A gaggle of smiling girls bustle in the doors and head right up the stairs to where rows of dreamy dresses await. The Clothes Tree by Deborah is a 4,500-square-foot haven of silk, taffeta, elaborate embroidery and perfectly placed sparkles, and it’s among Birmingham’s most beautiful destinations to find gowns for proms, pageants and formal events.
The Clothes Tree by Deborah has been in business for more than 50 years, first opened by owner Deborah Wiggins’ grandmother, Dulcie Roberts, in Center Point, where the boutique served women shopping for sportswear and work attire. Deborah grew up in that store, spending every weekend with her grandmother and helping out wherever she could.
“I was making bows in the shop when I was 10 years old, and now my little 5-year-old granddaughter comes in here and does the same thing, which is really special,” Deborah says. “Every Friday night when I was little, I stayed the night with my grandmother and then spent Saturday with her in the store. When I was 12, I started serving customers, and then I started going to market with her and buying for the junior department when I was 14. All through high school, I had a little area in the store that I bought for. I’ve been doing it all my life, and I just love it.”
After college, inspired by her grandmother’s business, Deborah opened her own shop across the street from her grandmother’s. When her lease was up, Dulcie encouraged Deborah to join her store. There, Deborah continued to bring in sportswear and merchandise that appealed to a younger demographic and increased their stock of formal attire, which she curated with her eye for the Birmingham shopper’s sense of style. With Deborah’s added influence, the store continued to grow and evolve, prompting their move, 21 years ago, to their current location in Vestavia Hills.
In its new location, the store continued to carry contemporary and traditional sportswear and accessories, and they increased the stock of pageant wear 18 years ago, when the opportunity arose to provide attire for Miss Alabama America to wear during the Miss America pageant. The store has been dressing Miss Alabama America ever since, and they now supply clothing for Miss Alabama USA, as well. Deborah says her continued work with these pageant contestants helps her maintain a strong grasp on brands and styles that are trending for pageant gowns, as well as for prom and other events. “You learn from providing clothing for Miss Alabama the brands that you need to shop, and the name brands that the girls will come in and ask for,” Deborah says. “Sherri Hill, Jovani and Tony Bowls are all really big right now. We can’t even keep some of it in the store because it sells so quickly.”
In recent years, as Deborah’s daughter, Tori Chappell, joined the staff as co-owner, the pageant and prom side of the business has continued to grow, prompting the need to completely renovate a portion of the building. In December 2015, they opened an upstairs addition to the store, featuring six additional dressing rooms, plenty of room for their growing inventory of gowns, and a beautiful environment for customers to shop comfortably in. The renovation also provided a space dedicated to pageant coaching led by their in-house expert, 2008 Mrs. Alabama, Britni McMillan.
With this freshly completed space dedicated to prom, homecoming and pageant attire, Deborah and Tori continue to bring their expert style to formalwear. They keep a close eye on trends and work to keep plenty of gowns available in all of the hottest styles for their customers. “Some people don’t like prints, but for the ones that do, floral is a really big deal right now,” Deborah says. “Two-piece gowns are huge, as well. It’s funny, just three years ago, you might have had two or three two-pieces on the floor; now it’s half of the inventory.” Though nearly every customer comes in with a general idea of what they are looking for, the staff is well-versed in finding the perfect gown for each client, carefully balancing their fashion tastes with the style that works best for their body type.
And for the client looking for a gown that is truly one-of-a-kind, this boutique offers a selection of custom gowns in the store. Deborah says they work with their vendors to design gowns with custom fabrics and elaborate beading that they know their customers want. With Deborah and Tori’s vast stock and unique selections, The Clothes Tree has the gorgeous gowns that will make prom unforgettable and the stunning dresses that will wow pageant judges.
In addition to their gowns for prom and pageant, this boutique also carries bridesmaids’ dresses, mother-of-the-bride gowns and a wide variety of casual sportswear and accessories on-trend with current fashions. Fur vests, beautiful blouses, gorgeous accessories and more fill the lower level of the store.
Deborah and Tori’s extensive, up-to-the-minute knowledge of the gown industry’s rapidly changing trends is rooted in something that is unchanging: their longstanding commitment to cultivating excellent service and a friendly atmosphere in their 50-year-old family business. Whether it’s shopping for a gorgeous formal gown for pageant or prom or a trendy, casual look for a fun evening out with friends, The Clothes Tree by Deborah is a must-visit boutique!
The Clothes Tree by Deborah is located at 2880 Old Rocky Ridge Road in Vestavia Hills. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To book an after-hours appointment, call Deborah at (205) 337-4515 or Tori at (205) 337-4341. For more information, visit their website at theclothestreebydeborah.com.
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