Enterprising Staples student gives gowns a second chance to dance
Updated 4:43 am, Thursday, February 25, 2016
WESTPORT — Haley Burns was only 12 years old when she wore a $500 La Femme sequin and bead-encrusted dress to her bat mitzvah, courtesy of her grandmother.
Burns, now 17, only wore the silver and violet dress once and then it hung in her closet. The sparkly formal frock ignited an idea in Burns’ young, entrepreneurial mind. The Staples High School senior and her brother Jesse discussed the possibility of creating a gown rental business, which has evolved into a consignment business that Burns calls Gown Around. Her new enterprise is housed in a section of Dress Code, a clothing and accessories boutique that carries classic and fun fashions for young women at 578 Post Road East.
The concept is especially good for those girls who attend several proms or dances. “I only wore my dresses once,” said Kelsey Collins, 17, a friend of Burns.
“No one wants to repeat a dress,” Burns said.
Gown Around specializes in consigning girls’ gently used prom gowns and dresses, many of which have been worn only for a few hours, Burns said.
It gives the owners a chance to make some money and allows girls to purchase finery at marked down prices.
“It’s really about making prom season affordable. They spend so much money on the make-up, the shoes, the hair. It’s so expensive,” said Burns, who is no stranger to fashion. As a Staples High School cheerleader she has been involved with the annual Varsity Vogue fashion show since freshman year.
Mary Perkins, owner of Dress Code, said proms and school dance events have become expensive. Perkins said the average prom can cost as much as $700 after participants purchase formal wear, accessories, photos, tickets to the prom and after party, and transportation.
“It’s a really good idea. So many girls spend so much money on dresses and gowns, and they had no way of getting that money back,” Collins said.
It was also a good idea for Burns to team with Perkins because Dress Code’s inventory of shoes, handbags, jewelry and other accessories offers one-stop shopping for proms and similar events.
The girls who bring in a gown or dress for consignment are paid a portion of the selling price once it is purchased, and shoppers who buy a gown or dress save money. “It profits everyone involved,” said Burns, who plans to study communications and business in college next year.
Burns is currently seeking long gowns, preferably in lighter colors, for the spring prom and dance season. “The designer doesn’t matter,” said Burns, who will also accept bridesmaid gowns and bat mitzvah dresses. She also hopes to get a variety of styles from the simple to the flashy to suit all tastes because, she said, each high school has a particular style. At Staples, girls tend to dress in simpler, subtle, “less-is-more” fashions, whereas students at some other schools in the area favor gowns that are beaded, covered in rhinestones, have cut-outs or bright-colored fabrics.
Burns’ gown idea not only led to the opening of her consignment business, it also helped her land a job at Dress Code. Burns was shopping there for a dress to wear to the annual Red and White Ball. While there, she shared her idea with Perkins, who not only offered her space in the shop for her enterprise, but hired her.
“I always wanted to carry gowns, but it’s a whole other business and I wanted to stay focused on what I’ve been doing here for six years,” Perkins said.
Then again, the demand for gowns makes Burns’ concept a perfect complement to Perkins’ business.