Dress to impress

One-stop shop: Shop own­er Angie Maglio does the dress al­ter­a­tions and helps shop­pers pick out their ac­cessor­ies. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

— For high school girls in North­east Philly, a trip to Dress Up Time in May­fair for a prom gown is a fam­ily tra­di­tion and a rite of pas­sage. Of­ten the moms come along, too.

The hour hand on the clock was ap­proach­ing five, sig­nal­ing clos­ing time at the Dress Up Time store on Frank­ford Av­en­ue. But, with high school prom sea­son on the ho­ri­zon, the form­al wear and ap­par­el shop did not look as if it would be clos­ing any time soon.

Cus­tom­ers were still por­ing over gowns and dresses of count­less shapes, sizes, col­ors, and ma­ter­i­als that lined the walls of the two-floor store that has been a main­stay of May­fair for the past 18 years. Rocky, the fam­ily’s small York­shire Ter­ri­er, paced around the shop, seem­ingly ac­cus­tomed to the hustle and bustle of cus­tom­ers run­ning in and out of dress­ing rooms and em­ploy­ees mak­ing cloth­ing al­ter­a­tions.

For years, girls from North­east high schools have made prom gown shop­ping at this store a spring­time rite of pas­sage. They enter the stop and walk up a stair­case lined with posters of mod­els pos­ing in the sea­son’s hot­test styles. On the second floor, the busiest sec­tion of the shop, it of­ten looks as if a young­er ver­sion of an epis­ode of “Say Yes to the Dress” is tak­ing place.

On a re­cent week­day, Angie Reck­lau, a seni­or at Cent­ral High School, entered the shop with her moth­er and young­er sis­ter, and ex­citedly ran up to a yel­low gown on dis­play on a man­nequin next to the stair­case. Minutes later, she moved the cur­tain back in the dress­ing room, re­veal­ing her­self wear­ing the same dress.

“I think that’s your dress, baby!” said her moth­er, who was beam­ing. This is the first and prob­ably only stop Reck­lau will make as she pre­pared for her high school prom.

While their prom dresses are quite pop­u­lar, they also sell a vari­ety of moth­er of the bride dresses as well as cock­tail and brides­maid dresses. The fam­ily-owned and op­er­ated busi­ness takes cus­tom­ers step by step through pre­par­a­tion for their spe­cial event.

“Every­one goes to Dress Up Time,” said Mary Stauffen­berg as she waited for her daugh­ter, Little Flower seni­or Ju­lie Bryl­in­ski, to mod­el one of the dresses she chose off the racks of pos­sible can­did­ates.

“She’s look­ing for more of a simple dress,” said Stauffen­berg of her daugh­ter’s taste in fash­ion. “The ones with the cor­set in the back are right up her al­ley.” 

Stauffen­berg, a May­fair res­id­ent, was one of many moth­ers at the shop that day who were shar­ing the spe­cial mo­ment of pick­ing out just the right prom dress with their daugh­ters. “I can’t be­lieve how these four years have flown by,” Stauffen­berg said.

It was fam­ily tra­di­tion that brought Kelly MacEl­roy and her moth­er, Kathy, in­to the shop to pick up the dress that she would wear to Naz­areth’s seni­or prom on April 26.

“Her sis­ter got her prom dress here four years ago and we were really happy with the way it turned out,” MacEl­roy said. “We are so pleased with the vari­ety of dresses, but the cus­tom­er ser­vice is def­in­itely num­ber one.” 

Dana Mc­Grath echoes the sen­ti­ment about cus­tom­er ser­vice. 

“The people here are more help­ful,” Mc­Grath said. The ju­ni­or at Little Flower High School, who was try­ing on dresses with a friend, noted the trendy and unique styles Dress Up Time had for sale, and was very pleased with what she found. “I have to come back with my mom and show her this dress!” ex­claimed Mc­Grath, as she twirled around in front of the mir­ror in a white, lacy dress that was short in the front and cas­caded out in the back. 

The em­ploy­ees and staff at Dress Up Time also pride them­selves on cus­tom­er ser­vice, which they said was one of many factors that set them apart from oth­er ap­par­el stores in the area. “This really is the only one-stop shop; we do everything from fit­tings to al­ter­a­tions; you can even get all of your shoes and ac­cessor­ies here,” said own­er Angie Maglio, who sat in the back of the store ob­serving a wo­man in a gold, se­quin even­ing gown and quietly noted al­ter­a­tions that needed to be made. 

The store is also known for giv­ing back to the sur­round­ing com­munity and help­ing those abroad as well. Dress Up Time has donated dresses to Chil­dren’s Hos­pit­al of Phil­adelphia for its an­nu­al “prom” for pa­tients. The store also par­ti­cip­ates in mul­tiple fash­ion shows at loc­al high schools. This year, the store donated dresses to Con­well Egan High School’s “Pas­sion for Fash­ion” in March, a fash­ion show that be­ne­fits the “Little Dresses for Africa” char­ity by send­ing prom dresses and gowns to Third World coun­tries. 

Maglio has watched the shop evolve over the years, and has seen firsthand the many trends and styles that have come and gone. “While be­fore they wanted the big­ger, ball-gown-type dresses, now they look for more open gowns with cut out backs and sides,” Maglio said.

An­oth­er hot trend this sea­son: sol­id colored lace. “Prints were in for the past couple years, but now we’re back to the sol­id pat­terns. The col­ors that are in this sea­son are def­in­itely the more neut­ral, nude col­ors, like beige,” she said.

An­oth­er change Maglio has no­ticed is the ex­pan­sion of cli­en­tele from bey­ond the North­east. “We’ve had cus­tom­ers from Read­ing, Al­lentown, and Delaware,” said Maglio, who noted that word of mouth over the years has boos­ted the store’s pop­ular­ity.

“Walk­ing the Ave. is be­com­ing a dy­ing busi­ness. We used to get a lot of cus­tom­ers from people just walk­ing in who were passing by. Now, we have people from all over,” she said. 

Kathy MacEl­roy and her daugh­ter fin­ished their shop­ping and stood at the re­gister, a purple gown in tow.

“Oth­er places just lack the friendly, per­son­al touch that this one has,” Kathy MacEl­roy said  ••

Reach writer Car­o­lan Di­Fiore at Car­o­lan221@ve­r­i­zon.net

You can reach at cdifiore@bsmphilly.com.

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