Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Prom economics 101: Lessons in giving March 30, 2011

The 1984 formal I donated to the FHS NHS Prom Dress Drive .

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO my husband stuffed a 1984 lavender formal into the back seat of our car and delivered it to Faribault High School. (I was sick that day or I would have dropped off the old bridesmaid’s dress myself.)

He was donating my dress, which has hung in an upstairs closet for decades, to the FHS National Honor Society’s first-ever Prom Dress Drive.

Naturally, I couldn’t allow this event to pass without asking whether a local high school student will wear “my” dress to the April 30 FHS prom. I also wanted to know how the drive went.

Although several young women tried on my lavender formal and one in particular with sewing abilities considered changing it up, no one bought it, says NHS co-advisor and FHS English language arts instructor Rachael Hoffman.

However, Hoffman, who is also the FHS theater wardrobe director, says she’s keeping my cast-off for possible use in future FHS theatrical productions.

Of 80 – 85 donated dresses, about 15 were sold with prices ranging from $2 – $50 and averaging around $20. Donations included vintage to current fashionable dresses, a few with price tags still attached. Shoes and jewelry were also contributed.

Hoffman, while grateful for the quantity of dresses donated, was hoping for more shoppers. Yet her enthusiasm for the project and its purpose cannot be quelled.

I’ll let her share a story that nearly moved me to tears. “I was overjoyed to hear a student say that she wouldn’t have to order a dress to fit her size this year since she found one at our drive,” Hoffman writes in an e-mail. “You could see on her face that she felt pretty and I really felt that made the drive worth it.

I also think that some of the NHS students who worked at the drive with me got to put themselves in other students’ shoes for a moment. It was a valuable experience.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

While the project was a fundraiser for the NHS (the group raised about $400), Hoffman says more importantly that it was a service to the students and the community during difficult economic times. “It was my personal hope that a student who could not afford a dress would come and buy one. We did, in fact, have a few students who showed up with this purpose. It was a wonderful reward.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Hoffman clearly understands her students. “As a teacher at FHS, I know that many of these young people work jobs not merely for themselves but to contribute to their families in these hard times, or to save for college,” this astute educator observes. “We really wanted to serve our community in this way. Prom is a special occasion and many families cannot afford ‘extras’ right now. We wanted to make this less of a stressor on normal working families and more of an event to look forward to for the students.”

No one left the Prom Dress Drive without a dress, if they wanted one, Hoffman says. Prices were negotiable and most donors told organizers to give away their dresses (if they could not sell them) to anyone who needed a formal.

Lessons like that in giving from the heart can’t be taught in a classroom.

Details on the front of a lovely formal that also hangs in my closet and which my eldest wore in a friend's wedding. It would make a lovely prom dress, but it wasn't mine to give. Maybe next year?

THE GIVING DIDN’T END in Faribault. Extra Prom Dress Drive formals which won’t be utilized locally were donated to Total Care Cleaners. The south metro business sells the dresses for $10 to any prom-goer who needs one. Total Care also gives away $10 in dry cleaning services for each donated dress.

“They were so appreciative of the donations and excited to give more students this option for a prom dress,” says Julie Petersen, a co-advisor for Faribault’s NHS and a FHS Spanish instructor. “The owner said that many of the girls he helps would not be able to go to prom if not for the dresses he gets donated.”

That economic reality extends nationwide. At donatemydress.org, a national network connecting local dress drive organizations across the country, you’ll find a state-by-state listing of groups sponsoring these dress projects. Scroll to Minnesota and you can link to five metro area formal dress drives—Ever After Gowns, Operation Glass Slipper and The Paperbag Princess—and the two businesses-based projects at Vista Images and Total Care Cleaners.

I expect there are other Minnesota dress drives not listed on this website.

At least one of the prom projects, South St. Paul-based The Paperbag Princess, also accepts suits. Some take accessories too. Ever After Gowns will even accept spa products and new makeup.

I commend groups like the FHS National Honor Society for undertaking a drive like this which offers affordable prom attire to young women. NHS members seem to have benefited from the project, in lessons learned, as much as the young women who found prom formals.

Now, if only the cost of attending the FHS prom—$175 per couple for the event to be held at a South Saint Paul night club—would be more affordable…

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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