San Fran Nonprofit Hands Out Dream Dresses for Prom

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Prom has become an American rite of passage, memorialized in high school flicks like “Footloose” and “Pretty in Pink.” But many young women don’t have the chance to go to this special event because their families simply cannot afford to buy a prom dress.

The Princess Project in San Francisco offers gently used prom dresses and accessories to young women who otherwise couldn't afford them. Photo: Princess Project.

The San Francisco-based Princess Project has been working to make these girls’ prom dreams come true, while helping the environment at the same time. The nonprofit “recycles” prom dresses by collecting gently used formal dresses and distributing them for free to local high school girls.

The Princess Project recently wrapped its annual dress collection drive and is now currently sorting dresses by size and color to prepare for its March dress giveaway events in downtown San Francisco.

“Every girl wants to look and feel beautiful and confident on her prom night, but a formal prom dress can easily top $200 these days, and some girls can’t afford to participate,” said Katie Zimmerman, president of the Princess Project. “We encourage all girls who cannot afford to buy a dress to attend one of our events in March. And we promise they’ll walk out with a dress and accessory for free.”

The Princess Project does not require proof of financial need; girls simply need to present a current high school ID card to enter the event.

This year’s giveaway event will feature approximately 9,000 dresses in sizes ranging from 00 to 30, according to Tara Blazona, Princess Project publicist. Girls can also choose one accessory for free from a wide selection of jewelry, shawls, tiaras and handbags.

“We also receive in-kind donations from corporate sponsors. This year, Forever 21 gave us 4,000 new dresses to give away,” Blazona said.

Founded in 2002, the Princess Project has served 15,000 girls and aims to reach 4,000 this year. Girls come from as far away as Sacramento and Nevada to shop, Blazona said. The nonprofit has been so successful that two other California chapters have opened: a Silicon Valley/San Jose chapter in 2006 and a San Diego chapter in 2009.

“I found the most beautiful dress,” one high school girl told the Princess Project after a giveaway event. “When I put it on, everyone’s jaws dropped and they said, ‘wow.’  I really did feel like a princess, something that in my life I have never felt.”

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