Moms frustrated at lack of plus size prom dresses in the area

Apr. 26—ROCHESTER — Moms have taken to Facebook recently to comment on the lack of availability of plus-size prom dresses for their daughters in the Rochester area.

One post that was initially posted anonymously in Spotted in Rochester, stated that the person couldn't find more than one rack that had size 16-20 dresses. The poster said they had tried three stores in the area. Jess Olsen, mother of Tessanna, a 17-year-old junior at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School, said her daughter looked incredibly sad after the experience. Jess Olsen said she was nervous about a negative response to the post.

Olsen tried three locations. Two stores didn't have anything over a size 14 and the other only had a small rack for anything above a 16.

She said even the sales associate at one of the stores was "really disappointed because that's literally all they had." Meanwhile, Olsen said there was a "plethora of other racks and multitudes of colors in the same style and whatnot for size sixes and eights."

After the disappointing and discouraging experience, Olsen took to Facebook to see if people had suggestions on where she could take her daughter to get a dress. She laid out her experience for everyone to see and spent time combing through the 300 comments it garnered.

"There are a lot of people that comment on that one post," Olsen said. "A lot of them had suggested a lot of thrift stores and secondhand places. Then there were actually quite a few people that offered us dresses as well. She ended up actually really loving one that someone had offered her. So she took that one."

The green dress she was given was similar in color and style to one that she liked at a store. Olsen made sure to show her daughter every dress that was left in the comments and the green dress was the one.

"She was kind of beaming, like excited," Olsen said about finding the perfect dress.

When Olsen first posted on Facebook, she was not ready for the level of support. She had seen some bad interactions on social media and was worried about negativity in the comments, but Olsen and her daughter were encouraged by the response.

"It was kind of a shock," said Olsen. "I thought, there's so many posts on there that get negative and there was nothing negative. It was just everyone had the same experience and was just trying to help point to different options."

Olsen's daughter is only a junior, so she will still have another year of dress shopping in the future.

"She has her senior next year. So we'll be better prepared with all the knowledge that we gained," she said, adding she has two daughters in elementary school, who will also one day go through the process of finding a prom dress.

Olsen and her daughter are thankful for the support from the community. Through the process, they learned that other people have had to travel to the Twin Cities for prom and formal dresses.

"I mean, I'm criticizing Rochester," said Olsen. "Like just to have a rack that size 16 to 24. There's so many kids that are in that size range and they just have one rack. You can't even try on all the different dress silhouettes to know what works with your body type and what looks good, let alone to pick out different colors. Say you wear a size 20, 'oh this one comes in a 16 here, we have to order it now.' Even department stores don't carry it."

One place that was suggested a lot in the comments was The Prom Shop in Byron. They are a seasonal formal dress store open from December to the end of April.

"In the industry, what do we even consider plus size anymore?" said Heather Rolen, with The Prom Shop. "It kind of fluctuates from year to year. We're at the end of our season so our inventory is quite less than what it normally is, but we still do have quite a big selection. We do go all the way up to a size 26 and a lot of the dresses that we have that are in our smaller sizes are also in our larger sizes, too. So we're not there's no catering to one size versus the other."

There also isn't a universal sizing chart for dresses. Each company has its own measurements and the fabric can also affect the sizing and fit. The inconsistent sizing can make dress shopping a difficult task online, too.

"On a given day we'll have anywhere from a double zero to a size 26, so it's a very huge variety," said Rolen. "Girls will come in and they think they're a size six, and sometimes they'll get into a zero. So it just depends on the dress, the designer and the material. So we just have them start with pants size and then we say that we can always go up or down depending on the material and the designer."

The store sorts the racks by size across the store and also tries to organize by color. Pink was very popular this year following the release of "Barbie" in 2023 and ruffles were also a common trend.

"We have girls that come in all shapes and sizes," Rolen said. "It's so fun, especially when they find that one specialist that they just absolutely love and their face lights up and it doesn't matter what size they are. They're just so excited to be this beautiful girl."