Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dressing up like Cinderella on the cheap March 1, 2011

TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES prompt us to look for creative ways to save money.

That stated, if you are the parent of a high school age daughter who will attend prom in a month or two, listen up. Your girl can dress up like Cinderella without breaking the bank.

I would love to take credit for the following thrifty idea, but I can’t. I’m sure it’s been tried many other places. But this is the first time I’ve heard of a Prom Dress Drive in Faribault.

I learned of the drive, sponsored by the Faribault High School National Honor Society, via an insert included with my son’s mid-quarter grades.

NHS members are accepting donations of formal dresses that are in “good, sellable condition.” They promise to reasonably price and sell the formals to prom-goers.

I didn’t see any other restrictions listed…which means maybe I can get rid of that purple and lavender bridesmaid dress hanging in my closet since, oh, 1984. I actually loved the dress when I wore it. A young woman who is a size 12 might like it too. I have no use for the formal and when I slipped the cinching waistband around my waist, let’s just say I couldn’t button it in place.

A belted waistband buttons at the back of the bridesmaid dress I wore in 1984.

Ruffles accent the neckline of the dress.

Layers and bows define the full skirt. Follow this post to the end for a view of the entire dress.

Anyone may donate dresses to the Prom Dress Drive from 4 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 11, and from 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, at the FHS Black Box Theater. Enter through the northeast doors at the front of the building.

Then, from 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, and Thursday, March 17, doors on the northeast side of FHS will be open for prom-goers to try on and purchase dresses.

To me this seems like a win-win situation. Donors clear their closets of unwanted formals given to a good cause. NHS kids earn money. And prom-goers save money.

The NHS students are also accepting cash donations, although they don’t explain why they want cash too. Are they giving out a random cash prize? Are they donating the cash to charity? How will the money be used?

For now, women, check your closets and consider donating to this project. I’m all for a drive like this that will help make prom more affordable. I don’t know the costs of attending prom. But with attire, flowers, food, photos, salon and transportation expenses, I bet attendees who don’t penny-pinch easily spend $500.

Other affordable options for dresses include borrowing a formal, shopping at a thrift or second-hand store or browsing the classified ads. In local recently-published classifieds, I saw a candy apple green dress advertised for $90. It cost $300 new. Another seller was pushing a baby blue ballroom-style prom dress for $150. I expect lots more of these ads as prom time draws nearer.

Those who wish to save even more money can consider foregoing the dining out experience by dining in. Back in the 1980s, my youngest brother and his date, now his wife of 22 years, sat down to a pre-prom dinner at my parents’ house. This year my niece and her friends plan to gather at her dad’s house for a prom dinner.

(The in-house dining has the added benefit of parental supervision and keeping kids safer by cutting out the long-distance travel to dine out.)

Nothing says you have to follow the expected norm.

I say when times are tough, and even when they’re not tough, curtail your spending at prom time. Be proud of your frugality.

I hope young women and parents embrace this recycled prom dress idea and realize that prom can be just as enjoyable in a second-hand dress as in a new dress.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on this dress drive and/or the cost of attending prom? Do you have any money-saving tips for prom to pass along?


Should I donate this 1984 formal to the Prom Dress Drive? Will today's teen think it cool vintage chic or totally outdated? I value honesty. I paid $124 for this dress 27 years ago and wore it once.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “Dressing up like Cinderella on the cheap”

  1. Kristin Says:

    Maybe someone will go all “Pretty in Pink” (or Pretty in Lavender) on it?

  2. Bernie Says:

    Donate it. You never know, someone might find it hip and vintage. I shudder at saying vintage for the 80s/

    Love, Love,Love the idea of the dress thing. I have heard about other towns doing the same thing. Its a great way for girls to be able to afford prom. Its also a nice way to “play it forward.”

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yeah, the 80s really aren’t “vintage” considering I was born in the 1950s. But today’s youth would likely consider the dress vintage. I like the idea of recycling prom dresses. Like you, I’m a big fan of thrift stores, rummage sales, etc.

  3. Barbilou Says:

    I can picture it shortened (above knee) and pouffed out with a bunch-o-petticoats. Been seeing them on American Idol…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Great idea! I never would have thought of shortening the dress. So…, what do you think, readers?

  4. T.L. Says:

    Okay, my bridesmaids wore the same EXACT dress in my wedding in 1984. The bottom layer is actually a separate slip that needn’t be worn. I believe my sister-in-law wore it to her prom in 1985. Hmmm…don’t know if 1980’s era is truly “vintage” yet!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, you clearly had good taste back in 1984. And, no, I don’t consider the 80s to be vintage.

      Anyway, seems I might be right on track to recycle this bridesmaid’s dress as a prom dress via the Prom Dress Drive. You’re correct; the bottom skirt is separate from the rest of the dress.

  5. jhc1218 Says:

    I really like the lavendar color on this, and it could be really cute if shortened. Someone with some sewing skills could do wonders. I can’t believe this was $124 in 1984, that was one expensive dress.
    You might want to call the drive organizers and see if there are guidelines before you pack it up. I was going to donate my old prom dresses from the late 90s and they only wanted ones that were less than 5 years old.
    Good luck on cleaning out the closet.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Lavender/purple is “my color” and one of the reasons I like this dress so much. Also, it was just plain fun to wear. Yes, $124 was a lot for a bridesmaid’s dress. But…, if you’re asked to be in a wedding…

      The guidelines for dress donations didn’t specify year restrictions, so I’m not concerned about age. I like that whole idea of shortening the dress to update it.

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