Wellington Secondary School Grade 12 students Emma Campbell, left, and Holly Cochrane show off a couple of dress samples available from Prom Closet Nanaimo. The non-profit has about 400 prom dresses in all colours, styles and sizes, which it will offer free to graduating teens. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Prom Closet Nanaimo helps students get prom perfect

Hundreds of dresses and suits at February boutique are free for graduating students

There are no glass slippers or fairy godmothers at Prom Closet Nanaimo, but volunteers are helping teens feel like the belle of the ball without breaking the bank.

Prom Closet, a non-profit, is all about dialing down the financial pressure of prom and giving Vancouver Island’s graduating students an alternative to buying new.

Since it opened in 2015, it’s helped more than 100 students from communities like Nanaimo, Duncan, Port Alberni and Ahousaht.

Prom can be a “huge expense,” with the gown, hair, makeup and sometimes, nails, eyelashes and limousines, according to Moira Rispin, secretary for John Barsby Secondary’s counselling department, who says it “gets really crazy” and doesn’t take long to get up to $1,000.

Rispin said Prom Closet is a really great service, particularly for kids with financial need, adding it might be the deciding factor if they go to prom or not. But she also finds the organization is an option for students who are socially responsible. There are lots of young people who don’t want to spend money when it’s not necessary and they can reuse, she said.

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With this year’s formal around the corner, the organization has an estimated 400 new and lightly used gowns in a kaleidoscope of colour and rhinestones, from sleek styles to princess poof, and sizes 0-26 for students to choose from. There are also wraps, purses and jewelry, as well as suits, tuxedos and shirts.

It’s all free for graduating guys and girls.

Personal assistants will even help students find the right outfit, make the necessary alterations and have it delivered in time for the big night.

“We’ve had moms in tears. We’ve had kids who don’t believe that it’s free,” said Prom Closet coordinator Joan Hiemstra of a boutique event where students pick their outfits. “Some of these girls are so used to looking at price tags, so when there are no price tags and they can actually choose what they like regardless of price, it doesn’t have to be on the clearance rack, they are like kids in a candy shop.

“It can be emotional sometimes, but mostly it’s fun.”

Prom Closet volunteer Theresa Ratzlaff said the best part of volunteering is seeing the person’s face light up when they have the outfit on that they know they’re going to wear to prom, they feel special and it’s made the event magical for them.

Students can e-mail promcloset.nanaimo@gmail.com to make an appointment for the prom boutique Feb. 20-24. There are also short date dresses for non-graduates for a suggested $20 donation.

The organization is also seeking donations of suits and tuxedos. For more information about Prom Closet visit www.promclosetnanaimo.ca.

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