By Laura Samuel Meyn
Photos by Ron Jenkins
A gown for prom. A party dress for homecoming. For many, a formal is not always in the budget. Thanks to volunteers and donations, girls can have their enchanted evening.
A quick perusal of the metal rolling racks turns up a merlot-hued strapless satin gown with pockets, a hot pink chiffon halter dress with the tags still on, a dramatic red dress covered in gauzy rose appliques and an understated taupe number with a subtle fringe detail. The choices are many, but they’re all free thanks to University Christian Church’s Prom Dreams Boutique, which outfits some 200 high school girls from area school districts with formal looks for prom and homecoming every year.
The Fort Worth ministry is run out of an apartment — donated by a UCC member — next door to the church, with hardwood floors, gray walls and crisp white trim. The space is styled to provide an authentic shopping experience for teens who couldn’t otherwise afford a gown for prom. One room is devoted to full-length dresses and another to shorter dresses. There are neatly organized racks of shoes, evening bags and jewelry, too. A sitting room has a two-way mirror with an elevated stage, where shoppers can step up to show off favorite looks; five dressing rooms provide privacy for narrowing down the selection.
Prom Dreams co-chair Taylor Morton was in high school when the church first organized the ministry in 2010; she has worked with it ever since, except for her time away at college. “A couple of older women started it up, and a key group of us in high school worked in lockstep with those women giving our feedback on how to make the boutique better for 16- and 17-year-olds,” says Morton. In her first few years volunteering, she even helped a few of her classmates from Fort Worth’s Paschal High School find their prom looks. Today she works with co-chair Mary Ashley Ray, community relations coordinator at Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas, to organize and oversee the Prom Dreams Boutique.
Church members have long pitched in by donating formal dresses and accessories from their own closets, making small repairs like replacing broken zippers and footing dry-cleaning bills. For the last couple of years, Morton, who works as marketing manager for Justin Brands, has used social media to bring in donations from the community at large, too. This year, the wave of enthusiasm for closet purging inspired by Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo has brought in more gowns than usual. Prom Dreams Boutique also benefited when a bridal shop closed and donated half a dozen high-end bridesmaid dresses.
When girls arrive, they fill out a brief form and then are free to start browsing; Morton and other volunteers are happy to help, if needed, but find that some shoppers do best with a little space and time. Nearly everyone goes home with a dress, and sometimes shoes, an evening bag and jewelry, too. While the outfit is theirs to keep, Morton says that some clients return their attire after prom, intent on paying it forward.
“Every girl who walks in and out of this door is so grateful and shows so much appreciation,” says Morton. “If you watch Say Yes to the Dress, it’s like that 20 times in one night.”