After 35 years in business, helping women look and feel their best is Dunn’s speciality. “A 92-year-old woman came into the store around closing time one day, bent over on a walker,” says Lily Dunn, owner of Lily’s Lingerie. “She said, ‘I need everything. I’ve met a man and I’m going on a cruise. Can you help me?’”
She certainly could. “So,” continues Dunn, “she bought $2,000 of lingerie, swimwear and cruise wear but wait, that’s not even the good part! After she left, I saw that she’d left her walker behind. I phoned her, asked if she’d like me to drop it off to her. ‘Oh, no,’ she said, ‘you can keep that, dear, I don’t need it any more!’”
Seeing a bent over woman standing proud and pain-free again makes Dunn happy. “A properly fitted bra can relieve back and neck ache, sagging, and stress,” she says. “And the self-esteem comes back so fast.”
With sizes in the store ranging from 30A to 58N, Dunn has customers covered. The European designer collections include bras and panties in silk and satin, some embellished with Chantilly lace, Swarovski crystals, and 24-carat gold threads. Shades include magnolia, ivory, shadow, brumé; favourites such as black, red and white adorn the racks, along with other jewel-tones.
When 19-year-old Dunn moved from Truro and opened her first business, Hats ‘n Things, in the Historic Properties, she didn’t foresee a future in lingerie. But, she says, “I was madly in love at the time, and you couldn’t buy a piece of lingerie in this city that wasn’t flannelette,” she recalls. She opened Lily’s a year later in Park Lane. Fandangles, a cruise and beachwear shop, came next. Then she opened Lily’s Lingerie on Dresden Row. In Lily’s current location on Spring Garden Road, where the store has been for five years, Dunn has six staff. Her sister Deborah also “runs all the books,” and does the online ordering and the mail-out part of the business. “I’m lucky to have Sister working with me.”
Manager Sarah Belliveau has been there for five years. “I’ve worked at Lily’s since I finished high school,” she says. “I love it. Lily has a heart of gold. We’re like family here.”
Staff training is important to Dunn, particularly with the custom bra fitting that she sees as a lost art. And do not ask for a measuring tape in Lily’s. “If I could only get rid of that myth,” she fumes. “With time, the breast skin stretches. If you’re using a tape, there could be five inches of breast below the tape.”
After decades of fittings, Dunn can quickly assess size by eye. It is the rare woman who wears the correct size. “People often come in wearing big bra sizes,” she says. “By the time they’re properly fitted, they’re much smaller around, with a bigger cup size.”
John Ingram, owner of John David Shoes in Park Lane Mall, is a long-time colleague of Dunn’s. With their “strong personalities and driven natures,” as he puts it, the two have much in common. “We both speak our minds,” says Ingram.
But Dunn also has a softer side. “Lily is one of the kindest people I know,” Ingram says. “My life is richer because of her. She’s also the funniest person I’ve ever met.” He also admires her business acumen and style. “You have to command respect, be assertive and have a keen eye,” he adds. “Lily’s has some of the most beautiful lingerie I’ve ever seen.”
Beauty isn’t cheap. Lily’s bras range from $150 to $400; panties start around $100. “These bras are not cookie-cutter, from a chain store,” says Dunn. “They are constructed from between 60 and 80 pieces each…Two good bras a year, bras that work. That’s all you need.”
Dunn welcomes couples to the store and men shopping for their sweethearts or wives. “They really want to do things right,” says Dunn. For her, helping the customer get it “right” is always satisfying.
“I’ve never lost a customer,” says Dunn. The customers I started out with have daughters and granddaughters now, and they all come in sometimes on special occasions—birthdays, Easter, Valentine’s. Mama brings them in and buys bras for all of them.”
She grins. Lily Dunn loves an occasion, with everyone looking their best.