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Inaugural ball boosts business at local boutiques

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - This January, the display windows of Ivor's Trunk, on Lee Street, have shown ball gowns.   

Those gowns mark a season for formalwear in Charleston, one not necessarily observed outside of West Virginia's capital city - they signal that the Governor's Inaugural Ball is nigh.

Or did, until they were sold Friday afternoon, just in time to be steamed and sent home in advance of the inauguration today.

Inside this store, and others throughout the city and state, retailers have been doing brisker business than is typical for a dreary January, outfitting some 2,000 guests with party attire.

In a normal year at this time, Ivor's would be selling more of the clothing that constitutes the core of its business - "high-quality career clothing that you can wear for a long time," according to the store's owner, Ivor Sheff.

"This is definitely not that."

Instead, they've sold most of the sparkly, party-appropriate things they had left over from their stock of holiday clothes.

Business is actually less robust than it has been for other inaugurals, Sheff said, probably because the governor and first lady have opted for a smaller affair than their predecessors: the guest list for this ball will hover around 2,000, while the Manchins packed the Charleston Civic Center with people for their inaugural galas.

Still, 2,000 people seeking formalwear for the mid-January gala is 2,000 more than would usually have this type of event to attend in January, and that's been a boon to businesses.

"You know Christmas was not as good as it normally was for us," Sheff said. "It's great to have what bit of business this inauguration is generating."

Anthony Paranzino, also known as "Tony the Tailor" for the shop he owns in downtown Charleston, has been working for seven weeks on 15 tuxedos for the ball, and that doesn't include the slew of requests he's gotten for rentals.  

The ball is "black tie optional" which then raises the question of what exactly "black tie optional" really means. Paranzino has spent weeks counseling clients on the appropriate attire.

"It means you wear a tuxedo but you don't have to wear a black tie, that can be colored," he said.

But surely, some men will choose to wear, if nothing else, a dark suit, won't they?

"Not my customers," he said.

The women's stores, on the other hand, have been moving a lot of shorter dresses along with the ball gowns, and even some blouses and silk pants.

Ann Adkins, co-owner of Geranium on Bridge Road, has sold a lot of two-piece silk ensembles, some lace, and a lot of things with ruffles.

It's a different beast entirely than the events that are usually the epicenter of the formalwear business: prom and homecoming for high school students.

"It's more conservative," Adkins said. "They don't want to stand out more than the governor or his wife. But they're going to put on a black dress or something and they're going to make a statement with it."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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