in the email confirmation and just on the scheduler, there's a questionnaire that they can fill out, and it has designers they might be interested in, or styles they're interested in. And for all of the questions, if they don't know, there is like a ‘Help, I'm still figuring it out.' So you could be completely clueless and that's totally fine. But, that's where they would put in if they have things that they've been looking at Pinterest, or they've been on our website and they love this one particular designer, put that in there. … But further prep, we definitely get the question of what to wear. The best thing to wear is nude colored undergarments … because any color, some of the dresses that are thinner, you'll see it through so it can be distracting. It just depends on the dress. If they know they're getting married on a ranch and they're going to wear cowboy boots, bring your cowboy boots, and, you know, if it's more with the heel, like that'll really affect how they feel in the dresses. So, if they know their shoe, bring it in. If not, we have other shoes or we just have a lot of brides that go barefoot, and that is my style.