Free frocks let US Cinderellas go to the prom

On a sultry afternoon in Washington's Chinatown, dozens of teenage girls tried on silk and satin evening dresses, chose glittery bling and handbags to match, and walked out without paying.

And it was all perfectly legal.

The girls were at a prom dress giveaway, one of a growing number of events where haves help the have-nots live part of the American dream despite the tough times that have hit the United States.

The prom, an annual high school dance, "is a really important time for Americans and we want to make girls from all different backgrounds feel beautiful on that day without going broke," said Robin Fisher, one of the organizers of the Prom Dress Project, from the Polished Image style consultancy.

"All this stuff was donated, every single thing," she said, waving her hand like a magic wand at racks of evening dresses, tables laden with glittery necklaces and earrings, and silk clutch handbags.

Even the space for the one-night event was donated, and dozens of girls waited in the stuffy corridor of the long, narrow Chinatown Coffee Company cafe to try on dresses in the ladies' room.

Tiffany Cofield held a full-length burgundy dress with diamante studs around the empire waist up against her slender body. A pair of drop earrings caught the late afternoon sun that shone through the cafe's bay window.

Tiffany went to her school prom last year, too, but her mother had to pay for everything.

"Dress, shoes, jewelry, hair - one night, $600," Jacqueline Cofield told AFP. "The people who did this are a blessing."

All the girls in the cafe-turned-changing-room were African American and attend high schools in poor neighborhoods like the southeastern Anacostia district of Washington.

More than a third of residents of southeast Washington live in poverty, and in 2009, the average annual household income in the districts - called wards - in southeast Washington was $47,000, less than half the average in the city as a whole, according to the Urban Institute.

In one southeast ward, the number of people who have such limited resources and incomes that they are eligible for federal aid to buy food has risen by more than 11,000 in a decade to reach 35,423 last year, the Urban Institute says.

That's more than half the ward's population.

For them, splashing out on a prom dress is out of the question.

"The prom is very expensive and very taxing on a family, especially single moms. And there are a lot of single moms in this area," said Stefanie Manns, who will be holding a prom dress giveaway for needy girls in Prince George's County at the end of April.

"I've seen dresses for as much as $600. One dress that you'll wear one night, $600," she said.

"With the economy the way it is, a lot of families just can't afford the prom."

But many will find the means to send their daughter to the prom in the dress of her dreams.

"If we didn't have this event to come to - which I'm glad is saving me $600 - I'd still find a way to let her go to the prom," said Carla Campbell as she waited in line with daughter Martinea to pick out a dress, preferably pink.

"She's a good student and I know how important the prom is. It's a coming-of-age for Americans."

Even in upscale neighborhoods like Georgetown in northwest Washington, where the average family income is more than $250,000, some parents balk at the price on the tag of prom dresses, said Gilda Mizrahi, owner of the "Signature" shop on Wisconsin Avenue.

Granted, in Mizrahi's shop, a prom dress starts at $300 and goes for up to $1,000.

But when mom goes into shock at the price of a frock in Signature, it's not a fairy godmother with a dress giveaway that comes to the rescue but more usually "grandmothers, aunts, friends."

"Everybody will chip in to let a girl have her dream dress for the prom," said Mizrahi.

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Creche Assistant or Nursery Nurse

    £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: The Job Creche Assistant to start asap ...

    Nursery Nurse Level 3

    £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: The Job Nursery Nurse Leeds We are now ...

    Web Developer/UI Developer (HTML5, CSS3,Jquery) London

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

    Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

    £60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering