Las Vegas groups keep recession from denying prom

Plenty of teens worry about prom this time of year. Some of them worry no one will ask them to the big dance but, more and more, many worry someone will.

"A girl finally gets a date and she’s so excited," says Tracy Fudge, public relations volunteer for Las Vegas Prom Closet. "But knowing she doesn’t have the financial resources for prom means she has to turn it down because of the burden on her family."

The cost of a dress can run anywhere from $100 to $500. Additional accessories tack on another $100. For a family coupon-clipping and budget-trimming, it’s hard to justify expenses like that. Years ago, it meant teens from financially burdened homes stayed home on prom night. These days they have options.

For nine prom seasons running, the Las Vegas Prom Closet has collected prom dresses, jewelry and dress shoes for young girls who can’t afford them otherwise. The prom wares are then distributed from one location. To browse and go home with a dress, participants need only show a valid high school ID. Like that, young girls across Las Vegas experience their very own Cinderella moment.

In any economy, the need for organizations like this exists, but the particularly harsh economic times Las Vegas has been experiencing only compound the need. Since its inception, Prom Closet has given away 1,000 dresses. Four hundred and fifty of those were donated in the past two years. Similar to the bridal industry, a recession will take away many things but it will not take away a girl’s desire to go to her prom.

For some teens, it’s a landmark event. In the cult classic ’80s film "Pretty in Pink," an older, wiser Iona tells teenager and lead character Andie Walsh some women later suffer "side effects" from not going to prom. A slight exaggeration, but if a young girl has her heart set on the event, no one wants to take it away from her, least of all her financial providers.

"I’ve seen parents cry before just watching their daughter look in the mirror in that dress, knowing how special they feel," Fudge says.

This year’s Prom Closet is from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at HELP of Southern Nevada, 1640 E. Flamingo Road. Girls unfamiliar with the event need not fear that donated dresses will translate to dreadful duds. Since the organization asks for dresses from the past three to four years, and prom dresses don’t rapidly change in fashion, girls will find current styles. Last year, the event boasted an abundance of neon princess gowns and short ’80s-inspired cocktail dresses, mainstays on the pages of prom fashion magazines. With accessories and shoes also available, some girls leave with a head-to-toe look, free of charge.

The city of Henderson is getting in on the charitable prom efforts this season, too. Unlike Prom Closet, its event has a twist. Participants must first donate an old dress to receive tokens for "shopping" at the Prom Boutique at Whitney Ranch Recreation Center from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday .

For those sans tokens, organizers hope to receive dresses strictly intended as donations, not for swapping. The event also will feature a prom fashion show and goodie bags to get all in attendance as amped as possible for the big night.

Prom Boutique aims to help those who can’t afford a prom dress, but it serves another purpose, too. Three years ago, the Whitney Ranch Recreation Center started a program called Teen Club. It’s designed like a lounge area and offers kids a means of community after school. "So they’re not hanging out on the streets. … It gives them something positive to do," says Kim Becker, communications and marketing supervisor for the Henderson Parks and Recreation Department.

Since Teen Club opened, she says, petty crimes involving teens in the area have dropped dramatically. Having teens involved in activities like prom can only further the positivity.

"That sense of involvement seems to make a difference with teens," Becker says. "It just helps."

Contact fashion reporter Xazmin Garza at or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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