Washington Academy prom boutique gives away 67 dresses

If you were a teenage girl once upon a time (bless you if you ever were), you likely have vivid memories of your prom: who you went with, how you got there and most importantly, what you wore.

For better or for worse, prom is a milestone in every teenage girl’s life. With dresses costing upward of $250 these days, that special night can be a financial burden to many young ladies.

But for more than 60 Washington County girls, that burden was lifted this past Saturday, when girls from high schools across the county were invited to come find a free prom dress at Washington Academy’s prom dress giveaway.

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Mathy Terrill, the academy’s social studies department head, said the idea came to her after visiting a Whiting soup kitchen with a group of National Honor Society students and noticing how many people in the community are in need. Washington County is the poorest in the state.

“We decided we should do a big community project, and I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” Terrill said as music by Beyoncé blasted through the speakers in the school’s cafeteria. She sought dress donations through social media, but wasn’t sure if the idea would catch on. The Cinderella Project in Belfast sent 200 dresses, and by the day of the April 11 giveaway, a total of 375 dresses were donated. In all, 67 dresses were given away.

The dresses were free of charge; the only stipulation was that each girl tries to “pay it forward” by donating a dress the following year. Racks of dresses in all colors and sizes, from classic black dresses, to bright pink ball gowns and green and yellow cheetah print sheaths lined the cafeteria, which felt more like a makeshift department store than a cafeteria.

Jonesport-Beals High School sophomore Brooke Alley, 16, scoured the racks for a long, pink dress. “She likes anything that’s pink,” said her grandma, Becky Libby, who acted as Alley’s fashion consultant.

Later in the afternoon, a beaming Alley emerged from a makeshift dressing room with exactly what she came for, a long, pink halter gown. “It looks really pretty on her,” said Libby, who added that they plan to donate old dresses next year.

In one corner of the cafeteria, Mary Kay representatives were on hand for makeup consultations. A representative from Origami Owl jewelry had a table of gems to sell at a discount. “We have prom lockets at half-price, and 10 percent off anything else, because some girls may not have the money to spend on jewelry,” said jewelry rep Christy Alley.

Andrea Guerra, owner of Posh consignment and boutique in Machias, was doling out fashion tips and hair lessons. “We are here to steer the girls in the right direction,” she said, adding that she hopes that the prom boutique will “help make frugal cool.”

After countless high school dances, senior Hayley Simmonds, who helped organize the event, is a pro at finding the perfect dress.

“I am just here to tell [the girls] what looks good, and if they like it, because it’s all about them, you know?” she said. “I’ve tried on a bunch of dresses today and I found some online that I really like, but if I can save $200, that’s even better.”

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