by Ellen Gonzalez, Jayelyn Jackson, Jackie Sanchez and Sarah Talaat
Thousands of young women around the country are selecting their dream dresses, picking out matching shoes and finding the perfect jewelry for their proms. But the reality for many of these high school students is that they simply can’t afford the high costs of dresses, let alone limo rentals, tickets and formal dinners.
Keri Byer saw the need to provide an alternate prom dress experience after her friend called her, distraught that she wouldn’t be able to buy her daughter a dress for her prom due to financial strains. The girl was considering that she might have to skip her prom if she couldn’t find an inexpensive dress.
“Girls are literally not going to these events because they don’t have the outfit.”
“The time and age that we’re in everything is so expensive. These girls are literally not going to these events because they don’t have the outfit. And for me that’s absolutely unacceptable,” Byer said.
Byer called around the city and placed an ad for gently used dresses. The response was overwhelming. She soon had more dresses than she knew what to do with, and an idea was born: Rent prom dresses, shoes and accessories at a fraction of the price to women who would not otherwise be able to attend formal events.
Byer initially operated out her backyard at a once-yearly “prom fair” event where a long line of women would wait to find their perfect dresses. She soon realized she needed a rental space and opened her first location, Austin Fairy Godmother Boutique, in Leander.
Taylor Edwards, a customer at the Leander location, said that the store is a blessing to her and her family.
“We really don’t have a lot of money right now … and my mom found this place online and we came all the way from Hutto. It’s my last year in high school, I’m 18 years old and I really want to have a great prom,” Edwards said.
The shop has hundreds of prom dresses, shoes and jewelry to rent for a package price of $60. Byer relies mainly on donations from the community to stock the store.
“My most favorite part of it is if I’m working the dressing room and the girl comes out, just [seeing] the look on her face when you know she has found the dress,” Cheryl Trabor, an employee of the store, said.
“We may lose our space.”
The store has received so many donations that Byer is thinking about expanding to a new space.
“We’ve outgrown this current location right here in Leander, which is a blessing in disguise. We just kind of all of a sudden blown up and [the location is] just too small, and unfortunately the landlord is going through some things. We may not have the choice to move or not. We may lose our space,” Byer said. “So that’s kind of the urgency with which we’re trying to raise funds.”
Byer has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money in the event that Austin Fairy Godmother will need to move locations. The timing of the potential move is difficult because Byer recently closed the second Fairy Godmother boutique in Kileen. That location provided many military families with formal wear for the various balls and events that happen on the military base each year.
“We had a store in Killeen. We were there exactly one year and two weeks. The customers we had there was amazing,” Byer said. “We helped thousands and thousands of military families, [but] we could not find a trustworthy employee.”
In the meantime, the boutique has found another way to reach out to women in need by taking a “mobile store” stocked with dresses and accessories to different locations in the area.
“This gives the girls who don’t have a ride to the boutique a way to get a dress. We will take our boutique and give free giveaways to the homeless teens and different groups like that,” Byer said.
Byer has no plans to slow down anytime soon and is eager to find new ways to help women look and feel their best.
“I’ve been the crazy dress lady for 10 fabulous years,” Byer said. “This has become more than a dress shop for me. It’s about helping people.”
Click here to donate to Austin Fairy Godmother’s GoFundMe.