Priceless Proms: How to make the big night budget-friendly

04/02/2014 12:00 AM

04/01/2014 1:35 PM

Girls are dishing out an average of $230 on prom dresses they wear for the one night – at least, that’s what Seventeen Magazine found when it surveyed readers. But for budget-watching girls such as Gregori High School senior Katherine Siciliani, there’s an alternative.

“I’ve always found cheap ways to do things because high school is way too expensive, so I didn’t want to pay for pointless things like a dress,” she said. “Marissa’s Closet was a perfect alternative for me because they have so many options, and they’re all for free.”

Thanks to Marissa’s Closet, an organization based in downtown Ripon that focuses on collecting and donating gently used dresses for underprivileged students, Katherine was able to choose a prom dress at no cost. High school girls are able to come to the shop once a year to choose from its selection of dresses, as long as they present a student ID card.

Upon hearing that the dresses are secondhand, some girls may feel wary. But according to Siciliani, being at Marissa’s Closet was one of her greatest shopping experiences.

“When I first drove up to the shop, I saw walls lined with dresses, and racks across the store. It was full of dresses that were color coordinated and organized by size,” she said. “Not only that, but the people were great and friendly. ... After I tried on my dress, they were really nice and even had me model them and picked out accessories to go with.”

Siciliani gladly sported a previously owned dress to her junior prom, paying nothing for her night’s attire.

Gregori senior Brittaney Castner, another Marissa’s Closet customer, also decided to take advantage of the free service so that she could pocket the money that would have gone toward a dress.

“Getting a prom dress from a secondhand store really wasn’t a big deal,” she said. “I mean, since I’m a senior ... why would I want to spend $100 to $200 on a dress that I’m going to wear once? I have better things to spend it on than a dress.”

Cutting out the cost of a dress lowers prom night’s hefty pricetag significantly.

Of course, for Marissa’s Closet to keep giving out gowns, it needs to receive them, too. Dresses can be donated to the closet at any time, at the store or at drop-off locations listed on the Marissa’s Closet website,

Marissa’s Closet is not alone in its mission to give local girls a memorable yet affordable prom night. The nationwide organization Becca’s Closet has three volunteer-led chapters in California: in Modesto, Tracy and Vacaville. The Modesto chapter is located at Davis High School; to learn more, email beccasclosetmodesto or visit and scroll down to “Find a dress.”

And an effort called Project Prom, sponsored by Modesto City Councilman Tony Madrigal and the Latino Community Roundtable, is having a dress and tuxedo giveaway Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Castle Real Estate, 1418 J St. It is open to all students, on a first-come basis, and also will include “lots of free raffle prizes,” according to a promotional poster.

Donations of dresses and tuxes for Project Prom are being accepted at a number of locations in Modesto, Ceres, Riverbank and Patterson. To learn more, call Madrigal at (209) 579-4776 or email

“I’ve bought expensive dresses in the past, and wearing a used dress was no different,” Siciliani said. “You feel just as pretty and it doesn't make any difference in the experience. No one knows you’re wearing a used dress.

“And also, if I were to mess up the dress while at prom, I wouldn’t feel as bad.”

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