Prom attire can be expensive, but volunteers and shopkeepers do what they can to make their clients smile.
It’s not hard to find prom dresses priced like big-screen televisions in shops and boutiques or even big department stores.
For some, deciding to spend upwards of $750 for a gown isn’t so much a question of finance as it is one of style for one special night.
Then there’s shoes, maybe dinner, possibly a limo.
“Prom in total can cost around $1,000 per girl,’’ said Christine Mayer, a retired member of the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association who joined with Pat Gardner to form Cinderella’s Closet 11 years ago with the goal of helping girls whose options are more limited find free attire.
Mayer said Cinderella’s Closet has grown from 400 gowns in 2010 to around 1,500 this year through donations. There is no charge and no proof of need.
Mayer said she remembered a student a few years ago who came to look for a prom gown, dressed in jeans, boots and camo.
“You could just tell she would have rather been anywhere else,’’ Mayer said. “But she tried on the dress in the mirror, and it was like her whole face changed. It was this real princess-y dress. She was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I look so pretty.’”
Erica Alarcon, owner of Barbie’s Boutique at 539 S. Washington Blvd., said young women come in all the time, especially during prom season, who can’t quite afford their choices. Barbie’s Boutique offers evening-gown style dresses ranging in price from $110 to $750.
“We’re willing to work with shoppers to make sure that they can afford the dresses,” she said. “We can work for a layaway program, where they come back and pay for the dress little by little. I know it’s hard for some girls to afford the dresses, but it’s much more personalized at a boutique like this.”
Alarcon said there are ways around the price issue.
“The name-brand dresses are going to be the most expensive,” she said, “When they have something in mind — color or shape, it can be hard to figure out how to get around price. Teenagers can get upset, but I’m a mom. I feel good when I see their happy faces.”
Alarcon donates dresses, to Booker High School and to Cinderella’s Closet.
Mayer said choosing a gown from her place isn’t always the bigges hurdle. Walking in the door can be.
“I’m not the Gown Patrol, there are no requirements,” she said. “These girls are more often than not swallowing their pride to come to this place to get a dress that isn’t $300. If they need a dress, they’re going to walk out with a dress.”
With the majority of proms taking place in April and early May, it’s not too late, Mayer said.
“I’m not going to turn someone away,” she said.
Meanwhile, shopping in the middle of the prom-dress retail market can be tricky, too. Finding just the right choice is a challenge at any price.
Michelle Gutierrez, a senior at Riverview High School, said she spent $400 on her dress.
“I want to stand out from what other people were wearing,” she said.