Teen’s dress business turns dreams into reality


GILLETTE - The week before prom, most girls already have a dress picked out and hanging in their bedroom closet.

The classic, long velvet dress or the short, sequined tulle hangs hardly touched, prepared to wrap its owner in beauty and elegance for one of the most anticipated nights in high school. Hours were driven and many stores run through in order to find the perfect dress for what everyone hopes is the perfect night.

But as the days to prom count down, not everyone has found that special dress.

For some, the cost of shopping in the highly sought-out dress stores is simply too much. Others ordered dresses that were waylaid by supply chain issues or other logistical hurdles. Even if they did get the dress on time, maybe it doesn’t fit “just right.” Or maybe the color looks a little less vibrant than what the pictures online advertised.

For the girls still looking, there is someone in Gillette who has just the answer to their conundrum a day before prom when they have to ask themselves, “What am I going to do now?”

Because of 15-year-old Kimberly Dougal, they’re going to stay in town and follow a red scoria road up a slight hill.

Instead of a packed parking lot, there will be a short driveway. Rather than the perfectly lit fitting rooms, there will be a homey bathroom to test the fit, to ensure the look is just right. Instead of hundreds of dresses, there are about 60, each with its own patina and personality of its own.

The girls still looking for that ideal fit don’t need to travel hours outside of town or drop hundreds of dollars on something they will wear for one night. Instead, Dougal offers another solution by way of her local business, Budget Friendly Formals.

The inspiration for her formal dress rental business came when she noticed a void in Gillette, a need for special-occasion dresses at prices that didn’t exclude high schoolers who have the occasion, just not the budget.

Dougal went into Seconds on the Avenue about a year-and-a-half-ago with no previously laid business plan.

She spotted a long formal dress. Bright yellow. It had a slight amount of jewels and a small touch of ruffles. Dougal liked it and walked out the door as a content new dress-owner.

It wasn’t until about a week later that inspiration struck her.

An eighth grader at the time, she sat in the car with her mom, thinking about how she had heard some girls were searching for prom dresses.

“There really aren’t many places in town with them,” she recalled saying to her mother.

That’s when she proposed her new idea and found it supported. The yellow dress was the first piece of merchandise she built her new business around.

Now, anyone looking for a formal dress at any time during the year can reach out to her and rent a dress for anything from senior pictures to a photo shoot.

Since that first yellow dress, Dougal has accumulated almost 60 more by donation and thrifting the hidden gems out of crowded clothes racks. Sizes ranging from 0-18 hang waiting for use in her basement.

Some are brightly colored and fluffy, while others are neutral and sleek. Right now, they’re all organized by length for the engaged shopper to look through.

“There really aren’t many places in town with them,” she recalled saying to her mother.

That’s when she proposed her new idea and found it supported. The yellow dress was the first piece of merchandise she built her new business around.

Now, anyone looking for a formal dress at any time during the year can reach out to her and rent a dress for anything from senior pictures to a photo shoot.

Since that first yellow dress, Dougal has accumulated almost 60 more by donation and thrifting the hidden gems out of crowded clothes racks. Sizes ranging from 0-18 hang waiting for use in her basement.

Some are brightly colored and fluffy, while others are neutral and sleek. Right now, they’re all organized by length for the engaged shopper to look through.

“People have said there’s a large variety,” Dougal said. “I’m trying to get bigger sizes because especially around Gillette, they’re hard to find.”

She also pointed out that her prices are far better than the new name-brand silks and polyesters found in boutiques or department stores.

“Prices are a big thing for girls,” she said. “The prices now are just outrageous.”

Hundreds of dollars aren’t necessarily in the budget for teenage girls, especially when considering the cost of heels, makeup and hairstyles that go into completing their outfits for the big night.

Dougal’s prices allow for a little more flexibility as girls think about putting their complete fit together. She charges $100 upfront and then returns either $50 or $25 when the dress is returned, depending on if the customer dry-cleaned the dress.

There’s more to it than the price though. In the early years of her upstart, her clientele has not exactly pushed her profit margin into the black.

Those who give her dress rentals a shot may find exactly what they want for a fraction of the price. Or they may find that the Americana pomp and circumstance of finding the perfect dress is the coming of age experience they prefer.

But at least now they get to choose. Which is the kind of autonomy celebrating the beginning of the end of high school is all about.

Coming into her own

Budget Friendly Formals was not Dougal’s first business idea. In fact, the ideas have kept on coming over the past few years. Her other projects and ventures ranged from baking and selling cheesecakes to week-long summer camps for kids.

“She’s turned ideas into reality,” her mother Camellia said. “She’s had a lot of ideas and actually acted on a bunch of them.”

All of the different types of entrepreneurial activities placed Dougal in a variety of different audiences. Although she can’t help the ideas from coming to mind, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy for her to share them with others.

But it has gotten easier.

The soft-spoken teen has come into her own through taking chances with her different businesses and finding ways to communicate with others where she otherwise would not have.

“The more you talk to people, it gets easier,” Dougal said. “I used to be very concealed.”

Her mother has also noticed her stepping out of her comfort zone as she pushes to make her dreams reality.

“It’s interesting to watch her when people ask her questions,” Camellia said. “She really opens up because it’s something she’s into.”

This time of year, Dougal is into helping others slightly older than herself make their dreams a reality.

One day, she would like to go to prom herself. And one day, she very likely will.

When it’s her time, she’ll soak in the atmosphere and experience that she has only seen in movies or through the eyes of the girls she aims to help.

Just not yet.

This year she’s perfectly content being the woman behind the scenes. She plans to keep the business for at least a couple more years. In that time, she may even lend a hand in perfecting that perfect night that so many find unattainable.

For a night so many want to make perfect, there’s little control over how it turns out.

The uncertainty of who asks whom to the dance — as well as who says yes and who says no — is part of the tradition and mystique.

No one controls what song will come on that musters up their courage to step on the dance floor. And when it’s said and done, no one controls whether the night went according to their idealistic plan.

But every girl gets to pick their dress.

This year, and for the years ahead, more girls may have more say in that matter, controlling what they can while letting the teenage whims of prom night wrap them up in a night they’ll never forget, in a dress they’ll always remember.

TRENDING RECIPE VIDEOS