Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series on local individuals who make the ninth-annual Pathways Mix and Mingle Dinner and Formal Dance a special celebration for the special party-goers.
ESCANABA - Don't think for a moment that it's only the females who are fussy about what they wear when they are stepping out. According to Gina Young, co-owner of Young's Formal Wear in Escanaba, the male species is just as picky.
And don't think that men who have special needs simply settle for anything that's presented to them. For the most part, they have their preferences as well.
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Scott Brunette of Gladstone, above, is a pro at getting measured for the tux he planned to wear to the 2014 Pathways Mix and Mingle Formal Dance. Taking his measurements is Gina Young, co-owner of Young’s Formal Wear in Escanaba. Scott has been attending the annual event since it began nine years ago, and Young’s Formal Wear has been providing fitting services almost from the beginning.
Charlie Algoe, who attends the dance every year, looks dapper in his newly-fitted tuxedo, courtesy of Young’s Formal Wear.
"They love the bow-tie!" said Gina, who generally fits as many as 100 men for the annual Pathways Formal Dance. "And most of them have a favorite color as well."
When it's time for the formal dance, Gina said she generally goes to wherever the group meets and measures each one for size.
"That's usually when I hear what their favorite colors are," she said. "They also like the colored pocket squares and colored suspenders once they know what they're for. When I give them (suspenders) to them to try on, I tell them they're to hold their pants up and then they're okay with them."
Working with individuals with special needs provides a unique challenge for Gina and her staff.
"We have men in wheelchairs that we fit as well," she said. "Some aren't able to hold their arms and shoulders up and we have to work around that when fitting the jacket. They usually have to lie on a bed and people have to dress them. We want to make sure that even though they are sitting in a wheelchair, they look good," she said. "Sometimes we have to think a little before we come up with a solution but everything is workable."
Gina described one man who was fitted with pants that were held together with velcro across the entire inseam from the bottom of one leg and across the crotch and down the other leg because that was the only way he could get his pants on.
"They come in all shapes and sizes, but I can fit anybody," she said with pride.
Gina admitted that there are occasions when a customer has a negative attitude at first but she can always encourage them through the process.
"And once they see themselves in their outfit, they just beam and say 'Darn I look good, don't I?' And I always tell them how great they look."
All the work on the tuxedoes and suits is done in-house.
"We have a very large inventory and everything is on the premises," Gina said. "That makes it so much easier. We can accommodate a lot of people and don't have to order anything. Even shiny dress shoes are provided when needed."
When the special orders are ready, Gina said she sets out to deliver the menswear in person.
"This year I gook 10 and delivered them to St. Jude's myself," she said. "Others were delivered to Bishop Noa and adult foster care homes. I go wherever they're needed."
Gina said she is always impressed by the men she works with.
"In all these years, I've never had an issue," she said. "They are always very respectful and they're a very responsible group of individuals. And they are always very happy when they see how good they look in their clothes. A lot of them even start planning for what they want to wear the next year. Do they want a bow-tie or a straight tie? Do they want suspenders? Do they want a different color? It's so much fun working with them."
The Pathways Formal Dance isn't the only event that Young's Formal wear is involved with. According to Gina, the company also helps with a number of non-profit groups, including Bay College, local high schools and the Bonifas Fine Arts Center.
When they first began with the Pathways dance, work was generally free of charge.
"But now we have to charge because there are so many of them," Gina explained. Whenever there is a man who is unable to pay for his alterations, Brenda Crow, Pathways Formal Events Coordinator, said there are fund-raising efforts throughout the year to provide money to assist with the cost of the dance, including assistance with alteration costs.
"I love volunteering to help," said Gina. "I'll do this forever or for as long as there is a need. It's my way to give back to this community and I can't think of a better way. I thoroughly enjoy getting to know these guys and working with them. There's such joy and I always am so glad to see the happiness we provide them. There are no barriers at that point. It's gotten to the point with lots of them that when they see me downtown, they usually say, 'That's the Tux Lady!' How enjoyable is that!"