By Linda Wilson Fuoco Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
When a bride walks down the aisle in her carefully chosen wedding gown, these days she may be accompanied by the family dog wearing matching attire.
"In the summer, I sell at least one wedding dress each week," said Suzanne Crosier, who makes pet clothes in the game room of her home under the business name Chic Doggie Boutique.
The dog bridal dresses can be custom-made to mimic the style of the actual bride's gown. Pricier ones often have pearls and other embellishments hand sewn into the design. They sell for $25 to $60 and usually take one to three hours to make.
Crosier and her husband, Dean, have sold more that 800 dog outfits since they started in July 2012. Business continues to pick up for them and for other pet clothing companies as more and more dog owners, and to a lesser degree owners of cats and even miniature pigs, dress their pets in increasingly elaborate clothes and costumes.
Do a Google search for "clothes for dogs" and you'll get about 66 million results. Do a search for "handmade clothes for dogs," and results total 1.15 million, including the Crosiers' boutique and Etsy, a popular website where the Crosiers also sell their wares.
The American Pet Products Association in Greenwich, Conn., estimates that more than $60 billion will be spent on pets this year. While there is no separate category for pet clothing, some $5.2 billion of that total is for services, such as grooming and boarding.
"More than 90 percent of people consider dogs part of their family," said Mikkel Becker, resident trainer for the www.Vetstreet.com website. "When you dress up the kids, you dress up the dogs," she said.
She noted that while the practice is often "funny," she emphasized that clothes should never be forced on any animal that gets stressed when dressed.
Even designer Ralph Lauren has dressed dogs in his high-end label. Collaborating with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the fashion icon put his designer clothes on shelter and rescue dogs for a successful and innovative "The Dog Walk" campaign in 2013. All of the dogs in the show were quickly adopted.
At this stage, the Crosiers appear to have captured the Pittsburgh market for high-end pet clothes.
"I started doing this because I thought it was cute and because many of the clothes sold in stores are poor quality," Suzanne Crosier said.
They make pet clothes for all occasions, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas being the busiest seasons. They have had orders for dog dresses for Hanukkah and Passover, and one customer ordered a fancy dress for what she called " a doggy prom."
In addition to bridal outfits, they make bridesmaid and flower girl dresses for canine members of the wedding party and tuxedos and bow ties for male dogs.
The Crosiers also make pajamas and fleece coats, often with the logos of Steelers and other sports teams. Prices range from $15 to $60, and their website offers sales and coupons.
Last year the couple added rhinestone collars in a wide array of colors. They're $20 for small dogs and $30 for larger ones.
The Crosiers do most of their selling on the Internet but said they also do a good business at pet expos, where customers can try the clothes on their pets. At such shows, the Crosiers are able to measure pets for a custom fit. Fluffy or Fido will get the outfit in the mail in about a week.
Dean Crosier works full time at the Port Authority of Allegheny County. Suzanne recently retired from her hospital nursing job to work on their growing business. She does all of the sewing and embroidering. He cuts patterns, makes the jeweled collars and handles the packing and shipping.
The business has customers from all over the United States as well as Canada, Australia, China, Korea and the United Kingdom. Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, Shih Tzu, poodles, cocker spaniels and pugs appear to be their best customers, but the couple said they can tailor for most breeds.
The models on their website and Facebook page are the Crosiers' dogs: three Yorkshire terriers, Tootsie, 4, Boomer, 11 months, and Trixie, 19 weeks old, and a Chihuahua-papillon mix named Ozzie, 5.
Boomer and Ozzie are males and model hoodies and denim overalls that were added to the line when customers demanded more clothes for male pets.
The popular denim overalls cost $30 and "are a lot more work than the dresses," Suzanne said.
Most of the chic boutique dresses are for dogs weighing 30 pounds or less. But adjustments can be made to the patterns, lengthened for the long bodies of dachshunds, for instance. Patterns have been modified to fit two 60-pound bulldogs and for a smallish Labrador retriever that "works" in a West Coast day care center, Suzanne said.
The dog dresses are so beautiful that the Crosiers often are asked if the same dresses can be made for customers' children and grandchildren.
"I tell them, 'No, not unless you want their butts to hang out,'" Suzanne said.