Helen Marcotte, FCS Graduate, Interns at Kleinfeld's Dress Shop

Helen Marcotte has lived a life for which anyone in the fashion industry would be envious, especially those who dream of living in New York and working in a dress shop that has made stars of their co-workers….as in the hit reality television show, “Say Yes to the Dress”. But, behind the glamor, Helen led her life as a typical college student, one who studied hard and prepared herself for the future. As uncertain and scary as that may be for anyone, Helen isn’t worried about her future career, she’s excited, and her Eastern education is making a world of difference for this ambitious and talented Eastern alumna.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Helen came to Eastern on the advice of a childhood friend. As Helen explains,

 “When deciding on colleges to apply for, I knew I wanted to go away to college and be independent. I did not want to go out of state, but I wanted to go far enough to where I had to provide for myself and learn how to be an adult. I had a friend from grammar school that is a year older than me that attended EIU, and he said it was a great school. He also said the size of the university was perfect because the classes were not filled with 200 students. You would be able to get one-on-one attention from professors if needed”.

The personal attention that Eastern offers students isn’t unique to any single program of study…at Eastern, it’s the norm, but in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences, personal attention is particularly important.

Family and Consumer Sciences encompasses a diverse field of subject areas including: nutrition, hospitality, merchandising, child care, family services, dietetics, gerontology, apparel and textiles, and financial literacy. The diversity of subject matter often blends several of these elements together, as with apparel and textile design, coupled with an understanding of consumer habits and needs. It is the dynamics of the coursework that ultimately attracted Helen to the FCS major. As Helen noted, “I actually started off my freshman year as a marketing major. I had no idea that EIU had a fashion concentration until my counselor informed me, and I automatically changed my major to FCS. I was kind of excited that the major allowed students to not only study their concentration but we were able to learn about the consumer in general…”.

Along the way, Helen has been mentored and supported by Eastern faculty who care about their students' academic and personal growth. Dr. Katherine “Katie” Shaw, an Eastern FCS alumnae herself, is one of those professors. Her efforts had a meaningful impact, as Helen expressed,

“Dr. Katherine Shaw has seriously changed my life. I had her for a few textile and visual merchandising classes during my undergraduate studies but I had no idea how much of an impact she would make in my life”.  

Helen says Dr. Shaw would soon become a motivational force, “….. my senior year, she encouraged me to apply for a graduate assistantship and graduate school. I was very unsure about the whole situation because I was ready to go out into the world and job market. She convinced me that I could always apply and if I did not want to pursue that career path, I did not have to….”. Needless to say, Helen was accepted into the Master of Science in Family and Consumer Sciences program at Eastern, which included a graduate assistantship.

“During graduate school, Dr. Shaw and I worked together in research, and I learned so much from her. She encouraged me to do things I never thought I could accomplish. With her inspiration, I wrote a thesis, was awarded two scholarships/fellowships, presented along-side her at the American Collegiate Retailing Association conference in Nashville, TN, and submitted research to the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, all while being a graduate student and working a second retail job”. Helen thinks a great deal of Dr. Shaw, saying, ”she is an amazing person and professor”. They are words of praise that any professor would be thrilled and gratified to hear from a student.

The feeling is mutual, as Dr. Shaw has nothing but admiration and praise for Helen, “Helen was always great to work with as both an undergraduate and graduate student. I think one of the things that impressed me the most was Helen's persistence and determination and her great work ethic. She was determined from the get-go to write a thesis and worked very hard at completing it in a timely manner amidst working, classes, and getting ready to go to New York for her internship”.

Now, as for the celebrity of interning at Kleinfeld’s Dress Shop in New York, you might be asking how Helen got the opportunity….two words, inquisitiveness and follow-through. Says Helen, “I’m a fan of “Say Yes to the Dress” and I was watching it one night when I got the idea of applying. I checked their website and there was an e-mail address provided to send your resume. Honestly, all I did was e-mail my resume and a few weeks later, Joan Roberts (who was Helen’s supervisor and the person who started the internship program) replied inquiring about an interview date”.

Helen interned during the fall, 2013 semester and worked as a consultant assistant. Helen helped brides as they tried-on dresses and with the completion of the necessary contracts when a bride decided to purchase one of the dresses. IHelen Marcotte, FCS Student Internship t required a great deal of listening and making sure the bride was satisfied with the fit and style of the dress.

While each day had its variations, Helen usually assisted five brides during the course of any given work day. Helen also handled final selections, or “come-back” appointments, Helen explains, “a come-back bride is one who has already had an appointment and has narrowed down her choice to one gown but has yet to commit to it. She is able to just walk in without an appointment to try the dress on again”. She has also assisted with bridal events and runway shows hosted by Kleinfeld.

Helen is used to a busy urban setting, having been raised in Chicago. However, she admits that New York was very fast-paced, “Before I left, a few people warned me that NYC is very “go, go, go” but you really do not understand until you actually visit or live there. The streets are always busy and it seems like everyone is in a rush to get somewhere. After living there for a while, you can tell who the tourists are and who actually lives there. It really is the city that never sleeps because it does not matter what time it is, there are always people out and about. Stores in Times Square close at 1AM. It is such a different lifestyle out there. Of course, Chicago is a big city too and is similar to New York City, but nothing compares to NYC’s fast-paced lifestyle”.

During her internship, Helen lived in Webster Apartments, an all-women’s apartment complex. Helen noted that the accommodations are similar to dorms, “There are single or double rooms with a cafeteria, common rooms, and garden. The apartment is located in Midtown, which is in Manhattan. It is only about five blocks from the Empire State Building”.

In addition to the sky-scarpers overhead, Helen also saw her share of Hollywood stars, saying, “I have seen Hugh Grant, Rose Byrne (Helen from Bridesmaids) and Amanda Seyfried! She was actually in our store with her friend who was looking for a wedding gown”.

Reflecting on her internship, Helen admitted to being rather awe-struck by her own co-workers as well, “Although I’m a crazed fan, I worked with the consultants that are on television every week, but it became so “normal”. Of course, they are people just like you and me but when my friends asked about my day and I mentioned a certain name, they freaked out! I became used to the camera men running around. They filmed some of our morning meetings and I stepped through so many shots because I was oblivious to them! It was an experience working at Klienfeld’s because of the fame of the show. I met Randy Fenoli and said hello to him whenever he was in. Brides would see him and want to take pictures and ask me to take them. It was an unreal experience because if I were in our customers’ shoes, I would be doing the same thing!”

As a newly minted Eastern alumna (December 2013), Helen is open to whatever the future might bring, “To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out my career path! I know that I would like to work on the corporate side of a retail company. I would also love to work directly for a designer or work wholesale”. Helen notes that landing a job with a designer is very different from the traditional job application process. “To work for a designer, I really need to show them what I can do for him/her. I have been applying for assistant jobs, and I plan on sending my resume to designers in New York and Chicago”.

Helen isn’t going to be deterred. Her Eastern education has prepared her for a successful career. Dr. Shaw agrees saying,

“I think Helen's future is bright! Her internship supervisor at Kleinfeld's has been very impressed by her work ethic and maturity--often asking her to organize the other interns in their activities. She has taken on many leadership roles throughout her graduate program and graduate internship, and I have no doubt she will continue to do so in the world of retail.”

Dr. Shaw offers Helen and fellow FCS alumni words of wisdom, best summed-up in a quote from Coco Chanel, who said, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

Good luck, Helen, our newest Eastern success story!