Diana Hunter found the perfect dress for her junior prom last year. The red floor length gown, with a long trail of silver and red beaded flowers wrapping around the side, caught her eye on a rack in Meaggan Bos’ Family and Consumer Sciences Classroom last year.
So, the senior donated a dress her grandmother bought her, and took the red one.
She joined more than 250 other girls in the district in using “Cinderella’s Closet,” a program at Soldotna High School that provides free prom dresses and accessories to girls in the school district.
“Some girls might have this perception that they have to have a one-of-a-kind dress that no one else wore before,” Hunter said. “I don’t know, I think any dress that’s beautiful should be used, it doesn’t matter who wore it before.”
Heather Schaefer, a Soldotna High School sophomore, found her dress this year during homeroom.
“It’s like full length to the floor and it’s pink and it’s got silver sequins and stuff on it,” she said. “There were a lot of cool looking dresses ... I was just surprised to find one that I just really loved.”
So, Schaefer, like Hunter who donated a dress her grandmother bought for her, offered a trade.
“I had a bunch of dresses that my sisters wore that I was never going to wear,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer said she will probably donate the dress back when she is done with it.
The donation system has exceeded Bos’ wildest expectations since she started the program three years ago.
“I kind of assumed that maybe we would help 10 to 15 girls a year,” Bos said.
Now, she has 286 dresses from size 0 to size 26 and 56 pairs of shoes sitting in the back of her classroom.
“I like how supportive our community has been,” she said. “It has been wonderful to have that support, not only from students but to have the 70-year-old woman who brings in her prom dresses where she says, ‘It might be out of style, but somebody might like to wear it as a vintage style.’”
The idea sprang from Bos’ experiences attending Soldotna High School’s proms every year.
“I saw all these gorgeous dresses that girls were wearing for prom and I was as asking the girls, ‘What do you do when you’re done with your dresses?’ Most of them said ‘Oh, well I put them in my closet or, you know, we borrow them with each other, friends borrow them or things like that,’” Bos said. “I also saw some students who could not necessarily afford prom dresses ... why not have them available for girls that may not be able to afford them?”
So she came up with Cinderella’s Closet.
“Cinderella wanted to go to the ball but she didn’t have a gown to wear ... so that’s kind of where the name came from,” Bos said.
Every dress Bos has was donated by a community member.
“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “Some of them, you know, I may look at them and think, ‘Ah well, that one looks kind of dated,’ and I also think to myself, you know, that some girl may be able to rock that ‘80s velvet.”
During its first year the program served Soldotna High School and Skyview High school, but since then Bos said she’s had girls travel from Ninilchik, Nikiski, Kenai and Seward to find dresses.
“It’s definitely a word of mouth thing,” she said. “We don’t check income, if I have a girl that comes in, it doesn’t matter what school she goes to ... it’s not a matter of what school do you go to and do you really need this? It’s like, ‘Hey, do you need a prom dress? Come see what we have.’ Primarily it’s designed for students who can’t afford it, but if a student comes in who maybe could afford it am I going to deny them? No.”
Hunter said she could have afforded a dress if she wanted to buy one last year and she bought her prom dress online this year.
“My mom actually said they could have found one for me if I didn’t want to use that one, but I said no,” Hunter said.
For girls who cannot afford a prom dress, the program gives them the opportunity to fit in with others who have more resources.
“There are girls who do not have an unlimited supply of money to buy prom crud,” said Jill Evans, a library aide at Kenai Central High School. “Some of these dresses and shoes and hair and makeup and jewelry, you’re talking $500 to $600 for some of these kids. Of course you have girls who don’t have anything sitting next to girls who are online shopping. There’s quite an income disparity and it evens it out for some of them.”
Evans said she liked the idea that girls were learning that prom dresses don’t have to be a “wear one time kind of deal.”
Hunter said she borrowed a set of gloves from the closet this year that she intends to return as well and likes the idea that people can benefit from other’s generosity.
“I think it’s awesome because some girls don’t want to go because they can’t afford a really beautiful dress and they don’t want to stand out when they’re at prom ... she kind of puts everyone on the same level,” Hunter said. “I think they should just understand that it’s not, there’s no tag on it like if you use the service then you’re poor or something. It’s just there for whoever either wants to or they can’t afford (a dress) at that moment. I think anyone who does try to attach shame to it should rethink it.”
The closet will be open March 21 and 22 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Soldotna High School.
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Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.