Camille Stevens and Sarah Dooley, local high-school students, browse the racks of dresses at this year’s prom dress giveaway at the “Prom Dress Boutique” downtown. Photo by Isaac Miller.

Camille Stevens and Sarah Dooley, local high-school students, browse the racks of dresses at this year’s prom dress giveaway at the “Prom Dress Boutique” downtown. Photo by Isaac Miller.

While prom is now merely a distant memory for most collegiates, high-school students are knee-deep in the action of making plans for the big night. 

However, hunting down a beautiful, affordable dress remains a challenge for many.

In recognition of the need for affordability in a financially depressed economy, City Councilmember Tony Madrigal and Classic Cleaners sponsored their first prom dress giveaway last weekend to help high-school girls tackle the daunting task cost-free. Free dresses were offered to any girl who needed one for her big day, no questions asked.

“Attending your high-school prom is a great American tradition,” Madrigal said. “High-priced proms with all the expenses, including clothing and accessories, can very easily make a prom feel out-of-reach, leaving some students feeling left out.”

Over 2,000 dresses were collected through donations from citizens of Santa Cruz County over recent months. Community members were recruited to bring new and gently used dresses to any Classic Cleaners location, as well as other spots around the county set up for the drive. Armfuls of dresses were dished out at three “prom dress boutiques” on Saturday and Sunday in downtown Santa Cruz, Felton and Watsonville.

Aleen Raybin, a youth advocate at the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center (WAWC), expressed appreciation for the generous donations.

“People in Santa Cruz really responded to the drive,” Raybin said. “The community of Santa Cruz really came through.”

Jenn O’Brien-Rojo, the resource development director at the WAWC elaborated on the success of their outreach.

“When they got there to open there were already 10 to 15 girls lined up,” O’Brien-Rojo said of the Felton location.

Girls arrived consistently throughout business hours, bringing along a valued second opinion in the form of a friend or mother. 

Camille Stevens and her friend Sarah Dooley, two local Santa Cruz high-school students, giggled and chattered about their plans for prom while sorting through the silk and satin hanging on garment stands. 

“I’ve been looking forward to prom for many years,” Stevens said. “We’ve had plans to go together since middle school.”

Racks were hung with a rainbow of gowns in all styles, and tables displaying glittering jewelry were stationed next to shelves of high heels awaiting their new owners. 

Some girls had visions of what style they were looking for before they hit the racks. Stevens had a clear thought of what her prom dress would look like.

“My perfect dress would be something similar to a strapless, 1950s formal cocktail dress,” she said.

Others simply knew they wanted something fabulous.

“I really don’t have criteria, it’s really about what makes me feel good,” Sarah Dooley said.

Shoreline Cosmetology School is offering girls free make-up and hair for their special day, one of many local vendors who are donating time and resources. Classic Cleaners contributed much time and effort into making this event happen as well.

“Classic Cleaners have been amazing with all of this,” Raybin said. “They cleaned every single dress before [the giveaway].”

“Elected officials who have a good idea [still] need a team of community volunteers,” Councilmember Madrigal said. “I feel blessed for all the people who made this possible.” 

The organizers and volunteers of the first-ever prom dress giveaway don’t have a definite count yet of how many dresses were handed out, but they are confident the event was not just a success in numbers.

“This will reach way beyond the girls that showed up,” O’Brien-Rojo said. “It will let people know they live in a community that really cares about them, and cares about something as basic as the prom.”