Staff photo by Allison Potter
Dressmaker Alma Fennell, right, instructs Susan Snider on the final details of the Azalea Belle dress worn by her daughter, Rachel Snider, during a fitting at Drapery World on Sunday, Feb. 23.
A cross-country runner and Hoggard High School senior will soon transform into an Azalea Belle.
Rachel Snider, a 17-year-old student who has resided in Wrightsville Beach since she was 5 years old, will leave her running clothes, jeans and sweaters behind to step into a hoop skirt topped with a lacy dress and decades of history.
Snider, the daughter of Larry and Susan Snider, took the first step toward her transformation during her dress fitting on Sunday, Feb. 23, at Drapery World on Oleander Drive.
“Are you froufrou?” dressmaker Alma Fennell asked Snider before she began the fitting.
Snider replied, “No, I don’t think so.”
She said the Azalea Belles are a tradition she has seen since living in New Hanover County.
“My mom always talked about it, and some of my friends from last year did it,” Snider said.
The process for the more than 100 belles started only two weeks ago and will continue through the Cape Fear Garden Club’s Azalea Home Tour and Azalea Festival in April.
On Sunday, Snider chose the first of three dresses she tried on, a peach and ecru lace dress featuring a bustle, accessories and a long history.
Fennell said the average girl tries on up to three dresses, but she has had one girl try on 36 dresses.
Upstairs in Drapery World during the fitting, Fennell said she made all of the dresses lining the racks, including six new dresses for this year. The dresses feature a wide variety of colors and period styles such as drop waists, fitted bodices, poofy sleeves, ruffles and embroidery.
Fennell names all of her dresses after the person who wears them, and Snider’s dress is named Clemmons after Angela Clemmons.
“This is one of the first ones that I ever made 31 years ago,” Fennell said.
Snider not only liked the dress but felt comfortable.
After adjusting the hoop skirt to fit underneath the dress, Fennell and Snider’s mom, Susan Snider, picked out off-white lacy gloves, pantaloons and a parasol to match.
The belles will serve as ambassadors for the City of Wilmington during the Azalea Festival.
In addition to running cross country, Snider plays the guitar and drums, is active with the Wrightsville United Methodist youth group and is a member of the BETA club and National Honor Society.
Her mother has been involved with the Harbor Island Garden Club for eight years. Daughters or granddaughters of Cape Fear Garden Club members have the highest priority as belles, followed by high school seniors, juniors and sophomores.
“I’m excited for the spring,” Snider said.