Princess For a Day

News & Politics
prom dresses

The music is blasting. The pulse of the bass matches that of your heart. The lights on the dance floor are blue, yellow, and red. You've been pampered from head to fingernails to toe. The corsage is on, dinner reservations are made, picture appointments are scheduled, and of course, you're wearing the perfect dress. Everything's just right. The energy of the room is warmly welcoming. With your date by your side, you feel like a princess.

This is the idealized scene. It is the beginning of the grand, timeless evening, the prom. Of course, the actual effort you spent preparing for this night are magnificently concealed. Preparing can take anywhere from a year to a week. But the bill may present an even larger obstacle.

During the last year of high school, there are countless things that have to be done and paid for. Test fees, college application fees, yearbooks, graduation fees, and the list goes on. Inevitably, there are teens who simply cannot afford to add prom expenses to that list.

That's where the Princess Project comes in.

Thanks to the Princess project, female high school students who couldn't afford them, were given the opportunity to pick out free prom dresses and accessories. It happened on a Saturday, in a warehouse in San Francisco's presidio area. The lines were long, but by the end of the day some 400 girls walked out of the warehouse with prom dresses, purses, accessories, shoes, scarves, and handbags full of free makeup.

It all started when Li Qui, a high school senior, started talking to Laney Whitcanack and Kristi Smith Knutson of Coro Northern California, a non-profit educational leadership program from which Li had recently graduated, about her worries about not being able to attend prom.

Whitcanack and Knutson emailed a few friends to try to find a dress for Li and within a few weeks, they were receiving an overwhelming response from women who wanted to help. Soon, hundreds of dresses were being donated and delivered to the Coro offices. Whitcanack and Knutson, received about a thousand extra dresses and decided to ask for more. They received vintage dresses from the back of women's closets, and corporate donations from stores as large as Macy's, of big named brands like Jessica McClintock. And so the Princess Project began.

Prom or Wedding?
Tickets $40-$75
Hair $25-$60
Shoes $30-$150
Pictures $25-$100
Food $10-$100
Flowers $20-$70
Accessories $5-$40
Limos/Taxis $100-$200
Nails/Makeup $20-$60
Dress $50-$300

Total $338-$1105

Girls didn't have to prove financial hardship to receive a dress. "We weren't here to judge who needed a dress and who didn't," said Knutson. "We just wanted to help." And help they did. Girls came to the Project in groups, alone and with parents.

Some may argue that donating a prom dress is a superficial way to make a difference. Why not give food or money, something that can help change someone's lives for longer than a single night. But that's just it. The prom can be a symbol of something much larger. And Whitcanack and Knutson listened to what many girls identified as a real need. "Girls are telling us that this is important, and that it's expensive," said Knutson.

Attending prom is a choice in itself, and most teens choose to go because it's considered a memorable part of the high school experience. Sure, lots of teens decide not to go, but not having the choice is an entirely different feeling, and the right dress can be an important part of that. The dress is the girl's signature, her expression, and her sense of herself. On the night of the prom, says Li "You want people to comment on your dress. You want people to say, 'Oh, you look so nice tonight!'" Young women are told that these are the kinds of memories that mean something--And it's often true. Even if it's hard to admit. In fifteen years, even the most cynical, jaded teens want to be able to look back and know they looked good.

For many, the prom is the last time that they can enjoy this kind of celebration together with their fellow classmates. It's a "night to remember." It's a right of passage. But what happens after the prom? This project and its effect are different from an ordinary charity food drive or donation. It's about helping create a memory, restoring hope, and an opportunity opened.

This trend of women helping women gives birth to a new awareness for both those who are in need and those who can give. Those who were once discouraged or afraid of seeking any kind of assistance or aid can be assured that they won't be overlooked or left unnoticed. It's about lessening the individual's burden. One frilly dress at a time.

Knutson and Whitcanack hope to construct a plan to expand the Princess Project in the next couple of months. The project received responses and inquiries about starting local projects in states from Wisconsin to New York. Hopefully, with some more preparation and a few changes, the Project will become an annual event.

Seon Hye Moon 16, is a junior at Washington High School and a WireTap contributing writer.

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