The Mystery Client – A Shaw Christmas Story

I’d like to tell you a short story.

This isn’t strictly a Christmas story, but I believe it is in keeping with the spirit of the season. I expect that, by the end of it, some of you will have identified our mystery protagonist, so pay attention and I will begin directly. If you are able to imagine the sound of distant sleigh bells, that would certainly enhance our narrative. But first, whispering pines and …


Narration. Male Voice, Tenor.

Great women have a subtle way, and I keep a close eye on Cheryl Lofton and her shop — but of course I would. In addition to a warm familiarity with Cheryl and her tailors, I am an occasional author of these blog posts, so I watch with a curious and critical gaze from the chairs along the wall as the people of the DMV ebb and flow past the tiny desk in Cheryl’s third-generation tailor shop here in Shaw.

The holidays are a good time for us to take account of the quieter world beyond shouting headlines and the TV-news crawl, to notice what is admirable in our own neighborhoods, where the very people we walk past each morning live and work, hope and struggle. Our community.

Please cue those sleigh bells we talked about …


One day in August, 2017, a woman came to the shop with a beautiful, voluminously layered wedding dress for what Cheryl sometimes refers to as “a full run” of bridal alterations — sides, hem, and add a bustle. Her name was Ariana, and she was quite charming and well-spoken. Like so many others, she found Cheryl through her reputation. I have observed that is not uncommon, particularly for brides.

Without spoiling the ending, the dress turned out great — of course. It took spending some time in the tailor shop for me to fully appreciate the level of experience and dexterity involved in this sort of tailoring.The hem alone required probably 70-80 linear feet of delicate sewing (think the length of a standard semi truck). This is not uncommon. If a hem is not kept razor-straight, it will look immediately shoddy, even with all the ruffles and layers distracting the eye. Adding a bustle is not uncommon either and is roughly analogous to a carpenter building a custom cabinet — from scratch.

A week later (one week!), Cheryl delivered the dress to her grateful and delighted client. Beyond the satisfaction of a job well done, she would not have found the experience remarkable. I watch it happen all the time.


So if all of this is so common, why am I telling this story? Because earlier this year Cheryl saw her client again, resplendent in her wedding gown, but this time it was on the pages of Essence. And this time her eyes went wide. Ariana was wearing some interesting jewelry on her head …

As 2018 draws to a close, a curious mind could reflect upon Ariana’s subtle yet remarkable gift to Cheryl and her team. You see, one facet of Ariana’s graceful modesty is a thoughtful command of her tongue: For whilst so obviously regal in her bearing and manner, she did not name-drop, did not invoke wealth, status, or privilege in an attempt to gain advantage, to have her gown prioritized or handled with extra care. Although, in retrospect, she must have been feeling some pressure surrounding her upcoming nuptials, for our mystery client’s full name is Ariana Austin.

And on September 9th, 2017, 12 years after they met, Cinderella-style, in a DC nightclub, Ms. Austin married Joel Makonnen, known as Prince Yoel, the great-grandson of the last emperor of Ethiopia and a bona fide prince. [link to story] That dress she’s wearing? That’s the one.

Page turn, last page.

Grand establishments the world over may claim to treat their customers like royalty, but in an unassuming storefront on T Street in Washington, an unassuming, young princess kept her identity a secret … and gave CL&A the chance to prove that their service is worthy of royalty in a mystery-shopper scenario with an actual princess. What a wonderful gift, indeed.

So if you ever wondered what it’s really like to be “treated like royalty” and you’ve been a customer of Cheryl Lofton & Associates, well … now you know!

Cease sleigh bells. Happy Holidays.



A warm crackling fire.

It takes a lot of patience to turn an even hem through so many layers of delicate cloth; it demands considerable experience and skill. Even today I am sitting by the windows while the sun pours in — I listen to strangers continue conversations through dressing room curtains and watch clients leave smiling, excited, and thoughtful. Some have only come in to say “Merry Christmas.” I recognize this — I grew up in a small town — but I didn’t know DC could feel this way too, before I found Cheryl’s shop. Great women have a subtle way.

As it turns out, some are princesses — most are not — but they seem to share a belief that nothing genuine is communicable to us through precious gems, a commanding voice, or a lofty title. Rather, it is in expressing our hospitality, dignity, and modesty, and in pursuing genuine excellence in our work and in our interactions with each other, that elevates the worth of our people and helps our own kingdoms to flourish.

Happy Holidays, from Shaw.

Cheryl Lofton is the owner of Cheryl A. Lofton & Associates, a premier full service tailoring company based in Washington DC., renown for precise alterations, bridal fittings and custom tailoring. Written By Christopher Trepky, December 2018.

Cheryl A. Lofton & Associates
719 T St NW, Washington, DC 20001