Aug 24, 2015 04:53PM
● By Steven Hoffman
In early 2013, a merchant saw that there was a collection of wonderful fashion boutiques in downtown Middletown so she suggested that they organize a fashion show—a day of style, beauty, and fun—to showcase the latest styles and fashions that are available in those local boutiques.
Fashion on Main has taken place twice a year ever since—once in April and again in November—evolving into one of the most popular events on the calendar each year. The sixth fashion show will take place at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7 at the Everett Theatre.
“It keeps getting better and better,” said Amber Shader, the owner of First & Little, a shop that offers clothing for newborns to six-year-olds. Her arrival as a shop owner in 2013 came at a time when Middletown was assembling, piece by piece, a diverse collection of fashion-oriented businesses.
Fast-forward just two years and now Middletown is earning accolades for its retail offerings—it was recently named as the best fashion and shopping destination in one survey.
“We have the most unique shops in the state,” explained Shader.
Tracy Skrobot, the executive director of Middletown Main Street, said that the fashion show wouldn’t be possible without the deep roster of fashion boutiques—including Jewelapalooza, Femme Fatale Boutique, Nicole J. Boutique, Wardrobe by Carolyn & Nadria, First & Little, and more. Each shop owner brings a unique sense of style to Middletown, and those styles are showcased during the fashion show.
This is an all-ages fashion show and many of the participants are clients or children of clients of the boutiques in Middletown.
“It’s really important to hit all age groups,” Shader explained. “I don’t think there is anyone else doing a full, all-ages fashion show in the state. We want to make sure that we’re providing a good experience for everyone who attends.”
Each of the boutiques will provide clothing and accessories to create about 20 different looks, so there will definitely be something to match any style. As many as 30 or 40 or more children will be in the fashion show, so there may be as many as 100 different looks for attendees to see during the show. One of the participants in the fashion show is six-year-old Hailey, who said that she’s very excited about it. Shader took some fashion shots of Hailey outside First & Little.
“The kids are all just adorable,” said Shader. So adorable, in fact, that it’s hard to limit the number of youngsters participating in the show.
“Everybody wants their little kids in a fashion show,” Shader explained. Some of the girls are shy, while others are naturally effervescent and want to perform for the crowd. The women and girls who model the clothes and accessories during the show love the experience of walking the runway for the guests in attendance, including family and friends. Shader explained that many mothers and daughters walk the runway together.
After putting on five fashion shows, organizers know how to stage the event so that it’s fun for participants and entertaining for the crowd.
“When we first did this, it was a learning process,” explained Shader, “and it keeps getting better and better each time.”
Skrobot agreed, saying that organizers are continually coming up with new ways to improve the event for everyone. The fashion show moved to the Everett Theatre, which is a perfect venue for it because the seating offers such good views of the stage. Beer and wine tastings have been added for attendees. The event has also become more interactive as each boutique does a small five-minute demonstration, like how to apply makeup for a certain look or how to style hair. The attendees will have the opportunity to shop for the fashions that are on display.
The fashion show has grown to the point where people look forward to it.
“A lot of people come in from out of town that day,” Shader explained. “We make sure all the shops are open. It’s a great way for people to experience and enjoy all the shops in town.”
For those looking for the latest fashions, clothing for every age and size is available.
First & Little features clothing for the youngest children, offering stylish clothing and accessories or personalized and unique baby gifts that are perfect for baby showers. Shader prides herself on having items that moms won’t be able to find anywhere else.
Jewelapalooza picks up from there and carries clothing for children between the ages of of seven and twelve as well as small, medium, and large sizes for women. This boutique, which is owned by Jaime Shane, also specializes in jewelry and craft-making parties, as well as a wide variety of gifts for women and children.
Like First & Little, Nicole J Boutique arrived in Middletown in 2013. The casual women’s clothing boutique caters to trendy women of all sizes. Owner Nicole Hinton wanted to open the shop, which complements her online boutique, to offer fashion at affordable prices. Hinton handpicks all the styles in the boutique. She studied fashion design at the Art Institute of New York City, and is constantly bringing in new fashions to the boutique.
Mary Kate Church’s Femme Fatale has been serving Middletown for 16 years. Femme Fatale carries designer clothing brands like Tommy Bahama and Joseph Ripkoff, as well as accessories by Alex & Ani, Pandora, and Brighton.
“They have so many great designer dresses,” Shader said of Femme Fatale.
Wardrobe by Carolyn & Nadira, meanwhile, offers clothing, custom design silk flower brooches, floral accessories, headbands, bow ties, ties, pocket squares, and more. The shop combines the talents and styles of Carolyn Douglas and Nadira Alston.
Shader said that because Middletown’s shops have clothing and accessories for all ages, there are ample opportunities to match up outfits for big sister/little sister looks or mother/daughter looks.
When it comes to building a strong commercial district, collaboration never goes out of style, and Middletown’s fashion boutiques exemplify how businesses can work together not just on one event, but throughout the year. The fashion boutiques organize sidewalk sales and coordinate their efforts on many different activities.
“We all get along and we shop at each other’s stores,” Shader explained. “We all go to the same shows and buy at the same time, too.”
In addition to the boutiques that are taking the lead for Fashion on Main, there are many other individuals and businesses in town who are supporting it in various ways. Nick Manerchia is the master of ceremonies for the fashion show, and Skrobot and Shader gushed about his ability to bring humor and personality to the show. Manerchia works at WSFS and is the president of the Middletown Main Street board. He is assisted with the hosting duties by Daneya Jacobs, the owner of Candy Connections. Manerchia and Jacobs make for a good team as the fashion show unfolds.
Unika Custom Creations of Middletown helps set up the stage for the event, and will have home décor displayed—a kind of fashion show for the home.
Each event creates a special set of memories for guests. Shader said that one highlight that stands out to her from a 2014 show was when, at the end of the show, all the models came up on stage and danced to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
One of the things that Shader enjoys the most out of the events is seeing parents' faces light up when their daughters walk across the stage.
“That’s the best thing ever,” she said.
The fashion show has become an important event for the Middletown Main Street program.
“We’ve been able to raise between $2,000 to $3,000 for each show,” explained Skrobot. “We keep that funding in our promotions budget so that we can plan future events.”
Some funding from one of the first fashion shows went toward the creation of the Middletown Pocket Park. This was a creative new use for what was previously a purposeless alley.
While they are pleased with how the event has evolved so far, Shader and Skrobot both agreed that they will continue to refine the event. Skrobot has been exploring the possibility of bringing in some local pageant participants to future fashion shows so that they can model some of the clothing.
They are very pleased with how the Nov. 7 event, which has a 1980s-inspired theme of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” is shaping up. This show arrives just in time to help guests decide what to wear this holiday season.
“We are so excited,” said Shader. “It keeps getting better and better.”
Tickets can be purchased in local shops or online at eventbrite.com. General admission tickets are $10 each. There are also a limited number of $20 VIP packages that include swag bags of small items from Middletown’s boutiques.