The first time I bought a dress at Vylna's Boutique Fashions I was on my way to the junior prom.
When I was in high school, Vylna's was the place to shop for formal wear, and the boutique was known for racks filled with Jessica McClintock gowns in every shade and shape in style that season.
Owner Vylna Mathis also had a reputation for protecting your style identity by keeping track of who bought what and where it was to be worn.
"We try to remember everybody's name, and we try to remember what they bought," Mathis told me last week. "And we all the time try to protect everybody so they would not be wearing the same thing at the same party.
"We got very nosey about it and said, 'Where are you going, and where are you wearing that dress?'" she said with a laugh.
The dress I fell in love with almost 15 years ago was floor-length, cream-colored silk with an empire waist and lace applique details on the hem and sash. The label was Julie Piatt, a lesser-known designer out of Los Angeles.
I remember trying the dress on and feeling as if it was made just for me. I remember loving the fact that it was a designer I'd never heard of and that the dress was practically one of a kind. And I remember promising my mother that I'd wear it on my wedding day if it could be mine.
I've always had a soft spot for the Midtown boutique because of that memory, so I was a bit sad last week when I discovered that Mathis has decided to close up shop.
"It's time for me to do it," she said. "I've been in business for a long time, and it feels right to do it."
Mathis has spent 28 years building the boutique, but she's always kept her original goal in mind.
"The thing that I always wanted -- I did not want to be known as a store that was so exclusive that people would not come because they thought it would be so expensive.
I wanted to be accessible to everyone in town."
And for that reason, she's developed a loyal following from corporate women to prom queens.
"She's like a pioneer," Lorena Roberts, owner of Lulu E. Bebe boutique, said of Mathis. "She did a great job of bringing something to Alaska that wasn't here. She really focused on the evening wear, which is amazing up here and really helped women of Anchorage."
I still have my Julie Piatt original hanging in my closet in the pink garment bag it came home in 13 years ago. And I'm still considering it an option if I ever get married -- if it fits, that is.
When I told Mathis about the dress, she laughed and said that many of her customers have similar stories.
" 'I want to tell you that I used to buy all my prom dresses from you.' I have customers who say that all the time," she said. "Now I am selling dresses to the granddaughters of the women I used to dress, so I've done like about three generations.
"You love your customers. I'm going to miss that exchange with people, definitely. When I put that sign in my store -- going-out-of-business sign -- it really touched me. I thought, 'Oh my gosh after all these years. ...' "
VYLNA'S BOUTIQUE FASHIONS is at 3030 Denali St., Suite 2. The doors will close to customers May 15, and in the meantime the current stock is on sale. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call 561-1680 for more information.