GLITZ AND GLAMOUR
It's a party-goers worst nightmare. You spend weeks planning the perfect outfit, get yourself dressed to the nines, make your entrance... only to discover someone else is wearing the same frock.
"You do not go to your prom in a lovely dress to see someone else in the same outfit... only she's blonder, slimmer, and has her hands on the man you fancy," says Suzie Rumbelow, pictured right, owner of Gladrags Designer Outlet.
And in answer to the problem that has plagued women for years she has come up with a simple solution that is just one strand of her highly personalised, beautiful shop.
"I keep a ball book," she says. "It's a record of who has bought what and who is going to what. It just means that if you buy from us then you won't find anyone else wearing the same thing."
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This level of attention to detail is something Suzie prides herself on – and which underpins the values of her shop.
"I don't think you find shops like ours anymore. It's hard to describe but we try to be a one-stop shop that offers our customers that little something extra."
From feather boas to sparkling diamante jewellery, handbags, jewelled shoes and racks of colourful ball gowns, the shop is a treasure trove of goodies, especially for anyone who likes bright colour and a bit of glitz.
Although Gladrags has been based in Portishead for several years the shop moved to its current home at The Precinct, in Portishead's High Street, last April. It's also planning another move in the near future – the shop will remain in The Precinct until the end of March but Suzie is currently finalising plans for a move into the heart of Bristol's Clifton Village in the spring.
Suzie has promised that the shop's mix of different styles, fabrics, colours and textures will remain unchanged in its new home.
Mother-of-three Suzie, who ran six different shops in Clifton before the move to Portishead, has also had stints on Radio Bristol, worked for the wardrobe department of BBC television as well as with young offenders and victims of child abuse.
She says: "I was living in Waterloo Street in Clifton at the time and working with young offenders and in child abuse, which was very tough. I decided to do something different and I was looking for something a little more frivolous, I suppose.
"A shop came up for lease opposite and something took over me. I decided to see if I could try and open my own shop. That was more than 20 years ago.
"I'd always liked glitzy things and beautiful dresses and because of my work in wardrobe and costume I had the contacts. My husband still works in television, although he works in the props department now. We've still got those contacts and we know about clothes and fabrics.
"I opened that shop, Suzie's, in Waterloo Street and then I moved around different sites in Clifton – I was doing charity things and dipping in and out of different projects. I stopped for a bit and then moved to Portishead and that's when I changed the name to Gladrags. It's after a Rod Stewart song... it was Gladrags and Handbags initially."
But in each one of her shops Suzie has always tried to find "really nice stuff" at "reasonable prices". Dresses range from £45 to £145, in UK sizes two to 26, and in many of the latest fashions but in styles you won't find on the High Street.
Suzie says: "We buy things in from America. The latest fashion is a body sculpting dress that everyone is wearing because it is flattering, supportive and doesn't crease. It's very Mad Men – that era and shape. We don't do any meringues, and no 'Jordan' jobs.
"But we like to think our shop is very individual and looks after the customers. We have a lot of people going to weddings, lots of mothers- of-the-brides who come in, people going to proms and balls and then ladies that go on cruises four or five times a year and need lovely long evening gowns.
"We know people are watching their purse strings at the moment so clothes really have to earn their keep. There's no point spending a lot of money on something if you are only going to wear it once.
"We often try to help customers. There have been times in the past when my husband has commented on something I've bought and said; 'Whatever possessed you to buy that?' and I've said; 'The lady in the shop said it looked good'. Well now I'm the lady in the shop and I want people to feel good in what they buy. We try to be honest and we aren't pushy. We've even got a does- my-bum-look-big-in-this-mirror."
And Gladrags is more than just a one-stop shop for a special occasion, by also selling sweaters, belts and jeans (which draw customers all the way from Cornwall) and offering an alteration and fitting service.
Suzie adds: "The ethos that I have, and I think the other ladies who work with me have, is that we want people to look and feel nice.
"We know women don't always go shopping to buy things – we listen to people and we give them our time.
"We can alter clothes, too, and we have a lady who is happy to go out to customers' homes if that suits them. If someone calls me on a Sunday and I'm around I'll often open up the shop too because sometimes things happen and I'm always happy to help – I think these days High Street chains don't have the time to give this one-to-one service but that's what makes us unique."
Gladrags No 8 The Precinct, High Street, Portishead, BS20 6AH. Tel 07977 454 422