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Since 1986, Barbara "Barbie" Norris has made formal dress dreams come true for women in the Tri-State area.

In her new, customized purple shop, Barbie's Formals offers a one-of-a-kind variety of prom and homecoming dresses, pageant wear, formal shoes and shelves of glitzy costume jewelry.

"I went to the Civic Center with my sister, who is six years younger than I am, for her junior prom," said Barbie Norris, owner of Barbie's Formals. "I was crazy about clothes, and I decided it would be fun to sell prom and wedding dresses. So I did."

The shop started as a part-time gig, with Norris working three days per week and with an emphasis on consigned dresses. Eventually, she started stocking big-name dresses from popular designers like Jessica McClintock, Mike Benet and Alfred Angelo.

Then, in 1998, she expanded her store, organizing wedding dresses on one side and formals on the other.

Norris said her love for fashion and glamorous dresses developed early on in her childhood.

"I've always loved fairy tales," Norris said. "When I was a little girl, there was a [live action] Cinderella movie, and at that time, there weren't tapes. So it would come on once a year, and my mother said I would cry went it went off. I've always liked pretty things."

Like her business, Norris' passion for the industry has only grown. She attributes the rise of social media and her own solid social media management to the business' uptick in popularity over the last five years. Just last year, a customer from Illinois visited to check out the small town shop's formalwear collection.

"I'm a social media queen," Norris said with a laugh. "I run an Instagram account, two Facebook accounts, a Snapchat. I put everything we get in on there, and if you look, you'll see I put a lot of time into it."

Norris said she spends around 40 hours per week during peak season working solely on her business' social media. When she's not responding digitally to questions and requests, she's researching up-and-coming designers and the next season's styles.

For students and pageant contestants, Norris said it's vital to shop for formalwear locally.

"We keep a registry so we don't duplicate styles and colors, and we have the same dresses that [shops] have in bigger cities," Norris said. "We carry 23 brands just for prom, and we have someone that does alterations in house."

Over the next month, Norris will be preparing for her annual trip to Atlanta, where she can view the upcoming season's styles and designers in person. Though Sherri Hill and Jovani dominate the majority of her sales, rising designers such as Ellie Wilde are making an impression at Barbie's Formals for those seeking a different style.

"We're laid back, and we don't push anyone," Norris said. "We have a friendly environment, and we try to make the girls feel special and make it enjoyable."

Barbie's Formals is open Monday through Friday noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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