By now you’ve probably heard of Rent the Runway, the website where women can rent an expensive dress for a special occasion – and then send it back. A Charlotte woman started her own local version that allows you to actually try on the dresses before you fork over the cash. Thirty-three-year-old Bernadette Maulion launched Dressed two years ago after working on the concept while she was getting her MBA at UNC-Chapel Hill. Maulion moved from Queens, New York, to Charlotte five years ago and says one of the things that’s surprised her most since starting Dressed is realizing how hard women are on themselves. But she says she works every day to change that. We’re excited to introduce you to today’s Charlotte FACE, Bernadette Maulion.
What made you leave New York City for the Queen City?
I came here on a business trip after having just gotten married. I was getting tired of paying so much rent for so little space in NYC and found on my trip that I liked Charlotte’s mix of city and suburban, and the cost of living was great. I came back from my business trip and told my boss I was moving to Charlotte and a month later, we did.
You got the idea for Dressed while you were getting your MBA?
We had to come up with a fake business for our marketing class. I had seven weddings to go to that year and didn’t want to spend any more money on dresses I was only going to wear once. I also had a lot of dresses that I’d only worn once. Rent the Runway already existed, but I couldn’t try things on, and dresses still felt expensive to rent, not knowing if they would actually work out. I had no intention of starting a company, but I got so much positive feedback that I decided to give it a try as a side hustle while I still worked my day job.
How does it work?
Clients make appointments online and then come to the studio for their one-hour session with our personal styling team. It’s super fun getting to play dress up for an hour. When the client finds the dress they want to reserve, they pay for the reservation and pick it up the week of their event. They return the dress back to the studio, and we take care of the dry cleaning. All of this for under $100.
What are some of the other things that set Dressed apart from Rent the Runway?
RTR is great, but with us, you can make money by sharing your dresses to rent to other people, and the biggest thing is that you don’t have to worry about the dress not fitting or getting lost in the mail the day before your event. We’ve had many clients come to us after this happened to them.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting this business? The most challenging?
What’s been most challenging to me is seeing just how hard women are on themselves. We’ve seen women come in all shapes and sizes, and regardless of how beautiful they are, they always come in with something they don’t like about themselves. But what’s been rewarding is having been able to become a trusted partner, and many times a friend, to these clients and help them feel confident about their own bodies. We’ve had a lot of people coming in who dreaded getting ready for an event, and seeing them post pictures and sending us thank you’s saying they felt good about themselves is what keeps me going.
Any cool anecdotes about women getting dresses for a special occasion?
So many! One that I loved was a guy actually called us because his wife, his mom and his wife’s mom all needed something to wear for his son’s wedding. He remembered seeing us at an event the previous year and still remembered us when it came time that they needed us. The whole family came in, and we had such a good time (laughing, dancing kind of good time). They were originally from NYC too, and we bonded over that. I even learned that the mother-in-law used to work as a seamstress for designers during Fashion Week! All the women left with dresses, and we were also able to get him a tux through a partner of ours. Meeting their sweet family was such a highlight.
How would you describe the relationship between women in the South and dresses?
Southern women really have an affinity towards dresses. It definitely feels different than from growing up in the North. Most of our clients come as wedding guests or gala attendees, and women here love to get dressed up and feel pretty!
What are you seeing as some of the big trends right now?
It’s fun to see clients trying styles they wouldn’t normally try after we suggest them. And they are willing to take more risks since they’re only wearing it one time instead of having to have it sit in their closet. We like classic styles that are flattering to more women and can be timeless, but we have been seeing our clients venturing out into bright colors, bold patterns and sequins.
How important is finding just the right dress for the occasion?
We believe it’s important to find a great dress because it sets your mood for the event. But it shouldn’t be stressful, expensive or time-consuming. Our clients are so cool because they care about looking great and being appropriate for the occasion, but they are also smart and practical. We get the clients who know the really the important thing is to show up for that friend who’s getting married or supporting that cause for the gala. Our clients are really down to earth.
What’s your best advice?
Lately, I’ve been simplifying everything in my life – relationships, career and finances. Anything that costs you your peace is too expensive.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
Chocolate. Music. My monthly budget. These keep me sane and happy on a daily basis.
Thank you, Bernadette, for sharing with us! And thank you to Piper Warlick for the beautiful photos of Bernadette.
Read about even more inspiring Southern women in our FACES archives. Click HERE.