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Saying yes to the First Communion dress

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 7:48 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Ilana Finkbeiner sits in her communion dress at her Penn Hills home.
ReRebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune Review
Jennifer Mason, manager of MB Bride, helps Zarida Ali, 6, of Greensburg try on communion dresses in Greensburg.
Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Chloe Kokenberger, 6, of Lower Burrell tries on a Joan Calabrese Point d'Esprit dress at Babe's Broadway Bridal in New Kensington. The tea-length dress is made of tulle, lace and satin.
Monte Durham is the fashion director for TLC's 'Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta.'
Paige Kendall of Irwin in her Communion dress at Immaculate Conception Church in Irwin.

Maybe it's the smile. Or the way she twirls around in circles. It might be how she looks at herself in the mirror. And, also the fact she doesn't want to take it off.

That little girl is saying “yes” to the dress.

It's the time of year when girls are seen donning crisp white dresses — a symbol of purity and innocence — to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, a rite of passage for many Catholics.

“You just know when they are saying ‘yes' to a particular dress,” says Kimberly Mentecki, co-owner with her mother, Karen Fassinger, of Babe's Broadway Bridal in New Kensington.

When customers walk through the door, Mentecki and Fassinger assess the situation to see which family members or friends have come with the little girl, just like bridal consultants do in the TLC reality show “Say Yes to the Dress.”

“We talk to them and show them various options,” Mentecki says. “A lot of times, the girls want to pick the dress, and they say, ‘This is what I want.' ”

That's a fine scenario if everyone agrees. But if not, hello, drama!

Mentecki will often close the dressing-room door to give customers privacy for the discussion.

“Most of the time, when they come in, they have an idea of what they want,” says Paula Fisher, co-owner with her mother, Rose Mary Lodovico, of Cosy Creations in Forest Hills. Usually, it is a joint decision, Fisher says. There are times someone might not like a dress and will voice an opinion.

“Then we get a compromise,” Fisher says. “Maybe we suggest a dress that doesn't have as much beading or one with a different sleeve style or a different length. Most of the time, the decision is up to the child. We can spot when they are wearing something they don't like or feel comfortable in. And, we can also spot when Mom or Grandmother or Aunt doesn't like something, either.”

“We have this three-way mirror, and when they step in front of it, you can tell if it is the dress for them,” Fisher says. “Their faces light up. When the little girls smile, we know that the search has been successful.”

It didn't take long for Jennifer Munda-Finkbeiner, a Greenfield native who lives in Penn Hills, to see her daughter, Ilana Finkbeiner, 8, had found the right dress at Cosy Creations.

“She had in her mind the dress she wanted, and the minute she walked in, she spotted a dress hanging on the wall and said, ‘That's the one I want, Mom,' ” says Munda-Finkbeiner, who got a little teary-eyed seeing her daughter. “And when I saw her in the dress, I knew it was the one because she looked absolutely beautiful.”

Munda-Finkbeiner suggested Ilana try a different style just to be sure, but she still chose the first one — a full-skirt, tea-length dress with a rhinestone flower at the shoulder and beading on the bodice.

Ilana, who will receive her first Communion on May 5 at St. Bartholomew, says trying on dresses was fun. Ilana's grandparents, Joe and Jerri Munda, bought the dress and told their granddaughter to get what she wanted.

“I just loved this dress. I love the beading and the flower and the fullness of it. It is perfect to wear to receive God for the first time,” Ilana says.

Paige Kendall, who will turn 8 on May 4, celebrated her first Communion on April 27 at Immaculate Conception in Irwin. Her mother, Heather, says the process at Cosy Creations went smoothly. They knew they wanted a dress by designer Christie Helene.

“Paige is pretty easy-going,” says Heather Kendall of Irwin. “We knew the designer we wanted, so it was deciding which one. She tried on several, and we knew the minute she tried on the right one.”

Narrowing the dress choices helps, says Renee Lingle, owner of The Frog N' Princess in Peters. Some mothers come in ahead to look at the selection.

She and her sales associates can pick up on cues when the dress is wrong. Children will tell you when they don't like a dress by saying it's itchy or by taking it off immediately. Helping them find the right dress is part of the challenge, Lingle says. When you are dealing with many generations, it isn't easy.

“The girls know about the reality show and so do their moms and aunts, and sometimes, even Grandma has seen it,” Lingle says. “We definitely ask if they are saying ‘yes' to the dress. And when they smile, we know they are.”

Knowing the show has reached a diverse age group is wonderful, says Monte Durham, fashion director for “Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta,” which airs Fridays.

“To me, there is a lot of emotion with Communion dresses, and it's most likely the first fancy dress in a girl's life and one in a long line of dresses she will wear in her life,” Durham says.

He can tell when it's “yes” to the bridal gown by the way a woman walks and her stance. That can also be applied to the Communion dress, he says.

“They smile ear to ear and almost prance like they are giddy, and they are moving back and forth and shuffling their feet,” Durham says. “You want to make sure they love it and that they feel great wearing it, because that will show in the photos.”

Gaye Bugel, owner of Bugel Kids in Ross, says in 29 years she has had to deal with mothers not wanting daughters to try on plus-size dresses, a mom who had her child try on 60 dresses, and a girl who refused to try on anything, because she liked a dress from another store.

“I have had experiences you wouldn't believe,“ says Bugel, who plans to close the store later this year and sell only online. “There are times the child comes in and doesn't understand about the sacrament, and it is just about the party. ... But then, there are some customers who are fun and pleasant to work with.”

Jennifer Mason, manager at MB Bride in Greensburg, says when family members disagree and the girl is caught in the middle, she tries to help them find common ground.

“I haven't seen many pouty girls,” she says. “I think at this age, girls are more prone to listening to their moms and aunts and grandmothers. They are respectful when they come in for a Communion dress and realize the significance of the day.

“When you see the little girl smile, you know,” Mason says. “She looks at herself in the mirror and her face lights up, and Mom gets a little teary-eyed. That is rewarding to see, because it is in that moment that they are all saying ‘yes' to the dress without speaking a word.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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