Girls gushed over gowns with sequins, modeled brightly colored dresses for their mothers and friends, and picked through tables of glittery high-heeled shoes, and left without paying.
The girls, mostly students from Prince George’s County high schools, combed through about 500 dresses at an annual prom dress giveaway, which included etiquette and safety seminars, Sunday afternoon at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville.
“Sometimes money is very tight,” said Cicily Marshall, a Northwestern High senior class co-sponsor who helped to organize the event. “We had a lot of girls who wanted to go to the prom but didn’t have the money for a dress.”
Northwestern High faculty, churches and community organizations joined the Prince George’s County alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which has organized a dress giveaway for the last two years, in collecting dresses for students who might not be able to afford to purchase a new dress.
“Economic times are tough,” said Diane Venable, the president of the alumnae chapter. “Without this event, there are many girls who would not be able to attend the prom.”
As Marchae Redfearn, a senior at Parkdale High School in Riverdale, draped several dresses over her arm in search of the perfect shiny, purple strapless gown for her school’s Hollywood-themed prom on May 18, her mother agreed with Venable.
“Finances are kind of tight,” Hyattsville resident Shawntise Redfearn said. “We want to find something beautiful here.”
According to a Visa Inc. survey released earlier this month, families with teenagers will spend an average of almost $1,100 on prom this year.
Semira Tesfai, a senior at Northwestern High, and her personal shopper, a volunteer from the alumnae chapter, scanned the rainbow-colored rows of shoes for a pair that would match the black and gold full-length dress she chose for Northwestern’s Night at the Oscars prom.
It was a relief to find a dress and one that will make her “stand out in a good way,” 17-year-old Semira said. It also helps that the dress was free.
“I figured it’d be easier on [her parents], because there’s so much upcoming to pay for with graduation, college, vacation,” she said.
Almost 90 girls had showed up at the giveaway by mid-afternoon, and organizers were expecting more by the end of the afternoon, said Arndreya Price, who co-chaired the event for Delta Sigma Theta. The group gave away about 100 dresses during each of the previous years’ events.
Nicole Schmidt, a co-sponsor of the Northwestern High senior class, said the groups also solicited donations of tuxedos or contributions that could help boys rent tuxedos.
But before they could go shopping among the racks of dresses set up in the school cafeteria, students learned a bit about proper manners, good hygiene, and how to make safe decisions on prom night. Cynthia Birks, a Delta Sigma Theta volunteer who led one of the sessions, said students talked about how to say no when offered an alcoholic drink, how dates should treat each other, and how to act like a lady or a gentleman.
“We just always want to make sure we arm our kids with the right information, reliable information,” Birks said. “You do better when you know better.”