For a Veiled Prophet debutante, the night of the ball is made that much more magical when she is wearing the perfect dress. From the color of the silk to the number of rhinestones sparkling on the fabric, every detail is important when a young woman debuts. “Our goal is to make each girl stand out and look as beautiful as possible,” says Marylyn Simpson, owner of R & M Designs, which made 15 custom dresses for this year’s ceremony.
Maids begin designing or choosing their dresses as much as a year in advance to ensure that they get their preferred color or style. Simpson and fellow designer, Connie Simpson, will only make one dress in a particular shade, while at Berrybridge, Janey Thompson and her mother, Marie Brauer, will pull any gown off the floor that already has been selected. “We don’t want a girl to get her heart set on a dress, and then tell her it’s already been picked,” explains Thompson, who sells gowns from top New York designers.
While some ladies may already know exactly what they want in their VP gown by bringing in drawings or photos from magazines, others look for advice. “We’ll figure out what they like and don’t like, then make suggestions and come up with a design,” Simpson says.
Thompson, who walked in 2001, finds that today’s Maids understand fashion more so than in the past. “Some come in and say, This is my only opportunity to wear a real ball gown and I want to do that, and others want something with a slimmer, simpler shape.”
R & M Designs also will transform an existing dress, whether a debutante wants more embellishments, or to honor history by using her sister or mother’s gown. “One year, we took the handmade flowers off of a mother’s dress and put them on a dress for her daughter,” Simpson recalls. “We’ve also reworked a dress twice, for two sisters, which their grandmother wore to President Nixon’s inauguration.”
Sometimes the custom ball gowns come with unique inspirations, Simpson notes. “This year, one girl brought in a designer Barbie doll and we actually made the dress Barbie was wearing.”
While Berrybridge’s showroom is filled with ivory dresses from popular designers like Carolina Herrera, Anna Maier, Badgley Mischka and Anne Barge, the store orders those gowns recreated in rich colors for the Maids, a process that is taken very seriously. “For example, if a girl wants the dress in bright red, the designer will make it in a different part of their studio because they don’t want any fragments of fabric to get into a white wedding gown,” Thompson says.
Whether a debutante orders a custom or designer gown for the ball, the process takes several months, with girls returning for fittings and adjustments throughout the year, when they are in town on breaks from college. The week before this year’s event was a flurry of activity, as Maids came in for their final fittings, but the hectic schedule was worth it for Thompson. “We just want to make sure everyone is happy with their gown, and when each girl is announced, she is beaming, and her family is sitting there, smiling away.”