One of the first orders of business after winning Mrs. Ohio was to determine what type of evening gown I wanted for Mrs. America. I have dreamed of competing at Mrs. America since I was a little girl, and I wanted my gown to be as special as this experience. So the week after my win, I contacted my gown sponsor, Cyndi Newman of She Said Yes! to help me start the search.
Cyndi and I spent our first meeting coming up with ideas. I brought her several photos of custom gowns that I had found, and she pulled several designers’ catalogs and booklets. I tried on shapes, sizes, and colors, to determine what would look best on my skin.
I won Mrs. Ohio in a custom MacDuggal gown, and I have always been fond of the beading on their custom orders. Therefore, Cyndi called MacDuggal to see whether we had enough time to build my dream dress. MacDuggal invited me to their corporate headquarters. I was told that there were several hundred custom pageant gowns in sample sizes already completed. While I was there, I could design a gown if I didn’t find something I loved.
And off we went! We had to be at MacDuggal before June 19th due to the upcoming MacDuggal fashion shows, so only four weeks after I was crowned, I was headed to Chicago to hunt for my amazing gown.
Due to our schedules, we could only come up with one day – June 19th. We decided to drive to and from Chicago in that one day. At 6am on Friday morning, Cyndi met me at my home. She, Lisa, my 30 weeks pregnant best friend, and I headed north to the Windy City.
The drive was long, but I had great company with me. It was honestly one of the best days! I had the opportunity to get to know Cyndi better (she is an incredible lady) and spend some quality time with one of my best friends. We arrived in Chicago at noon. We ate lunch at an amazing, authentic Italian restaurant, and we drove over to MacDuggal corporate.
Going to MacDuggal was an INCREDIBLE experience. As soon as I got there, I ran into MacDuggal himself and had the opportunity to talk with him. Then, I was whisked away into the big room full of gowns. It was a girl’s dream come true! Hundreds of gowns lined the walls, all in my size. I spoke with the consultant and showed her some of the photos that I liked. She pulled seven gowns for me to start with.
For those that haven’t met me, by way of background, I am very decisive and not afraid to express my opinion. I found my wedding gown after having tried on only two other dresses. My first Mrs. Ohio gown was built as a cross between the first two gowns I had tried on. My second Mrs. Ohio gown was the only dress I tried on this year. It is my philosophy that when you know, you know. There is no need to prolong the inevitable or to confuse yourself. This experience was no different.
The first gown I tried on was exactly what I had requested. By all objective metrics, it was perfect. But it didn’t feel right. Something was missing. The second gown was just as beautiful but didn’t have that certain something I was looking for. Then, I found it.
On my third dress, I pulled out a gown that was still in plastic and bubble wrapped. It wasn’t at all what I was expected, yet as soon as I felt the dress I knew there was something special about it. The color was unexpected for me, and its structure and beading were unusual. I came out of the dressing room, and I immediately knew this was it. At first, I was looking for a dress that looked like Mrs. America. I came home with a dress that made me feel like how Ashley Starling wants to look at Mrs. America.
That wasn’t the end of my trip, however! Cyndi decided to do some purchasing while we were at MacDuggal so I got to go into the back warehouse where all the dresses were stocked. There were gowns everywhere! I ended up also purchasing a one of a kind dress for my Mrs. America interview as well as a spectacular cocktail dress. My best explanation is, imagine a Costco full of gowns in every shape, color, and size. It was amazing.
We then made the trip back to Columbus. It was a long, exhausting, and successful day. I am so thankful to have Cyndi in my life. She is such a beautiful person, and her sponsorship means so much to me. In addition to my Mrs. America gown, Cyndi will be dressing me for every event for the rest of the year. I know I will always look fabulous because of her.
I am currently designing custom earrings to go with this gown. I know when I hit the stage, I will feel like a winner thanks to the time and attention Cyndi has given to me. My day at MacDuggal was nothing short of magical, and I can’t way to show everyone the finished result.
Ashley Starling, Mrs. Ohio 2015