Taylor Justin

This is the first in a monthly series spotlighting South Side clothing stores and businesses.

It’s just two weeks into January, but your social calendar is already filled up with events: you have five weddings to attend this year, a big charity event in November, the occasional restaurant opening that you can’t miss and the company holiday party. In the age of Instagram, repeating a dress is not an option, and buying one for every single occasion is certainly not economical, so what do you do? Well, maybe you can visit the Frock Shop Chicago, located in Pilsen.

The formal rental showroom, founded and opened by entrepreneur Jennifer Burrell, provides outfits for all occasions available for rent at cost-efficient prices. The business started right out of her own closet—literally. 

“I was cleaning out my closet a few years ago and I still had my prom dress, my wedding dress and some little cocktail dresses,” says Burrell. “They were all in really good condition, and I had only worn them one time. It dawned on me, like [if] men rent tuxedos for all these fancy events, then women should be able to rent dresses.” And not just any dresses: “glamorous, sexy, bold” dresses, as The Frock Shop’s mission states.

Frock Shop Chicago makes the process of renting easy—shoppers from all over the city can visit frockshop.com to search for their perfect occasion style. However, locals have the luxury of visiting the Pilsen showroom, and can work one-on-one with a specialist for a personal shopping experience. The rental fees for designer dresses start at $40; dresses can be rented for either four, seven, or ten business days and are delivered when and where you want them. Frock Shop also provides free returns, repairs, and dress cleaning—the process of renting and returning the dresses is much, much easier than that of picking them out.

The South Side shop has a wide selection that Burrell curates with Chicagoans in mind. “We listen to what Chicago women want,” she says. “We keep in tune with the local events and trends that take place.” The shop’s selection focuses on quality occasion-based apparel that can withstand wear over and over again. The inventory is an assortment of sparkling, statement, and elegant pieces from recognizable, high-end designers like Jovani gowns and BCBG cocktail dresses.

These quality dresses cater to the needs of Frock Shop’s biggest clients: the women who shop for big, city-wide events like proms, holiday parties, and black tie events. Burrell looks to the runway and red carpet for larger trends, but also seeks out the advice of her young employees, who work as stylists at the shop, for trends specific to this year’s prom season.

“The girls told me [to present] white, champagne, royal blue and burgundy, which was really popular last year,” said Burrell. “We will also see the two-piece silhouette again, just differently… this time a flowy-er cropped top with a slimmer bottom.” A similar color palette with a little more metallic, lace, and subtle gold neutrals, like champagne, will carry into the holiday event and black tie offering at the shop as well. There will even be colorful additions like florals and combinations of orange and pink. In terms of silhouette, an off-the-shoulder and always classic mermaid cut will remain available in the inventory in the coming months.

This year, Burrell has continued plans to expand and redefine the Frock Shop’s services: starting this month, she will be adding a rental consignment aspect to the business. She receives calls almost every day from women looking to resell their formal dresses. Keeping the low cost of her selection in mind, she has found a way for renters and dress-sellers to benefit from the consignment. “Frock Shop keeps consigned dresses and each time it rents a dress out, the consigner receives half of the rental price. Rentals for those dresses start at $125.” Burrell also plans to narrow down her assortment of dresses, offering more sizes in the shop’s “best-rented” styles, while continuing to build out the store’s prom niche, rotate trendier seasonal items such as jumpsuits, and expand bridal occasion offerings.

As a resident of the Bronzeville neighborhood, and someone who got her career started with a black-owned business on the South Side, Burrell values the importance of keeping her business within the community: “If you are a good business in the South Side community, it will come back to you,” she says. Her goal is to move into a larger space by the end of the year while still remaining south of Roosevelt Road.

Visit the shop in Pilsen or search their online boutique at frockshopchicago.com

Taylor Justin is the founder of The Haute Seeker, a Chicago-based cultural lifestyle blog. She currently lives in Pilsen and enjoys gallery openings, thrift shopping, and exploring South Side eateries with friends.

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