Inaugural ball-goers turn to online sites, stylists

CorrespondentJanuary 9, 2013 

Friday, women across the Triangle will don their finest dresses and sparkliest jewelry for a party so big it only happens once every four years – the North Carolina Governor’s Inaugural Ball.

And while many of those women found their frocks at one of the area’s many boutiques, a growing number have skipped the process of combing the racks and turned to stylists or online rental services to save time and money.

New mom Melissa Hayes is one of those women. Hayes wanted something new to wear to the ball, but with a baby at home she didn’t have the time to shop, and she didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a dress that might not fit once she got back to her pre-baby size. So she turned to Rent the Runway, an online service that rents designer dresses for a fraction of the retail price.

“I had a baby four months ago, and I’m not ready to invest in a piece quite yet, so I thought this was a way to dress up for the ball without committing to a piece for a long period of time,” she says.

While renting a dress online might seem a bit scary, considering it can’t be tried on, Rent the Runway alleviates a bit of that risk by offering an additional size for free with each rental, plus detailed sizing to help users determine fit.

“The site has pictures posted by real people who’ve worn the dress, so you can see what it looks like on different sized people,” says Hayes. “When you see a dress on a model, it always looks good. To see it on a real woman lets you see what it will really fit like on your body.”

Other ball attendees, such as Virginia Yopp, are turning to a more traditional alternative to shopping by using local stylists or personal shoppers. Yopp co-chaired this year’s ball – one of the largest fundraising events for the Junior League of Raleigh – so she had no time to search for a dress. Instead, she turned to Lisa Marie Ferrell, owner of Raleigh styling service Polished, for help.

“She knew my taste, so I gave her a budget and she took care of everything for me,” says Yopp. “It was one less thing to worry about, and I could keep my attention on planning the ball.”

Ferrell has helped several women find a gown for the event and says she’s noticed a definite upswing in the number of women turning to stylists and other services.

“I think there’s a bit of a stigma around using a stylist or personal shopper; people think they can’t afford it,” says Ferrell. “But that mindset has definitely changed in the last few years. I’ve been able to find affordable vintage or designer gowns on sale for many of my clients because I have the time to really search. Several of them have told me, ‘You‘ve more than paid for your service because you saved me so much time and money.’”

While there’s little risk of online sites or stylists replacing the good old-fashioned shopping trip, for women busy with work, children or other obligations, they certainly offer a welcome alternative.

“It’s wonderful to have that service,” says Yopp. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy shopping, it’s just that my priority right now is to ensure the event is successful.”

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