Whether it’s a ball, a prom or a promotion event, female military spouses and their daughters can struggle to find affordable dresses.
For those who live abroad, finding a dress can be even more difficult. Families can live out of suitcases for upwards of two months waiting for belongings to arrive. Many installation stores don’t carry formal wear and airman salaries often won’t stretch far enough to include luxuries like fancy dresses.
At Yokota Air Base in Tokyo they have a place to turn. Fairy Godmother is a small shop in the base’s community center offering 475 donated dresses, 40 pairs of shoes and a selection of jewelry and purses. For just $5 and the cost of dry cleaning, anyone can rent a dress.
“As a young spouse, having three little children, I didn’t go to some of my husband’s official events because I couldn’t afford to go,” says Michelle Harvey, who opened Fairy Godmother with Bea Wagner in August 2014.
With a combined 41 years of experience as military spouses, both women understand the challenges of the military life and wanted to do something to make it a little easier for others. Harvey is married to SMSgt David Benjamin Harvey and Wagner is married to MSgt Andrew Wagner.
The shop was inspired by similar stores on other bases, including the Cinderella Boutique on Minot Air Force Base where Wagner had previously volunteered. The initial requests for dresses at Yokota, via social media and personal contacts, received an overwhelming response. Members of the enlisted and officers’ spouses clubs and a Yokota Facebook dress swap page came through with donations. The Yokota Thrift Shop, run by the officers’ spouses club, offered to donate all the formal dresses it receives.
When AAFES provided a retail site inside the Yokota Community Center for a reasonable rate, not far from the food court, the shop was in business. They opened their doors with 60 donated dresses, just in time for that year’s Air Force Ball.
“This was a whole community coming together. This store has so many people’s hearts and souls in it,” Wagner said.
Donations have been steady ever since. Even groups at other nearby bases, including Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka and Army post Camp Zama have contributed dresses.
Men and children aren’t left out. The store has a small selection of men’s suits, dress shirts and ties, and a few cute toddler outfits.
The women and men who have come through the doors have found clothing for numerous occasions: award, promotion and graduation ceremonies; Army, Marine and Air Force balls; middle school and high school dances; holiday parties and even weddings. Families have outfitted themselves for holiday card photo shoots and piano recitals. Wives have found special dresses for date nights with hubbies or girls’ nights with friends. A group of teen boys were able to attend their prom after renting suits from the store.
“I feel like we’ve really filled a need here,” said Harvey, who has operated the shop on her own since May. She works full-time as a special education aid at a base elementary school. She typically opens for a few hours twice a week but has been known to offer extended hours when special base events are looming.
It’s a gig that brings her a lot of gratification. “I love seeing the satisfaction in people’s faces when they find that dress that makes them feel perfect for the night,” Harvey said. “Every woman, every teen, should get to feel like that at least once in their lifetime. These spouses work hard to support their significant other. They should get to feel special. I’m glad we get to help make that happen.”
Maybe you can start Fairy Godmother on your own installation! Follow Lakesha Cole on Facebook, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, to get her amazing tips on spouse entrepreneurship!