Staff and supporters of Fit For A Queen celebrate its Midtown ribbon cutting on Feb. 22, 2022. Photo Credit: Cecil Harmon Jr., from Instagram
BY ELLIE HENSLEY
There’s a new formal dress shop open in Midtown, just in time for prom season.
Fit For a Queen, the first Black-owned formal dress shop in Atlanta, held its grand opening on Feb. 22, which was also its sixth anniversary. Before moving to a location on Peachtree Street inside the 805 Building, the shop had a location in East Atlanta.
Over the past six years, owner Aisha Smith-Danzy and her staff have grown their client base far past Atlanta’s city limits, and now women come from out of state in search of the perfect gown. Anyone looking for a dress that will make them feel like royalty is welcome in the shop, from preteens to pageant queens to grandmothers.
We spoke with Smith-Danzy and her business partner Laura Monteiro about Fit for a Queen’s expansion in Midtown during a pandemic and what it’s like running a dress shop in the age of social media. Read more below.
Aisha Smith-Danzy, Fit For a Queen's owner, and Laura Monteiro, business partner and custom gown designer.
A Fashionably Fresh Start
Smith-Danzy was inspired to open Fit for a Queen when her daughter, now 24, was prom shopping as a senior.
“My own childhood was cut short because I had my daughter very young,” said Smith-Danzy. “I realized that when we put on these gowns, we transform into a totally different person. I had such a good time helping her and her friends learn how to be a lady, what to wear and how to put on heels.”
The very day Smith-Danzy’s daughter left for college, she went shopping for inventory.
“I left her dorm and I went shopping,” she said. “I said, we’ve got one child, now we’re going to birth a new baby.”
Being an entrepreneur was nothing new for Smith-Danzy. She has owned a successful insurance business, Five Star Insurance Agency, for 16 years. She also periodically goes back to Jamaica, where her family is from, to assist them with running their Airbnb properties.
“As the daughter of Jamaican immigrants and the first American in my family, we were raised talking about how everyone has multiple streams of income,” she said. “So I thought, I’ll do this for fun. It was more to me than just selling insurance. There’s nothing fun about selling insurance. But this is not for fun — it’s a real business.”
Fit For a Queen is located in the 805 Peachtree building, on the block between 5th and 6th streets.
Focusing on the End Game
Once the business took off, it quickly outgrew its less than 1,000 square foot space in East Atlanta. Smith-Danzy started shopping around for a new space shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, with little luck.
“I felt like the Lord was just closing the doors, because I was calling places and they weren’t calling me back,” she said. “I started getting frustrated, because I was trying to grow. We had high traffic and sometimes with prom, the line literally wrapped around the store. Because when girls prom shop, they bring three or four people with them — a whole entourage.”
Although the pandemic has forced the cancellation of many events, Fit For a Queen has still had plenty of customers.
Even during the worst of the shutdown, girls and women were still buying gowns for private parties, photo shoots, socially distanced proms and prom parades.
“I think what happened during the pandemic is people realized life is too short. They were like, ‘I’m going to buy me a $2,000 dress, because I don’t know what’s coming down the pipeline.’”
But business did slow down compared to the previous two years, and this gave Smith-Danzy time to refocus and begin her search for a new location in earnest.
“We needed a break,” she said. “I felt like [the pandemic] gave us a moment to refocus on what our end game really was.”
The larger space in Midtown has allowed Fit For a Queen to increase the number of gowns it has on its show floor, and it has an even larger selection online.
A Mini Rodeo Drive
Smith-Danzy knew she wanted a central location for Fit For a Queen, and had always dreamed of having a shop on Peachtree Street, which Monteiro described as a “mini Rodeo Drive in Atlanta.”
“Come on, it’s Peachtree!” she said. “If you can’t make it on Peachtree, I don’t know where you can make it in Atlanta.”
In addition to the increased exposure gained from its new location, the space is also more than 3,000 square feet larger than Fit For a Queen’s former location.
“When the lights went up, I said, ‘This is exactly where we are supposed to be,” Smith-Danzy said. “The neighborhood is great, and we love the diversity.”
The additional space at Fit For a Queen will be used for pageant workshops and one-on-one training with a pageant coordinator, who has a dedicated space downstairs where he helps girls strategize about which dresses, shoes and swimsuits are the best choices for them.
Another fun feature of the new shop is “Queen For a Day,” a portrait studio in the same vein as “Glamour Shots.” Packages include a gown rental, makeup, hair and time with a professional photographer.
Atlanta’s Go-To Spot for Bespoke Gowns
Smith-Danzy aims for the shop to become the go-to destination for custom gowns in Atlanta, and she brought Monteiro on board as a partner at Fit For a Queen when she moved to Midtown.
Monteiro’s high end designs have been worn by VIP clients all over the country, and she can finish a dress in as little as a week with the help of her assistants. She once finished a dress in four days for a celebrity client whose original gown was lost. For context, it’s recommended that you order an off-the-rack gown about six months in advance of an event.
Smith-Danzy met Monteiro in 2017 when she posted an ad for a custom designer.
“When she came in for an interview, she was so theatrical,” Smith-Danzy said. “She was telling us the history of the garments. She said, ‘No, this dress right here, my tears are in this dress.’ And we were like, ‘Okay, well can you hem?’ We fell in love with her because she put everything out there. What you see is what you get.”
Helping Women Feel Beautiful
Fit For a Queen’s goal is for every customer to leave feeling like a million bucks, and succeeding in this endeavor often means much more than just selling them a beautiful gown. Sometimes women, young women especially, could use some emotional support or a little confidence boost.
“We play psychologists, moms, and aunties,” Monteiro said. “It’s not just coming to buy a dress, it’s a whole experience and everyone here becomes your best friend.”
Smith-Danzy has been known to show girls her own photos from high schools and reassure them “they’re ahead of the game,” as well as give out her personal cell number should they ever need a pep talk.
“Now there is a different level of pressure,” Smith-Danzy said. “Social media makes it hard. Everybody wants to go viral. I really love helping women feel beautiful, but also helping that younger generation feel empowered and be encouraged.”
Midtown businesses like Fit For a Queen are here to welcome you back to Midtown. When you’re ready, please show your support to local restaurants and their hard-working owners and staffers. From posting a positive Yelp review to posting pics of your experience on social media, there are many ways you can show how you "Love Local." Head over to this page for a list of ideas and to read more profiles of Midtown business owners.