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


Bring warm clothes December 17, 2010

ABOUT TWO MONTHS AGO, after my second daughter had just returned from Argentina and was searching for a job, I suggested that she volunteer at the St. Vincent dePaul Center for Charitable Services in Faribault. I figured the organization could use her Spanish speaking skills.

I was right. She interpreted for some of the Hispanic people who came to the center for assistance. And in the process, I think she gained as much as she gave.

By serving, we grow to understand the needs and the value of caring for others.

My daughter has since finished her brief volunteerism in Faribault and moved on to a full-time job as a Spanish medical interpreter in east-central Wisconsin. She’s doing what she most loves—speaking Spanish. And, in the process, through her work, she’s helping others.

Like my second oldest, you too can help those in need.

Last night I received an e-mail from Milo Larson, a Faribault businessman determined to welcome and assist our community’s immigrants and others in need. He’s been active in the Faribault Diversity Coalition.

He writes: “With this extremely cold fall and winter, St. Vincent dePaul is in dire need of winter clothes. The cold weather clothing is going out as fast as they come in. Please check your homes and see if you have any extra clothing lying around. If you run across winter clothing on sale or at garage sales, it would be greatly appreciated.”

Winter clothing—coats, hats, mittens, sweaters, snow pants, new socks, boots, gloves—are needed.

“Like every other year, the young children 8 and under are especially in need. Most of the children’s clothes are usually worn out after they are handed down to their brothers or sisters so if you see children’s clothes on sale, please don’t hesitate (to buy).”

Just like the people Larson is referring to, I know what it’s like to grow up without a lot of money. Although we had no charitable service to turn to for clothing, my family got clothing from relatives—hand-me-downs from cousins and new clothing from generous aunts. Clothes were passed down from sibling to sibling until, truly, they were nearly threadbare.

That family closeness and connectedness which existed years ago doesn’t necessarily exist today. Families today must rely on the generosity of caring strangers, like you.

If you live in Faribault and would like to donate new or gently-used warm winter clothes to St. Vincent dePaul, drop your contributions off between 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday – Friday at the center in the former Sacred Heart School at 617 Third Avenue N.W. Donations may also be left at Larson’s Faribault Print Shop, 302 Central Avenue. Call 507-334-2100 for more information.

Now, I realize that many of my readers don’t live anywhere near Faribault. So reach out to those in need within your community by volunteering or donating. Everywhere, families are in need and we ought to care.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling