As the men arrived for work at Complete Bridal in East Dundee, they headed for the mirror.
A check of their hair, a side glance at their arm muscles and they were off ... to sell dresses.
“They’re just as bad as high school girls going to prom,” owner David Gaffke said as he watched several of his employees primp on a recent afternoon.
“Can you work on your hair?” he teased Brandon Swan, the employee he describes as “the little brother you can’t ditch.”
“I can’t do anything with my hair,” Swan responded with a smile, as he put a hand through it.
From what Gaffke described, it’s a typical scene at the shop. And it’s the type of scene likely to play out on television when Gaffke and his four male employees are featured this summer in a new reality television show.
As Gaffke put it, the show’s about “five guys doing what they do best, selling pretty dresses to pretty girls.”
With filming set to begin this week, the show will air on FYI, a new contemporary lifestyle network created by A&E, slated to debut July 7. FYI is replacing the Bio Channel, and is geared toward an upscale, younger audience who is active online.
Familiar with affiliates of A&E through his extensive design and bridal business experience, Gaffke first connected with the network a couple years ago when he sent an email about his thoughts on a different show.
He just happened to mention his shop is one of the only shops with an all-male staff. And wouldn’t that make a good reality show, he suggested.
He didn’t hear anything back for a year. Eventually, an email arrived asking him if he’s still interested in his own show. The email sat for a couple weeks before Gaffke noticed it.
He eventually responded. And a crew came out last June to film a prototype, or a sort of pilot episode. That took a month or so to produce, and soon Gaffke learned his show had been picked up.
Crews already had set up lighting at the shop at 12 E. Main St. in downtown East Dundee this week, and are expected to film Sunday, March 30, during the Bridal Fashion Show and Expo hosted by Complete Bridal at Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites in Elgin. Free tickets for the event are available at bridalevent.net.
A single, 30-minute episode of the show is expected to take four days to film.
What that means for Gaffke and his high maintenance staff is that they’ll have to remain in the same clothes and keep the same hairstyles for those four days, Gaffke said as he chatted with employees about how often they’d need their hair trimmed and laundry done.
Other than that, “It’ll be business as usual,” Gaffke said. “I don’t hold back. We’re family here.”
That includes, he admitted, some cursing and scolds for being late, as well as some taunting comments on bad hair days.
At the same time, Gaffke’s quick to praise his staff, including Swan, Robbie Rivera (“who sold 63 prom dresses in 23 days,” Gaffke boasted), Ashley Vargas and Frank Margina.
“They all have their own sense of style, but they are the same person,” he said.
“They’re the kindest men you’ll ever meet. They go over and beyond the call of duty. They’re honest, polite, sincere, charming and always hungry.”
Becoming part of the bridal industry roughly 31 years ago when he interned with a company he eventually bought, Gaffke didn’t really set out to gather an all-male staff.
But he soon realized how well men could sell dresses to women.
“We created our niche,” he said. “I felt guys could work with girls better. There should be more women in the automotive business. Maybe more cars would be sold. Girls can be really catty to other girls, and it’s not their wedding...
“I’ve been competing with all-female bridal salons for nearly 31 years, and who better to decide what looks best on a woman than a guy?”
Ultimately, the client is the groom, he said.
“The most important dress [the bride] will ever wear is to impress him,” he said.
“It’s magical. There’s not one girl who doesn’t dress to impress her fiancé, her soon-to-be husband.”
And he said he’s not afraid to ask the questions needed to ensure all goes smoothly for the bride.
Questions, such as, “When is your menstrual cycle?” Women’s measurements change during their cycles, with their hips and waists gaining up to 5 more inches, he said.
What it comes down to is understanding the bride’s needs, he said.
“If you’re not asking the questions, you’re not on the bride’s side,” he said. “You’re on your own side. . . I guarantee there’s not another store in this country that asks about menstrual cycles.”
Having owned Bridal Expo for about 21 years, Gaffke opened Complete Bridal Salon about nine years ago in another location in downtown East Dundee. He moved to his current location about four years ago.
He said he’s seen village leaders work hard to beautiful the downtown and attract more visitors through various events and festivities, and his show is the latest plus to the area.
It isn’t the first time film crews have come to the area. Portions of the 2002 film “Road to Perdition” starring Tom Hanks were filmed in nearby West Dundee.
Village leaders welcomed the attention.
“We’re very excited for David and the success of the shop. We’re looking forward to how that will benefit all of the East Dundee businesses through its exposure,” said Karen Blair, marketing director for the Village of East Dundee.
“One of the unique aspects of East Dundee is its downtown,” she said. “It’s definitely a destination, and it’s quaint and people feel good when they come down to visit.”
Because of the filming, Complete Bridal Salon will carry five new lines of dresses to be unveiled at the upcoming expo. It’s an event, Gaffke said, brides-to-be won’t want to miss. Along with the dresses, he promised the expo would include some surprise.
Crews are expected to film at Gaffke’s business for the next several months, and 12 episodes are guaranteed, he said.
His expectations for the show are simple. He wants it “to last forever,” he said, before moving onto his next customers.
“Hello ladies,” he greeted. “What can we help you with today?”