The first thing a girl tends to think about when she receives an invitation to a party is: "What am I going to wear?"

Dress Code, a new clothing boutique specializing in classic and fun dresses for young women, has many answers to this question.

Owner Mary D'Anca Perkins opened the store on July 11, just in time for Westport's sidewalk sale days. Located in the retail space formerly occupied by Princess Jewelers on the Post Road, Dress Code is ready to offer the perfect strapless sundress to end the summer season in style. It's also gearing up for Westport's fall social events.

"I have many casual dresses for juniors and young women that they could wear to a party, Sunday brunch, Bat Mitzvah and wedding," Perkins said. "As importantly, the majority of the dresses in my store are affordable."

Perkins pointed to a cluster of colorful, short dresses with spaghetti straps that line the back wall of the store. "Most of those dresses are around $70," she said. "We have large selections of dresses that are under $100."

Perkins grew up in Queens, N.Y., and moved to Connecticut in 1996. She, her husband and son lived in Westport for 13 years.

For 10 years, from 1997 to 2007, Perkins owned and operated Decorium, a retail store in Fairfield's downtown area that specialized in home, garden and interior design gifts and decorative accessories. After the economic downturn forced the business to close, Perkins sold her Westport residence, moved to East Norwalk and decided to embark upon a new retail venture.

"Dress Code is recession-proof," she smiled. "I opened my store in a bad economy but I believe that people still have to eat and to shop. However, I understand that they are concerned, as I am, about the price point. Young women in Westport are looking for a quality dress at an affordable price. At Dress Code, they will be able to find something for 20 to 30 percent less than they would pay online or at a large department store."

Its moniker -- Dress Code -- came to her unexpectedly.

"Everywhere you go, there is a dress code, right?" Perkins said. "Whether you're going to the gym, out to lunch, to a wedding or a communion, there is an expected way to dress. I wanted something that was original, young and fun, but, at the same time, to the point."

Perkins said she understands, too, that while everyone wants to dress appropriately, no one wants to show up to a party wearing the same dress as another guest. For this reason, she only carries one or two sizes of each dress. Commuting once a week to showrooms on Manhattan's Seventh Avenue, Perkins is able, though, to retrieve any dress in any style, at a client's request. For example, she presently has two different Nicole Miller dresses in stock. However, if a client would like another size or a different style, she could have it in the Westport store. She also meticulously keeps track of "who bought what to wear when." In other words, no one in Fairfield County should show up at a party and see their friend clad in the identical dress or skirt ensemble.

"If I know that it's the time of year for Bat Mitzvahs or Prom season, I make sure to write down the style of the dress and who will wear it to what event," Perkins explained.

Dress Code has racks neatly organized with designer dresses of brand names Xenya, Laila and Laundry by Shelli Segal. Vava and Voom, worn by Hollywood's rich and famous, such as Pink and Miley Cyrus, are also strewn throughout the spacious store.

"It's a very casual but classic line that you could wear anywhere, to a party or to church," Perkins said. "They're all well-made dresses with beautiful linings sewn in."

This month Perkins has also sold many Tracy Reese dresses. "The girls love them," she said.

More and more, people are purchasing outfits for special occasions at least three months in advance. Perkins provides "one stop shopping" by offering accessories -- including luxurious and casual "shrugs," or "shawls," headbands and jewelry. Dress Code will soon receive its first shipment of shoes that compliment its dresses.

The back of the store, which she refers to as the "Grand Ballroom," has a cozy couch and two roomy dressing rooms. "I want this to be a comfortable place for girls to shop," Perkins explained. "I plan on putting in a little refrigerator so that I could offer coffee and light refreshments. Girls like to try on about 40 dresses and I want their parents to come in and relax here."

Dress Code would like to invite women of all ages to host after-hours parties at the store. "Young girls could celebrate their birthday party here and invite a minimum of 14 people for two hours," she explained. "They can bring their own food and music and play `dress up.' I will offer a 20 percent discount on everything they purchase that night."

There is no fee, and Perkins will act as the party's chaperone. "It's a fun shop till you drop night out," she said. "Adult women are also welcome to come in and bring some wine and cheese and try on dresses. It's a great way to mingle and hang out in a fun environment."

This month, Dress Code will host a Back-to-School Party featuring complete makeovers for each of its six guests. A professional make-up artist, hired by Perkins, will provide make-up, fashion and styling tips. Finger foods will also be served.

"I grew up with a large Italian family and I've always loved having company," Perkins said.

For more information, call Dress Code at 203-557-4646 or look for Dress Code on