as Written By
Kyla Cathey/Lodi Living Editor
Lodi News Sentinel Thursday, April 27, 2017
When Amber Dayton and her daughter were trying to find a prom dress, they faced an uphill battle. Many of the stores they visited in Stockton and the Lodi area weren’t open on weekends, which made getting to them between the time school ended for the day and closing time difficult.
When they finally found a dress, they ended up paying a lot, said Katherine Johnson, Dayton’s mother.
“Then she got to thinking, ‘Wait a minute, there are a lot of other people in the same boat I am,’” Johnson said.
That’s when the idea for Amber’s Armoire was born. The mother-daughter duo of Johnson and Dayton decided to create a shop offering dresses in a range of styles, sizes (up to 26) and prices, from prom and quinceañera gowns to mother-of-the-bride dresses and everything in between.
Their goal was to make sure every local girl and woman could find the perfect dress for special occasions.
To that end, very little in the shop is over $500, and they have a wide selection of dresses as low as $25.
The less expensive dresses, those up to $150, come from a variety of sources. A few are donations of bridesmaid dresses or “buy-backs” of prom gowns from the local community. These gently used dresses — which must be in great shape to be accepted — are carefully cleaned.
“Anything we take in is cleaned and repaired if it looks like we can save it,” Johnson said.
Other gowns are purchased by the lot from auctions or stores going out of business. Amber’s Armoire also works with a few dress manufacturers; those donate some of their sample dresses for the season.
Any dresses in need of repairs go to in-house seamstress Judy Perkins.
“She does beautiful work,” Johnson said.
Then, they’re hung up in the store to become someone else’s dream dress. The store’s new dresses may be more expensive, but there’s a layaway program for those who need it and they’re happy to work with customers, Johnson added.
And, of course, customers are more than welcome to choose a new dress at the regular price.
Each prom season, girls from all over Galt, Lodi and even as far as Elk Grove, Sonora and Twain Harte show up to Amber’s Armoire after striking out at other dress shops.
“A lot of them have gone to multiple places,” Johnson said.
But most of them find a dress they love at a price they can afford at Amber’s Armoire, she said.
They go a step farther for girls who can’t afford even that much, Johnson said.
The store’s reputation for giving back has caught the attention of local teachers and school counselors. When they know of a student who desperately wants to attend a dance but can’t afford a dress, they will often contact Dayton or Johnson and ask if they have one they can donate.
On other occasions, they’ll notice that a girl who comes in with her friends is the only one not looking at dresses, or seems down.
“It can be girls coming in with their friends, and we’ll just make the comment, ‘Oh, you’re not going to the prom?’” Johnson said.
In cases like these, Dayton and Johnson will discuss the situation, and may surprise the girl with a dress free of charge or at a very steep discount.
Last year, they provided prom gowns for seven girls, and helped two boys get tuxedos. They’ve helped a few girls this year, too.
“This is not charity, this is our way of paying forward,” Johnson stressed. They ask the girls who receive free dresses to pass on that generosity when they can.
The move grew out of their work with the Lodi High Prom Closet. Dayton’s husband, a Lodi High teacher, shared that some of the girls were too embarrassed about their financial situations to visit the prom closet event, and often the donated dresses were very outdated or just plain ugly.
The two of them helped to organize, clean and repair the dresses in the closet, Johnson said.
Now, the prom closet is just that — a closet where girls can go individually — and the school refers students to Amber’s Armoire, too.
It’s just their way of giving back to the community, Johnson said. It’s not the only thing they do, either.
They’ve also helped to find affordable dresses for the Millswood Middle School drama program, they participate in the Parade of Lights and the Children’s DreamWorks Fashion Show (missed this year due to a scheduling conflict), and they’ll be helping students in the upcoming film camp with Joey Travolta choose dresses for the film festival.
They’re hoping to host a Prom Closet Fashion Show of their own in the fall to raise money so they can provide more affordable dresses.
“We’re willing to give back to the community. Are we getting rich? No,” Johnson said with a laugh.
But it’s worth it to see girls thrilled to find a nice, stylish dress that fits, at a price they can afford, she said.
“Our motto is, ‘No one should miss out on their special event because they can’t afford an outfit,’” Johnson said.
Left to Right: Katherine, Amber and Stephenie