HOLLENBECK: Women's dress shops held a special place in small town life.

While I'm a staunch supporter of progress — real progress, not just change for change's sake — I do find it sad to see the passing of many institutions that once were at the heart of community life. Particularly in small towns.
One such entity that is a rarity today is the women's dress shop.
Every little town of any appreciable size had a nice dress shop and a men's shop. Benton can still boast having this for the male customer in Rhea's, but places like The Fashion, The Style Shop, The Happening (and others I may not recall here) are relegated to memory.
Yes, there are still wonderful businesses that sell dresses and include a number of the same offerings that once were sold in the little shops, but the larger-scale operations don't provide the same kinds of intimacy and charm.
Growing up in Cotton Plant, a nearby dress shop in Brinkley was THE place for my friends and me to shop. Particularly when we wanted a really nice dress for a special occasion.
This was Marge's. In my mind's eye, it's still there, though it's been gone from the town's physical layout for many, many years.
The proprietor, Marge Shaban, was amazing. She was a large, stylish woman who had as much class as Coco Channel or any other big-time fashion mogul.
She made it standard practice not to buy a dozen dresses in the same style but in varying sizes, the norm for most businesses. When you bought something there, you knew you weren't going to meet a carbon copy of yourself on the street because there would be only one or two of that style.
Those of us who lived in the northeastern part of the state were positioned halfway between Memphis and Little Rock, which were our shopping meccas. But not when it came to the "special dress."
For that frock, we went to Marge's, whose clientele came from throughout Arkansas and even other states. She had regular customers from Tennessee and Mississippi because these women knew they could find something out of the ordinary at Marge's.
One of the great things about Marge was the wise fashion counsel she provided for young people. If you asked her opinion on an outfit, she would be honest.
Her remarks weren't hurtful, but helpful.
She wouldn't sell you a dress that was unflattering — maybe because it wouldn't have made smart business sense — but also because she wanted to help us turn into smart dressers.
I learned so many "fashion tricks" from her, like how to "dress thin" or "dress tall," which was an ambitious goal for me.
But given a choice between something I really liked that robbed me of height and something I liked less but added height, I learned to go with the latter. I found out the hard way that just because it looked good on a manikin was no assurance that it would deliver the same effect with me. In fact, it would end up just taking up space in the closet. The cold, hard truth is that if it isn't flattering to the figure that's going to wear it, it's not a wise purchase.
And perhaps the best advice I ever got in the fashion sense came from this sign that always was prominently displayed in Marge's front window:
"A dress should be tight enough to show there's a woman inside but loose enough to show she's a lady."
What better wisdom could a young girl get than that.
It's a shame it wasn't mass-produced.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.