Thursday, May 10, 2012

{JMC 335} Free prom dresses in Spokane

Lindsay Hall, a senior at On Track Academy, tries
on a prom gown at Julianne's prom closet.

Early spring brings many things for the inland northwest--sunshine after many months of snow, the morning song of birds chirping, and the promise of fresh produce soon to come from northwest farms. But for high school girls, spring brings one very important event: prom.

Amid all of the prom excitement, though, are girls who aren't sure that they'll be able to go to prom because their families simply can't afford to buy a gown for them.

That's where Julianne's Prom Closet comes in. The Prom Closet is a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to making sure girls of the Pacific Northwest have gowns to wear to prom and other formal events, regardless of their families' financial situations.


Julianne Sullivan, a local nurse, started the organization in 2007 when her daughter competed to be Lilac queen.

“[My daughter] won for Lewis and Clark,” Sullivan said, “and the girl who eventually won queen for the Lilac that year lived with her aunt and uncle and couldn’t afford a dress. Anyway, it was really hard to find a nice, used dress anywhere locally that would look like everybody else’s.”

Sullivan had recently seen an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show that featured a woman who had gathered prom dresses into a bus and taken them to high school girls in the area hit by Hurricane Katrina.

“So, we thought, ‘Why can’t we do something like that?’” Sullivan said.

Sullivan ran the Prom Closet out of her home for much of the first year, but in the end of 2007, had the opportunity to move the organization to its current location downtown. The space now offers two large rooms of dresses and accessories in which girls can shop.

Lindsay Hall, a senior at On Track Academy, tried on more than five gowns at Julianne’s Prom Closet in her search for the perfect dress.

Her shopping experience started with a consultation with Sullivan.

“What kind of dress do you like?” Sullivan asked. “Are you looking for a big poofy prom dress?”

Hall did want to shop for a poofy dress, so Sullivan led her to the second dress room, which the Prom Closet volunteers refer to as the “Poofy Dress Room.” Shopping in that room is a special experience, since only seniors are allowed to shop there.

“Every girl has that image of a princess dress,” Sullivan said. “If we didn’t limit it like that, the poofy dresses would fly out.”

As Hall tried on dresses, some were immediately sent back to the racks because they were too small or too big. Some, though, fit her perfectly.

“[I feel] really good,” Hall said, smiling and wearing an orange halter with a full princess skirt. “It’s really comfortable. I feel so pretty.”

After Hall had tried on a few dresses, Sullivan gave her a surprise when she told Hall they would find her a graduation dress as well.

“That’s so cool,” Hall said. “I’ve been stressing about that too.”

After Hall found what she called the perfect dresses—a yellow strapless gown for prom that allowed her to show off the tattoo on her chest, and a lime green hi-low dress with a pink sash for graduation—Sullivan helped her find shoes to match.

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