How two Phoenix organizations help local teens’ prom dreams come true | Phoenix New Times
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How two Phoenix organizations help teens’ prom dreams come true

Prom can be expensive, but The Prom Closet and Valley Girl Dresses are helping Phoenix teens look great on a budget.
A blue dress is laid across a bed in the Gilbert casita where Reilly Oliphant runs Valley Girl Dresses.
A blue dress is laid across a bed in the Gilbert casita where Reilly Oliphant runs Valley Girl Dresses. Lauren Kobley/Cronkite News

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Prom season is upon us, and some high schoolers are looking for a more affordable and sustainable option when purchasing a dress this year.

The price of a new prom dress could range from $85 to $900, but most people will spend an average of $400 to $500, says Kunal Madan, co-founder of dress company Amarra. According to the company’s guide to navigating prom costs, total costs could be upward of $2,000.

The Prom Closet

Zoe Jane Sandige, a senior at Central High School, is looking forward to her school’s Disney-themed prom. She wanted a dress that would emulate the classic Disney princess look without the hefty price tag.

The Prom Closet is a community service project sponsored by the Peoria North Rotary Club, assisted by other West Valley Rotary Clubs, volunteers, donors and local businesses. It has been serving families across the state for the past 10 years. The closet offers new and gently used formal wear for all high schoolers free of charge.

The Rotarians collect, sort and store donations throughout the year. They partner with local businesses, such as Century 21 Northwest Realty, which serve as donation drop-off locations for people to bring their donations. Century 21 Northwest is one of the closet’s biggest donation partners.

The closet is open for two weekends each April, when students can browse through hundreds of dresses, suits, shoes and accessories. All students are welcome, and there are no financial requirements or restrictions in order to participate.
“Kids come from over 100 schools – as far away as the Navajo reservation and south to Casa Grande,” says Donnis Deever, past director of The Prom Closet.

Students had the first chance this year to shop at The Prom Closet earlier this month. That day, volunteers helped about 235 high schoolers who were looking for their perfect prom attire. One of those high schoolers was Zoe Jane. This year, she is taking her cousin who didn’t get to have a senior prom since she graduated in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Zoe Jane and her mom, Dacia Wagoner, searched through the racks for the right dress, they laughed and smiled. Zoe Jane took four dresses into the dressing rooms. Wagoner patiently waited alongside other parents for their children to come on stage and model their clothing.

When Zoe Jane stepped out from behind the blue velvet curtain wearing a red dress, her face immediately lit up. As she spun around on stage in the red ball gown adorned with gold lace details, she was having her real-life Disney princess moment in what clearly was her perfect dress.

“I love the top of the dress. The details on it are really pretty with all the beading, and it’s a poofy dress so it fits the Disney-princess theme,” Zoe Jane said. “Overall, I would rate my experience a 9 out of 10. There are a lot of choices and going on the stage was fun.”

From there it was on to accessories and alterations, also for free. In addition to clothing, The Prom Closet also has shoes and jewelry available. On site, there are volunteers who can make minimal alterations and adjustments to the outfits. As the volunteer seamstress was reattaching some of the gold lace pieces, Zoe Jane and her mom picked out a gold-and-orange necklace and earring set that paired perfectly with the red dress. The final step was to get the outfit steamed and bagged up.

“When you watch those girls come out on the stage, you can see the smiles and the gleaming and you know how happy they feel,” said Gina Schmitz, co-director of The Prom Closet. “Some of them have never put on a (prom) dress … before. When they finally find the one, that smile, it just makes you happy.”
click to enlarge
Valley Girl Dresses owner Reilly Oliphant sorts through one of the dress racks in her Gilbert casita.
Lauren Kobley/Cronkite News

Valley Girl Dresses

A local business is also helping cut down the cost of prom dresses.

Reilly Oliphant has run her dress-rental business, Valley Girl Dresses, out of her Gilbert casita in 2021. She gets dresses from family, friends and community members who donate to her business. She has also purchased some of the dresses in her collection.

The dress-rental business is run via her Instagram account, Valley Girl Dresses, where customers can schedule a consultation with Oliphant. To prepare for the consultations, Oliphant hangs the dresses up on a clothing rack in her casita. When customers arrive, they can try on multiple dresses Oliphant chooses based on the size and style parameters they share with her, and clients can browse her available inventory on the website.

“I originally decided to do this because I have a lot of friends that are photographers, and they have a lot of clients who want to get really pretty gowns to get really good pictures,” Oliphant said. “But, now I’ll get people that are trying to find a dress for their bachelorette party or their bridal shower or prom.”

Rentals range from $20 to $100. Oliphant will make small alterations before pickup, and clients agree to pay for any damages outside of her ability to fix.

“Sustainability is huge for me. If you’re in a time crunch and you need something quick and cheap, you usually get something from a website that isn’t always focused on sustainability. My dresses are a great option because all of them are sustainable and have been worn multiple times in the past,” Oliphant said.

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
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