How did All about the Dress Come to be? What was your vision for the store?
My partner, Liz Templeton, and I met in a baby music class in 2002 and have been friends ever since. I had a retail background and had always thought that I would have a store one day. Liz, who has a marketing background, noticed a void in the girls’ dress market and really liked the idea of opening a girls’ dress shop. In 2013, we started checking out other stores. We thought maybe we could do this… and do it better.
Our goal was to have a store that was really pretty and a fun experience for girls and their moms. A niche business with a product people need and really good customer service. We started with a pop-up shop and then opened All About the Dress in Armonk in 2014. The store was originally 500 square feet, but we recently expanded to 1000 square feet.
We have dresses for Bat Mitzvahs, Proms and Sweet 16’s plus special occasion dresses for parties or Graduation. We have a custom line too for our high-end clientele who want something special. Our custom designers, Jesus and Antonio Estrada, have become a really great and significant component of our business. Their custom dresses are special because you can only get them here.
Our business has grown organically. Originally it was just local people but now we have customers from Boston and Philadelphia and California. We even had a prom customer from Prague come pick out a prom dress and take it home on the plane with her!
We are pretty much a walk-in store. Although occasionally we will make an appointment for custom fittings or for someone who really can’t get in during our regular hours.
What are some tips you would give to a girl in picking out her Bat Mitzvah dress?
Start well in advance to ensure you have more options. We recommend four or five months out from an event. If someone selects a dress that needs to be special ordered or even an off the rack dress in a specific color, it can take up to three months for it to come in. And then you also need to leave time for alterations. So, the more time the better.
A lot of girls want to look like their friends, but they should also be true to themselves, what they really love and what they think looks good on their body. It’s ok to be a little different. We have a variety of dresses to suit different styles. There’s not just strapless anymore. You can do a halter or a dress with a sleeve. We also have really simple dresses. They don’t have to be completely beaded. I think girls just need to know themselves and be honest about what they want.
What kinds of dresses are popular for girls attending parties?
It’s sort of a cycle. In the beginning, when girls are new to the circuit of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, they are looking for more of an A-line dress. We always have a big selection of these because we think they are really pretty. As the season goes on, the dresses tend to get a little tighter and shorter. Girls sometimes will wear a skirt and a top; two-piece options become more popular. By the Spring season, they start to want envelope shorts or rompers, a little more casual and different.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
It is really a treat to help someone find that great dress. I love watching a girl’s face light up because you know this is a special moment in her life. It’s fun to see the girls in their fittings and get to know them along the way. My daughter, Cassidy, is going through this now so it’s definitely exciting when her friends come through. Since Liz’s son, Matty, is a Senior in high school, she is also enjoying helping the senior girls find their prom dresses. We both love getting the pictures afterwards and being a part of that process from start to finish.
Also, doing this with Liz has been amazing. We complement each other with our different strengths and abilities and motivate each other to work even harder. Plus, we always have each other’s back. We both do a fair share of the grunt work but we also always go to the shows and do the buying together. And we have loved being able to celebrate our success the past two years at the Best of Westchester party!
Cathy Masinter Hildenbrand has over 25 years of experience as a writer, producer and director at Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, PBS, Oxygen, Noggin and Sesame Workshop.