The perfect dress

by Brian Clarey

(photo by Laura J. Lloyd)

Will he buy me a corsage? Will we take a limo?

Will we go to dinner? Will we dance together all night?

Will he wear a tuxedo? Will he hold my hand?

Will we look into each other’s eyes under the moonlight and then make out until dawn at the afterparty?

Do teenage girls still care about the prom, that most archaic of high school rituals held over from our more formalized past? The prom is old school, very last century, girded with rigorous tradition and stylized pageantry: the flowers, the theme, the election of a king and queen.

And teenagers seem very different today, at least to an old fart like me. They play video games with kids in different time zones. Some of the gay ones are out and about. They sext.

But despite its attendant fuddy-duddery, lots of teenage girls still care about the prom. Because it’s exciting. Because it’s romantic. Because everyone’s gonna be there. Because it’s fun.

There’s the quest for a date — sizing up potential arm candy, orchestrating romantic moments, floating tender offers with much batting of lashes. Or they drop repeated hints to their boyfriends until the thing is booked, the itinerary set.

Oh, the planning! How will we get there? Who’s coming with us? Dinner beforehand or hit the parties? And what in the world are we going to do afterwards?

But the biggest thing on the mind of every teenage girl headed for prom is this: What am I going to wear?

Cocktail dress or ball gown? Straps or sleeves? Bodice, bateau, halter or deep-V? Sequins? Definitely sequins.

And any teenage girl headed for prom can also tell you that a good prom dress — a halfway decent one — can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars well into the four-figure range and even up and above 10 grand.

Not too many high-end prom dresses will sell this season in Greensboro, where 20 percent of our residents — many of them school-age children — live in poverty. For a lot of these kids, even a prom on a budget is still prohibitively expensive.

So here, at the Goodwill retail store on North Battleground Avenue and also at the one on Samet Drive in High Point, prom night is democratized, brought to the masses in an event coordinated by Goodwill Industries of Central North Carolina and 107.5 WKZL called Give a Girl a Gown, for the fourth year in a row.

It begins as a clothing drive with an agenda: gently used prom dresses, bridesmaid frocks, ball gowns and even castoff wedding dresses which are then laundered and sorted, priced between $10 and $20 and then matched with young ladies, each of whom feels a connection with the dress she chooses, that it was meant just for her.

There’s some good stuff here, more than 300 of them: Here’s a slim gown with a subtle leopard print on the purple shawl; a powder-blue Cinderella dress with spaghetti straps, sequins, ribbons and a flower of crepe at the waist; a pale-green satin tea-length dress with a chocolatebrown ribbon belt; a lace overlay cocktail dress, black, skirted, with cap sleeves; a slinky midnight purple number, great for dancing, with sequined accents down one leg.

Terri Sims-Warren, a social worker at Ben L. Smith High School, was here when the place opened at 9 a.m. with three students who she says would not have been able to afford brand-new dresses for this year’s prom, to be held May 14 at the NC A&T University Alumni Ballroom.

“I brought three students and we ended up finding two dresses,” she says, though she adds that there are probably 50 girls at Smith in the same situation.

“It’s a big self-esteem thing,” she says. “It’s something all high school girls should be a part of. We want to make sure each student who wants to can go.”

LaShai Irving stands outside the store with her new purchase, a gold goddess dress, full length, with straps that cross in the back and a brilliant field of sequins on the bodice.

“I love gold,” she says. She’ll be wearing her hair down, she says — “Everybody gets their hair up,” she says. “I’ll probably go down, with curls.” And as for shoes, something gold, of course. With a heel.

Her friend Charmya Thornton scored a persimmon halter dress with thin straps that cross, brand new, with the tags on it and everything.

They’ve got dates, too: boyfriends, whom they hope to bedazzle. Sims-Warren knows it all too well. She graduated from Southwest DeKalb High School in Decatur, Ga.

Not too long ago, she says, and memories of her prom still spark a light in her eyes, make her swoon just a little.

“It was everything I dreamed it would be,” she smiles. “The food was the bomb. We danced all night long. It’s something every high school girl needs to experience.”

If you want to donate to the Give a Girl a Gown campaign with dresses, shoes or services like hair, nails or makeup, contact Terri Sims-Warren at 336.294.7300 x4715.