— 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