Alex Marek, Miss Vermont Teen USA 2015 wearing Sherri Hill at Miss Teen USA and dressed by Dazzle Boutique. She was Top 15. Photo courtesy of Laurye Natale.Today we have tons of options when it comes to shopping: boutiques, retailers, online and custom designs straight from the designer. When you’re preparing for a pageant, you’re spending a lot of money, so you want to get the most bang for your buck. However, this doesn’t just mean in the amount of clothes and bling you get for the price. When it comes to pageantry, you need a brand, and this includes your wardrobe, not just your paperwork and introduction. You need a cohesive wardrobe that speaks for you, and you alone, to ensure that you stand out in all the good ways and none of the bad. Where to Shop? One of the simplest ways to accomplish this is by one-stop shopping with a pageant retailer who carries everything you could possibly need for your pageant and beyond. One such shop is Dazzle Boutique in Waterbury, Connecticut and they've got the experience and results to boot. Laurye Natale and her team at Dazzle Boutique offer interview outfits, fun fashion outfits, opening number dresses, evening gowns (prom line and pageant line), modeling outfits, swimsuits, accessories, shoes and crown cases. They also offer seminars at least once or twice a year as well as the knowledge and experience for multiple systems in regards to wardrobe.
Maribel Joven, Ms. Galaxy 2016, wearing Mac Duggal from Dazzle Boutique. Photo courtesy of Laurye Natale.Why a Full-Service Store? There are certainly benefits to getting all of your wardrobe at one store. Natale explains that convenience is a big benefit to one-stop shopping. "If you're working in one location, in one store, you have the opportunity to put your whole wardrobe out in front of you rather than wondering if it will compliment or clash in your head." This is perfect for if you are trying to stick to a theme of color or pattern. (Read: Should Your Pageant Wardrobe Have a Theme?) “Plus, it is very beneficial to work with someone who knows the pageant system you are competing in and has knowledge and expertise regarding specific wardrobe do’s and don’ts,” explained Natale. “For example, many first time contestants may not be aware that certain pageant systems have very specific guidelines for their evening gown competition (length of dress, age appropriate style, no cut-outs, high back, etc.) An online site or non-pageant retailer would likely not have this knowledge.” You wouldn’t want to lose points or risk disqualification for choosing the wrong wardrobe. Natale would know, too. She has been in the pageant industry for nearly 33 years. “I try to stay on top of what the trends are and what directors are looking for regarding wardrobe.” Additionally, Natale explained that by shopping at a pageant boutique instead of an online store or at multiple retailers you might be able to find out if another girl has already purchased the dress that you are planning to wear at your pageant. “Like prom shops, we keep a registry, so as long as the girls are shopping at their local pageant store, we can alert them whether a specific dress has already been purchased for that pageant and can ensure that no two girls have the same dress, and that they stand out for representing their own individual and unique styles.” Online vs. In-store While it may seem like a good idea to order online, I have seen way too many too-good-to-be-true nightmares. Even if you are ordering from a trusted retailer, it’s just not the same as shopping in-store and trying everything on. “Most importantly, you get to see the item. You get to touch it, feel it, see the quality of the manufacturing, try it on and see if it fits your body type properly. You also have that business owner standing behind you if you are not satisfied,” said Natale. “If you purchase online, you don’t get to try it on or see if it’s the right color for you, and most often, you can’t return it if you’re not satisfied.” Also, the price doesn’t often vary between online and in-store these days. “You’re very likely to pay the same price in a boutique as you would online,” explained Natale. “So why wouldn’t you purchase from someone with a friendly face instead of through a keyboard and screen?”
