By Camille Gillies

If you’ve ever had to shop for a bridal gown in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel, you know your choices were nearly nil – until now.

Thanks to the recent premiere of Wesley Chapel’s first bridal and formal wear shop, you can kiss that shopping trip to South Tampa, St. Petersburg or Brooksville goodbye. The new shop, dubbed “The Fancy Frock,” is the brainchild of local resident Jennifer Smith, who in August opened the boutique, located in the Redfern Professional Plaza behind Dunkin Donuts in Seven Oaks, off Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd.

The Fancy Frock features a varied assortment of wedding gowns and formal wear, including ball gowns, pageant dresses, prom and homecoming dresses, upscale cocktail and party attire and even men’s tuxedos and accessories.

Although the shop anchors one end of a cluster of medical and professional offices and breaks the traditional retail shopping mold with its office park locale, The Fancy Frock isn’t too difficult to find, offers two spacious rooms replete with off-the-rack and custom gowns and boasts a comfortable, helpful and low-pressure atmosphere.

“Customers are always welcome to come in and browse or they can make an appointment for more personal, one-on-one service,” Jen says.

One complete room of the boutique features designer bridal gowns, while another is dedicated to other formal gowns and even cocktail dresses. An enormous dressing suite – the kind of well-lit and fully mirrored kind required when making a nail-biting, once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) wedding gown purchase – is available, as well as a pleasant sitting room for the usual critics…ahem, friends and relatives…the bride might bring along for moral support.

Most designer wedding gowns are notoriously expensive, but these bridal gowns won’t break the bank. Ranging from $300 to $2,000, the majority of Jen’s gowns are priced under $1,000 and include such well-known designers as Anjolique, Mia Solano, Jasmine, Demitrios, Mon Cheri, Dolly Pearl, Nina Canacci, Christina Wu and Jordan.

“I love to shop but I don’t like to pay full retail,” Jen says, who is proud to offer high-quality dresses that are more affordable, thanks to her own savvy shopping know-how. She says her prices are reasonable because she purchases dresses that may have been samples or their style numbers were discontinued, but all merchandise at The Fancy Frock is brand new and top of the line.

“I also buy from wholesale distributors and bridal shop owners who want to turn over their inventory,” she continues. “They sell at a deep discount, and I pass that savings on to my customers.”

She says similar shops in northern states, many as far north as Michigan, stock heavier gowns at this time of year, so they are anxious to move gowns made of lighter fabrics. As Floridians know well, those light fabrics are appealing year-round in our warm climate, prompting Jen to purchase several gorgeous gowns from her northern contacts and offer them at the Fancy Frock.

Staying on the cutting edge of the latest style trends, Jen says today’s fashion-forward looks include pleats, “rustic chic,” layered ruffles and – the “in” color for the 2013 bride – silver. Jen can smartly outfit the entire wedding party, from bride and groom to bridesmaids and groomsmen to mother and father of the bride and flower girls.

The Fancy Frock also is a go-to destination for buying prom and homecoming dresses. Girls won’t have to worry that someone else will show up to the dance in an identical dress because Jen will keep a record of who purchased what at each high school. Ah, one less moment of teen angst!

Speaking of angst, have you ever seen a girl choose a pageant dress? Let The Fancy Frock take the stress out of the process. The shop’s dazzling evening gowns deserve a look from any young lady, whether walking down a runway or reigning over a parade. Jen currently has several in stock and will carry a couture designer line beginning in 2013, but she is waiting to announce the designer.


More Than Just Bridal Wear

With the holidays upon us, now is a great time to check out The Fancy Frock for cocktail dresses and tuxedos that will have you turning heads at this season’s formal parties and New Year’s Eve galas, with dresses from $59-$500.

Jen also offers a line of custom accessories that includes hair clips, sashes, headbands and tiaras. She creates all of the pieces herself, a hobby she began as a creative outlet from teaching. In fact, some New Tampa residents may know Jen from her days as a teacher at Hunter’s Green Elementary.

With a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a Master’s degree in special education, both from nearby St. Leo University near Dade City, Jen spent the past 10 years as a teacher in Hernando and Hillsborough counties, but wanted to start her own business and exercise more of her creativity. Four years ago, she began toying with the idea of opening a formal wear shop, but with the recession in full swing, the timing wasn’t right.

“But, right now, everything seems to have fallen into place,” she says. “Look at all of the growth and businesses popping up again along BBD. I knew this was the time. I am located right across from the new Florida Hospital and just a minute or two north of the Wiregrass mall. It’s a great place to be.”

Jen adds that her research shows that Pasco County has a high number of professional, college-educated women who have never been married, a demographic ideally suited for her business.

Coincidentally, Jen is a newlywed who resides in Seven Oaks (only seconds away from the shop) with her husband, Rob James, and their blended family consisting of children, Emily, 19; Granger, 12; and Isabella, 6.

“I really hope that people will stop by The Fancy Frock to see what I have to offer,” she says. “Every dress is hand-selected and I have something for all age groups, from teens to seniors.”

Wesley Chapel resident Stephanie Peters found this out first hand during her visit to the Fancy Frock. Stephanie says she recently purchased semi-formal dresses for herself and her two daughters, ages 12 and 14.

“We were shopping for dresses for a Bat Mitzvah ceremony, and Jen told me she had the perfect dress coming in for me,” Stephanie says. “It was just the color and style I was looking for.”

She also says that the store has an excellent selection, and her young daughters were both equally pleased with their special dresses.

“I’d definitely recommend her shop,” Stephanie says. “You can’t beat her prices.”

The Fancy Frock is offering a Grand Opening/Holiday sale featuring 20-percent-off all in-stock formal and bridal gowns. Jen also invites you to take advantage of her “secret envelope” promotion, in which customers, upon entering the store, receive an envelope containing special discount coupons.

The Fancy Frock is located at 3737 Maryweather Ln. in the Redfern Professional Plaza and is open Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday. The store is closed on Sundays and open on Mondays by appointment only. Jen stresses that her goal is to accommodate her customers, so store hours are flexible and she welcomes evening appointments.

For more info, including how the “secret envelope” promotion works, call Fancy Frock at 973-1999 or visit the store’s Facebook page.


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