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Northwest Wanderings

It’s not about the formal dresses, of which there are more than 400. It’s not about the 270-plus pairs of dress shoes. Or about the more than 235 volunteers. The Ruby Room in downtown Bellevue is about its clients’ “style and confidence,” says Executive Director Ellen Young, “and it’s about empowerment.” This open, airy space with five dressing rooms surrounded by racks of clothes and shelves of accessories can make an appearance at a special event possible for young women. It’s by-appointment-only for those with low incomes, and it charges nothing to help them feel beautiful. People leave with outfits and get to keep them. Ninety-nine percent of the items are donated. (The Ruby Room’s big annual fundraiser, a fashion show, was recently postponed due to snow.) Five-year-old Azaria tried on a white gown for an event for her mother and just would not take it off.   A volunteer brought out a tiara and now she was a princess. The mirror was a magnet she could not pull away from. She owned the room, Young says. “This is a place of joy.” People come to the Ruby Room from as far north as Blaine, as far east as Central Washington, and as far south as Spanaway. Volunteer Candice Soderquist works one-on-one with the clients. “Rites of passage are important,” she says. “Those big events are lifelong memories.” Gwen has come to choose what she’ll wear at an upcoming graduation. She only tried on four outfits, then made her choice — a column dress with sequins in a light, golden tone — after a volunteer said, “wear the dress, don’t let the dress wear you.” More information: