Driven by the need to be in the running for best dressed, hundreds of thousands of teen girls and boys flock to shopping malls, boutiques, and tuxedo shops every Spring for prom gear. The last place most teens see themselves is in line for a free gown or tuxedo. Yet those brave enough to try an increasingly popular alternative means to a fashionable end stand the chance of shaving hundreds off the total prom bill.

“The hardest part for us is getting all of the students to understand that these are not hand-me downs that look like hand-me downs. These are $200 and $400 dresses that people are giving away and not expecting anything in return,” said co-founder of The Magic Wand Project, Kim Moss.

“Maybe they were a single mom or they know somebody so they just do it,” said Moss, who knows first hand the stressors that come along with getting a satisfied teen off to prom on an even happier note fiscally.

Teen girls now spend between $60-200 on hair, depending on style and quality of additional hair pieces wanted, according to the ladies of GoalDiggers: The Sankofa Project, a program for young ladies that helps foster positive self-esteem as identity is formed. Ladies who want a full set of nails can add roughly $30 to the tab and dinner for two at a suitable restaurant could cost a young couple around $50. Add on the red tape of senior fees and the cost of prom tickets and students quickly begin to use those algebra skills to see what fits into the budget.

“Right now I’m at $1,600,” said Nakiarah Johnson, a Western High School junior who will attend prom this weekend. “My mom is making me pay for my shoes, my make-up, and my hair.”Johnson says she has been looking forward to this night since 5th grade, and chose to have her aunt make her prom gown from one she saw at New York’s Fashion Week.

“I just love getting dressed up- that was my biggest thing coming to high school: going to prom and looking like a beautiful queen- glowing and standing out.” However expensive all of the trimmings of prom may be, at the top of the list is always fashion. Organizations like The Priceless Gown Project aim to make that detail the one that makes the smallest dent on the wallet. The program began in 2004 and services students in Baltimore City, Baltimore and Prince George’s Counties, as well as in the Washington Metropolitan Area.

“I think prom night is really important. Some of these kids are coming from different backgrounds and environments and they work really hard and they are not often acknowledged for the hard work that they have done,” said Lindsey Collier, of The Priceless Gown Project. The initiative uses the time to not only get teens ready for prom, but for life after high school as well. Taking full advantage of the opportunity to mentor, Collier says the day, complete with glam squad tutorial sessions, gets the students thinking about the next steps after graduation.

“We focus a lot on prom night- specifically with the dresses, but it gives an opportunity to share with the young women in a way that they may not have at home,” said Collier. Though a vast majority of prom giveaways cater to young ladies, Moss says it is important to remember that families with young men going to prom struggle just as hard to make the occasion a significant one.

“We have given away tuxedos and shoes and shirts,” said Moss. “I think it’s important for people to understand that the boys always get left out and a lot of times they don’t have anything,” said Moss.

The Magic Wand Project will hold offer dress sizes 0-26 at its giveaway, noon to 4 p.m., April 22 at the Holiday Inn at 15101 Swietzer Lane (20707).

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer