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CENTRAL’S CATIQUE: WHERE EVERYONE HAS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR ELEGANCE

 Shirley Arriaga shows off a blue dress from several others hanging in the Catique Most of the apparel — cocktail and tea dresses, gowns, semi-formal wear — is brand new, or at the very least, has been worn only once or twice. Familiar names like Calvin Klein, Liz Clairborne and Jessica McClintock can be found on the labels.

What started a few years back with Central educator Kelly Zerfas-Roth’s donation of couple of prom dresses has blossomed into the CATique: a student-run clothing concession with the feel of a high-end boutique located on the second floor of Central High School.

With the understanding that shopping for new dresses and accessories for milestones such as Homecoming and Prom can be very expensive, the CATique offers students from across the District, and in neighboring districts, the opportunity to look like a million bucks at a minimal cost.

Through the overwhelming generosity of community members, school and District staff, and Central alumni – whose donations line the racks – the CATique continues to fulfill its mission of inclusiveness with style and elegance.

“We ask for a $10 donation for each dress,” said Shirley Arriaga, Central’s community advocate and CATique director. “But if a student isn’t able to pay, we won’t even ask for that.”

Principal Destin Mehess has been a vocal champion of the CATique since its launch.

“This gives every student in either district the opportunity to come over to Central and pick out an outfit that doesn’t cost very much at all,” Principal Mehess said. “We are very happy to give students the opportunity to look good and feel good about themselves: attending a dance looking like a million bucks.”

Mrs. Arriaga said that as word of the CATique’s worthy mission continues to spread, the community responds in kind.

“A lot of what you see here is from community members, who hear about our program and offer to donate,” she said. “And a lot of our dresses still have the tags on them. I mean, they are new. This particular dress, which is very nice, has a tag on it: it would have cost you $79 in the store.” 

This year, Central’s Girls Cabinet and Key Club are taking the lead in the operation of the CATique, spending volunteer hours to prepare the apparel – which includes shoes and accessories such as jewelry and scarves – for showing.

And with the 2020 social calendar negatively impacted by the pandemic, young women from schools near and fare are flocking into this unique specialty shop in hopes of finding the right outfit for the first event on this year’s calendar: Homecoming. A young student holds up a red dress at Central's CATique

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have anything last year,” Mrs. Arriaga said. “But so far, we’ve been pretty busy. And as the word about the dresses gets out, business will increase. We have a lot of new incoming freshmen who knew nothing about the CATique and already bought a dress. 

“So I’m thinking for winter sports, we are going to be pretty busy.”

For Wildcat Unique, the CATique has provided her with a wealth of good looks through the years.

“Most of the dresses in my closet are from the CATique,” Unique explained. “I used it for Prom my freshman year, twice for JROTC Military Ball, and I tried using it this year, but it didn’t work out: so I had to go out and get my own dress.

“And every dance I attended in a CATique dress I got a lot of compliments. A lot of this stuff is really nice to wear.” 

Mrs. Arriaga said an alumnus of Central recently donated a host of eye-catching dresses, which she placed in the foyer of the school in order to increase awareness of the CATique and its offerings

“Some of the girls picked those dresses and some came into the CATique to see what was available,” Mrs. Arriaga said. “The response has been very good and we are very excited about it.”

For the young men, there is a rack with sports coats, dress shirts and other items: likewise available at rock-bottom prices.

In the years past, CATique proceeds have been donated to worthwhile causes, such as the Dorcy Cancer Center. This year, the funds are earmarked for Central’s Girls Cabinet, which in turn means the CATique – and event-goers from throughout the county – will ultimately benefit.

The CATique is usually open from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. To learn more, call 549-7300 or stop into Mrs. Arriaga’s office in the foyer of Central High School.