Shopping for the perfect prom dress can be stressful. Considering current trends and styles, what “everyone else” is or isn’t wearing, and shopping on a budget for what will most likely be a very expensive memory that one will look back on for years to come, is a great deal of pressure. It is stressful for the young adults who will be wearing the gowns, and it can be equally stressful, or maybe even more so, for the parent who shops with them.
With prom gown shopping season starting now, and prom nights just around the corner in May and June, many are bracing themselves for a traumatic shopping experience.
Janet Tanury, owner of Botticelli, located at 1375 Mineral Spring Ave. in North Providence, has worked passionately to try to change that stressful shopping experience into something positive for young adults and women who are size 14 and up, for the past 14 years.
“I have been plus-size my whole life,” Tanury said. “Growing up, shopping for any occasion, most especially school dances, was a pretty horrific experience. There wasn’t a lot offered in the ’80s for plus-size women. At the age of 29, my dad and I talked about it. I had studied fashion in college and had fallen in love with retail. He was a businessman, and it was then that we decided that I would open a store for plus-size women.”
And with that, Botticelli was born and has evolved with time and trends over the nearly two decades she has been in business.
“My inventory ranges from casual to formal and evolves regularly. I also consider myself to be the ‘bra whisperer,’ helping women of all sizes find the correct bra size for them, since most women have no idea what size they are, never mind being able to help their daughters figure out what size they are.”
Tanury shares some of her early personal shopping experiences on her website’s About page, www.botticelliri.com/about, where many women will no doubt be able to relate to her story, since in 2015, it was estimated by Mariah Chase, CEO of plus-size retailer Eloquii, that 65 percent of American woman are considered plus-size, which is categorized as anything over a size 14. Despite those types of statistics, there is very little available in stores for plus-size shoppers, especially when it comes to formal event shopping. Tanury specializes in formal wear for weddings, with bridesmaid and mother-of-the-bride offerings, but her shop draws in young adults regularly, with clients driving many miles just to shop at Botticelli. In fact, Tanury just recently outfitted Viola Davis’s sister, Dolores Grant, with her formal gown for the Feb. 26 Hollywood Oscars event.
“We see high school kids and even college kids shopping for college formals here, and my clients shop here from all over the country because they just can’t find anything, and it’s traumatic for them,” Tanury said.
One Cranston mom can vouch for the stress that comes with the dress-shopping experience, saying that she has found shopping for her daughter’s semi-formal and formal events to be challenging.
“My daughter doesn’t wear an exceptionally large size in street clothes but takes a 16-18 in formal dresses. She is also busty and a half-inch shy of six feet tall,” she said. “Needless to say semi-formal and prom dress shopping has been a struggle.”
Another local mom agrees.
“My daughter normally wears a 12, sometimes a 14, but the dresses don’t always run well, and in some stores she was limited in the dresses she could pick from,” she said.
It has remained a goal of Tanury’s from day one to create a better shopping experience for kids and parents today than what she herself experienced.
“There is nothing over a size 12 in many stores, and to make it worse, formal-wear sizes run differently than casual-wear sizes,” she said, likening it to buying sneakers versus a more formal shoe, which would run differently in many cases as well.
“Formal dresses can run as much as four sizes smaller than casual-wear clothing sizes. That makes shopping even more complicated and often more upsetting for girls. Teenagers are feeling awkward as it is. They just want to be comfortable in their own skin.”
To try to help parents and kids conquer the trauma of shopping, Tanury recently brought in a new dress line that specializes in affordable formal wear for proms.
“I recently brought in a new line of prom dresses that I am very excited about,” Tanury said. “It’s by Jasmine Bridal, and they offer sizes from 00 to 34. The dresses are affordable, ranging from $200 to $325, which was a main goal for me.”
Tanury has seen mothers dropping upwards of $500 and $700 just to get a prom gown for their daughters, while forgoing other necessities for themselves in order to swing the prices out there in today’s market.
“These styles are young, they’re fun and they’re the kind of dress every woman wants,” Tanury said. “When I am ordering for my store, I often wonder, why wasn’t stuff like this out there for me when I was a kid?”
She also works hard to make her clients feel comfortable when shopping at Botticelli.
“I want an environment in my shop where they feel good about themselves, where they feel comfortable and can shop. It’s just a dress, and we’re in a safe place here. It’s not a snooty sort of store.”
Tanury knows that when done well, shopping for formal events can actually be a fun shopping experience, even for the moms.
“I find that often the moms are more traumatized than the girls. This is their baby. They want to make their life easier. They often call ahead to see if we have something for their daughters here because they just don’t want the shopping experience to be awful.”
Tanury doesn’t want it to be awful either, and she works hard to make sure it’s not.
“I want my clients to feel at home here,” she said. “I want a fun, all-are-welcome shopping experience. If I can take the edge off for my clients, I feel that I have done my job well.”
Overall, Tanury finds her customers to all be in the same boat when it comes to shopping for proms and other formal-wear events.
“No one has a huge budget, none of the kids want an old-lady dress, and those who think getting a custom dress is the answer, they often don’t realize how hard or how expensive that is,” she said. “It’s not cheaper, it’s not easier and not smarter to just go and have one made.”
For those who are considering purchasing their formal wear online, Tanury cautions against that as well.
“I find that most people who order online spend triple than if they just bought the dress from a reputable dealer,” Tanury said. “If you get a dress at all, they always end up coming to us last minute because the dress is horrible or it doesn’t fit. Then they need to pay a rush fee to get a new dress in on time, and then they have to pay a rush fee for alterations. It just makes good money sense to buy a dress once and to buy the right dress from me.”
To kick off prom shopping season locally, and to introduce the new line of prom dresses that have arrived from Jasmine Bridal, Tanury will be hosting a special shopping event just for young adults and their guests.
“Many start shopping over the upcoming February vacation week, and since ordering a dress and having it come in can take up to 12 weeks, I am hosting a special day for girls to come in and do their prom gown shopping,” she said. “On Monday, February 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. we will have a President’s Day Prom Event. I will be offering free rush shipping to anyone who purchases their gown, a savings of approximately $35. I am also sponsoring a drawing for a free prom gown.”
For more information about Tanury and Botticelli, visit the website www.BotticelliRI.com.
Here are the local prom calendar dates: Cranston High School East Junior Prom: May 19, Senior Prom: June 2, Cranston High School West Junior Prom: May 5, 2017, Senior Prom: June 2.