Shopping for a ball gown OCONUS has an added element of suspense. Will it arrive in time? Will it fit, or am I going to be reminded (again) that I am (still) not a 5’10” Victoria’s Secret model? Am I going to be wearing the same dress as a dozen other military spouses at the ball? Will it look just like it does in the photo? Of course, you don’t have to order a new dress. You could always shop the rack at the exchange (and yes, we mean rack, singular) or shop your own closet. Aboard MCAS Iwakuni, though, you have another option — a local ball gown rental from Maggie’s Boutique.
Maggie opened the front door of her base-housing duplex in Iwakuni for business in March of 2017 — and what a business it has grown to be. Now in its third year, Maggie’s Boutique was first established in Beaufort, South Carolina, but it packed up and PCSed to Iwakuni with Maggie and her family. Daily Mom Military Editor-in-Cheif, Kristi, caught up with Maggie and talked everything from military spouse entrepreneurship to sequins.
Ball Gown Rental Beginnings
Every good start-up story has to start somewhere. Maggie got her start by shopping with friends as a sort of buyer. She helped friends pick out items that would be a good fit and encouraged them to try on items they typically wouldn’t. We’ve all flipped by a dress that looks blah on the hanger, but sometimes that blah dress is a BAM dress when you try it on. Maggie is that voice telling us to just do it — try that dress on!
After a while, Maggie admits, she saw people truly love what they were wearing. With her help, they were confident and comfortable, and Maggie was hooked.
Becoming a Business
When Maggie’s Boutique was established three years ago, Maggie had an inventory of 20 dresses in varying sizes and styles. She now stocks more than 100 dresses!
As you might imagine, Maggie is busiest in the fall, but it’s not just the Marine Corps birthday that keeps her booked. With a large Navy presence on MCAS Iwakuni, Maggie also dresses many Navy ball attendees, and she’s previously rented gowns for dining outs, the annual Black and White Ball, and homecoming and prom for students at M.C. Perry High School.
Now in her second ball gown rental season in Iwakuni, Maggie’s Boutique is a household name among base residents. Many of her customers are returning renters, and Maggie admits that word of mouth has contributed to her success because her business is unique. Customers might not know exactly what to expect, but having a friend endorse the process brings comfort to an unfamiliar situation.
Challenges of In-Home Business
Knowing exactly how much closet space is available in this base-housing floorplan, I asked, “Where do you keep all the dresses?” Maggie’s answer, in short, was everywhere. She maximizes the closet space in all the rooms, and she’s managed to transform half of the characteristic white-walled base-housing living room into an elegant boutique and dressing room.
Maggie admits that the biggest challenge of running her business out of her home is not being able to close up shop for the night. Because she’s become something of an expert at living in a sequin-filled house, she suggests that other work-at-home military spouses create a space that is off-limits. Sorry, kids, no blanket forts in the boutique.
Renting the Perfect Dress
In order to fully grasp the ball gown rental process — beginning to end, Maggie let me experience a session for myself. I went into the session expecting to feel just like Julia Roberts in that shopping-montage scene from Pretty Woman, and Maggie delivered.
The process begins with a Facebook message to Maggie’s Boutique. Maggie schedules a session that fits your needs and gathers some information from you, like your size range and any specific styles you might be looking for (or wanting to avoid). Her goal is to select dresses that flatter your body type and make you feel confident.
On the day of my session, I was greeted with Maggie’s smiling face and a selection of gowns that she hand-picked for me.
We dove right in. Being a sucker for sparkle (go big, or go home, right), I went right for a full-length, gold-sequined gown. Maggie sectioned off the dressing room for privacy, and I slipped into the gown.
It was a perfect fit — length included, which happens rarely to never for this 5’2″ girl. But, the fun didn’t stop there. I tried a variety of styles, including a beaded number with sleeves that I thought for sure would give off the mother-of-the-bride vibe, but it was gorgeous on (I never would’ve tried that one on my own). Maggie also suggested a very va-va-voom red gown, and she even assisted with the zipper when I was certain that zip wasn’t happening (it did).
After a customer chooses a gown, Maggie holds it for the event date with an up-front rental fee that covers the rental itself, cleaning, and minor repairs. It’s important to Maggie to keep the process simple, comfortable, and affordable for clients.
And Maggie recognizes that the dress is only one component (albeit it’s a big one) of glamming up for the ball. That’s why she goes the extra mile and offers jewelry, clutches, and even a photo package with her crazy-talented partnering photographer, Rachel, of Rachel Lee Photography.
Before leaving and heading back to my sequin-lacking closet. I picked Maggie’s brain for her trend predictions for the 2018 ball season based on her expertise and what customers are requesting. She revealed that the classic ball hues — blue, red, gold, and silver — are the most requested, and sparkle will be big this year. She added that you can never go wrong with polishing off a look with timeless accent pieces.
Half expecting her to plead the fifth for the element of surprise, I prodded, “Can you give us any hints about what you’ll wear to the ball this year?” Her answer was the perfect teaser and nod to her trend predictions: blue and sequins. Based on her knack for style, fit, and sparkle, it will surely be stunning.
Photo Credits: Rachel Lee Photography