Kat Parker, Jr. Miss U.S. of America 2016, dressed by Dazzle Boutique. Photo courtesy of Laurye Natale.Shopping Woes As exciting as it is to get to go shopping for your pageant wardrobe, Natale certainly understands that this can be a daunting task and every girl comes with different challenges. "I think for each girl it is different. It depends on where your confidence level is," Natale said while discussing which area of competition was the hardest to shop for. "Most young ladies come in and they are most insecure about swimsuit but usually make that decision pretty quickly. For evening gown, it can be overwhelming if they are looking for the perfect dress but aren't sure what they are looking for or are trying to find something different than what they have worn in the past." Picking Your Wardrobe But, since you are in a store, Natale and her team go right to work – just like in the dress shows on television. They read between the lines and try to figure out what you're saying when you're not saying it. "The very first thing I ask is, 'where are you competing, when, and what division?' I then try to feel out what they are looking for: a specific style or color. We go through a first round and depending on their choices, we go from there. Almost like a personal shopper," she explained. "If I see a specific style that looks great I can bring more of those and help them get 'out of the box,' whether it's a slightly different color or cut. I like to be able to provide them with the wardrobe that they've dreamed of, whether it's what they thought of or not." Natale and her team go even farther than just the gowns on the rack. “We can also provide custom gowns through several designers,” she said. They carry Sherri Hill and Mac Duggal, as well as several prom lines, including Alyce Paris, Jovani and Tiffany Designs. They also carry a large selection for our younger pageant girls, including Tiffany Princess, Ritzee Girls & Tweens and Mac Duggal’s Sugar lines. “We like to make sure that every outfit is completely accessorized, including shoes and earrings, so knowing the age of the contestant and the system she is competing in is very important,” she said. (Read: What Are the Best Pageant Evening Gowns for Each Age Division) Every pageant girl knows that you have to find the perfect gown for your skin tone to look perfect on stage. "We're very focused on color and what works best on certain skin tones," explained Natale. (Read: How to Pick the Right Red Evening Gown)
Tiffany Teixeira, Miss Connecticut USA 2016, wearing Sherri Hill and dressed by Dazzle Boutique at Miss USA. Photo courtesy of Laurye Natale.Wardrobe Budgets As a pageant contestant, director, and mom, Natale understands the importance of having, and sticking to, a budget. "We work very hard to stay in a client's budget. We will do whatever we can to stay inside the budget. To me it's far more important for my clients to feel happy rather than to feel pressured to purchase something they couldn't afford or didn't like." Their prom lines start at $279 and they've dressed girls as young as three all the way to ladies in their 60's who are still rocking the stage. (Read: How to Budget for a Pageant) Shopping Advice Sometimes we can get discouraged for one reason or another when we are shopping. But keep looking and find a store and owner you can trust to help you pick the perfect wardrobe that's right for you. Remember, even if it looks ugly on the hanger, it might just look great on you. If it doesn't, don't come out of the dressing room and no one will ever have to know except for you and the mirror. (Read: 11 Things That Happen While Pageant Evening Gown Shopping) Natale said, "My most primal advice is to pick out something you feel beautiful in because if you feel beautiful in it, you're going to sell it on stage, feel more confident, stand taller, and the judges will see. The second is to make sure everything is altered to fit you perfectly."
Nimsaily Martinez, National American Miss Southern New England Jr. Pre-Teen 2016, wearing Tiffany Princess from Dazzle Boutique. Photo courtesy of Laurye Natale.Favorite Phase Every pageant contestant has her favorite and least favorite part of competition. For most of us, our favorite part of a pageant is the evening gown competition. It's not common in our modern day lives to be able to get all dolled up in a glamorous gown à la Cinderella. "That's easy, that's evening gown," Natale said when asked what her favorite phase of competition was. "That's the opportunity for every girl to feel like a princess and to command the stage and say, 'Hey, I feel confident and beautiful.' Girls in evening gown have a natural beauty that shines right through. It's the most glamorous. It's an opportunity for the girls to show their unique styles through evening gown." Paying it Forward As we clean out our closets to make room for new wardrobe, Natale and Dazzle Boutique once again come in handy. “We collect prom dresses throughout the year and in the spring we work with White Way Cleaners, who will clean them for us, and then we donate them to girls throughout the state of Connecticut who, for whatever reason, are unable to purchase their own prom dress,” explained Natale. “Because we collect for the benefit of Ally G’s Everyday Angels Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, we are also able to provide a tax credit certificate." Gowns can be donated via mail or dropped off at Dazzle Boutique. Natale can mail the tax donation certificate to you if needed. Going Forward Pageant wardrobe shopping can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be. As long as you work with someone who knows what to expect and keep your trips to a limited number of stores you'll be fine. Have an idea of what you're looking for and what message you want to send the judges before going in. Don't jump up and down that you have a pageant and rush to go buy a dress. Just like a bride has to consider the venue when picking a dress, pageant girls have to consider the system, their brand, and most importantly, themselves, when choosing a wardrobe. Remember, there will be many photos, and you want to be proud of the girl in the photo and not 10 years later go, "OMG, why did I wear that!?" Happy shopping, ladies!
She has developed three educational campaigns against sexual assault.Learn More