High school leadership project holds 'Prom Boutique' with free dresses

With spring comes preparations for high school students’ proms, and shopping for just the right dress or outfit is something of a rite of passage. This is the second year in a row that the Leadership Club at Redwood High School offers free prom dresses for students.  

The Prom Boutique is located in a shopping mall this year. The Village at Corte Madera offered the retail space for free for the three weekends that the boutique has been open. 

Charlotte Lacy is a junior, along with Olivia Villanova, a senior at Redwood High School in Larkspur. They took on the project for the second year of its existence. 

Several Leadership Club members donated their time before, during and after the three-weekend event. 

First-year students and sophomores helped participants choose their dresses, select accessories and carefully wrap up and place items in a blue paper boutique bag. 

Lacy said, "We have so many types of dresses, so many styles, and so many sizes, we have shiny ones if that’s your style." 

Dresses of all colors and all textiles, including satin, lace, silk, and sequined, were hung on racks, and sorted by size.

A selection of dresses at the free Prom Boutique in Corte Madera 

There was something for everyone and in every style and many different sizes. Fancy shoes and strappy sandals with heels are also available, along with jewelry and evening bags. 

The leadership project started as an effort to minimize the costs associated with prom, making the event accessible to anyone who wants to attend. 

The largest barrier is usually money, for a dress, a ride, and the ticket to the prom itself. 

Prom Boutique’s secondary benefits included minimizing fast fashion waste, with so many students historically choosing not to wear their prom dress more than once. 

Whereas last year’s free prom dress giveaway offered about 250 dresses, this year the Prom Boutique hopes to give out over 600 dresses. 

Many dresses were donated by name-brand fashion manufacturers that usually sell bridesmaid dresses and formal gowns for upwards of a hundred dollars. 

In the full-length window of the retail store, three mannequins sport long, sleeveless dresses, one a light-colored floral with a single over-the-shoulder sleeve. They all shimmer under the overhead lighting, with sparkles and sequins glistening. The front double doors open to two long red carpets with velvet ropes guiding shoppers to the multicolored dresses hung on racks, sorted by size. 

Prom dress shopping at a boutique without the price tag- and without cash registers

Lilly Rubinstein attends Tamalpais High School as a senior. She was thrilled with the selection and the beautiful fabrics.  

"The amount of options, there are so many, and it’s really cool that they’re all for free because prom dresses are really expensive," said Rubenstein.

Lacy said, "These dresses, they’re brand new with tags, and there’s something very special about being able to walk away with a shopping bag with a new dress that no one’s really worn before.’ 

Shoppers were grateful for so many options and styles. Parents are also thrilled as well. 

Alisa Arquilevich of Mill Valley stopped in to shop with her daughter Eyla,  a junior at a high school in Marin County. 

Arquilevich said, "I’m blown away. I didn’t believe her when she told me all the dresses were free."

It’s not just a gift. It’s a gift that builds self-confidence without a price tag, according to Lacy. 

She said, "Our whole project here is to break down that stigma, so this is for everybody, no matter if you can afford it or not, because everybody should be able to attend prom, whether you can afford it or not." 

The Prom Boutique carries mostly dresses, but there are some other items like sports coats and ties. 

It’s been a humbling experience for Villanova and Lacy and the leadership team.

Lacy said, "This has been an eye-opening experience for me, because we live in Marin, and we’re often known as being a wealthy community, but in reality, not everyone has the same privileges and can afford a prom dress, so this is a really cool experience." 

There’s still room for more donations and upcycling, according to Lacy.  

"One of our goals this year, is that people will come back and return their dress next year, as they come to pick out a new one, so we can keep the recycling going and save the planet and rock your same dress next year." 

Saturday was the last day of the Prom Boutique at the Village in Corte Madera. 

They are taking donations for next year, as they expect it to be even bigger. 

Alice Wertz is a freelance reporter for KTVU Fox 2 News. She can be reached at Alice.Wertz@Fox.com