Dress Smart

Recycled gowns for high school girls

Ladies, while you’re pulling out your bling and taffeta for the holidays, consider digging deeper into the closet of your heart and do one or two planet-loving things this season: (1) pull out those fancy dresses you’ve been hoarding and donate them to a dress-lending program; or (2) organize a dress-lending program where it’s needed—at a high school near you.

Once upon a time, a teen girl’s princess fantasy might have been lived out at a fancy school dance, where anyone can play Cinderella for the night—anyone with the right outfit, that is. In the present economy, with families under enough pressure just providing food on the table, some teen girls may have to skip their senior prom.

In this environment, dress-loaning programs are fairy godmothers, helping Cinderella look fabulous while reducing needless consumption in the bargain.

“We have about 300 dresses,” says Nancy Lewis, one of many who help operate the Lending Closet at Napa County’s office of education. “Students can borrow a gown for any school-related function, and for Junior Miss and Miss Napa County competitions.” Since 2004, Greene’s Cleaners in Napa has donated cleaning for every dress. A parent volunteer keeps the collection in pristine order, purging to keep the quality high. The office issues income-tax deduction letters to donors, including the recent donor of a silver strapless gown with pearl beading that came with a $600 price tag.

At Santa Rosa High School, about 70 dresses are given to girls, but only upon parental approval. Coordinator Marlene Callen says staff has always given money privately to help needy students, but a program of dress donations has helped more girls.

“People are very kind,” says Callen, who solicits donations for prom night. When the girls try on the dresses during nonclass time, their giggling and laughing infects the staff, says Callen, and everyone in the office gets to share in the happiness of a girl getting the right dress at no cost to her family. “I think sometimes we have more fun than they do,” Callen confesses.

Redwood High School in Larkspur no longer lends dresses because, according to activities coordinator Sally Robert, the program didn’t take off. “Not too many kids took advantage of it,” says Robert. But Napa’s program remains solid and growing. “The girls who borrow dresses are just thrilled,” says Lewis.

For a greener holiday, consider donating to or organizing a dress-lending program at your local high school. You’ll help reduce waste and bring more joy to the world.