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Free prom dresses spur sprightly shopping

Clothes shopping and trying on pretty things is not a bad way for girlfriends to spend a Sunday afternoon.

But it’s even better when everything is free.

“This is such a fun day,” said Emyle Watkins about a formal dress give-away event sponsored by Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon and Urban Valet Dry Cleaners.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. hundreds of girls from high schools across Western New York – Frontier, Jamestown, Mount Mercy, Williamsville East, Lancaster, West Seneca East, North Collins and City Honors, to name a few – came by the Performing Arts Dance Academy in the Village of Hamburg for the seventh annual event. About 60 people lined up outside the dance academy two hours before the doors even opened to try on more than 1,000 dresses – the most ever donated, Dixon said.

The girls also got to choose matching shoes donated by Dyed to Match in Williamsville and Shoefly on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. The Bead Gallery in Amherst provided free earrings.

Watkins, a senior at Springville-Griffith High School, fell in love with a black, velvety halter dress with black mesh at the neckline and a black slit for her left leg to peek out.

“That’s so pretty,” said her classmate Emily Barger, who settled on a red, strapless, fitted gown that also came with a slit. Black high heels and a silky black and red shawl draped around her arms completed the outfit.

Dixon started the giveaway because the cost of going to prom goes up every year, she said.

Outfitting a girl from head to toe for the prom could cost hundreds of dollars, but Sunday’s event was not only for poor, low-income families. Any girl was welcome to the dresses regardless of their family’s income bracket. It made good economic sense no matter the household income, some mothers said.

“We teach our children to be resourceful,” said Colleen Gaglione, whose came with her daughter Gabbi, a 10th-grader at Eden High School. “With the money they save, they can buy a laptop. I think more kids should take advantage of this.”

For her prom, Gabbi went for a strapless, bright yellow gown with big, bouncy ruffles below the waist and ruching above. Gabbi described it as a dress that Disney princess Belle would wear.

“Oh that looks stunning,” said one of the volunteers, who gave feedback and helped the girls accessorize.

“Why not take a free dress when you can save money,” said Gabbi’s friend, Kelsey Pressing, who is also enrolled at Eden High School. The ninth-grader settled on a floor-length, royal blue gown with a high waist and sequins around the neckline and on the straps.

“I like it a lot,” Kelsey said of her prom dress.

Many of the girls – like Gabbi, Kelsey and Breanna Dye of Silver Creek – went home with more than one formal dress to wear at special functions like church events, special programs and ceremonies.

Breanna chose a dark red, tea-length dress with a black, lacy, flowery overlay to wear to a formal banquet. And she picked out a copper-colored dress with a sequined overlay for another occasion.

One of the dresses her friend Danielle Paradiso fell in love with was a periwinkle blue, strapless gown with some sequined detailing at the waist. Combined with a pair of silver strappy heels and a silver and blue shawl she found, Danielle – a Lakeshore High School student – was happy and pleased with her look.

The day also was an exercise in paying it forward. Gabbi and Kelsey, for instance, came up with the idea to donate the dresses after they have worn them.

And Gaglione thinks maybe she will volunteer at next year’s event. After all, Sunday’s experience took her back to her high school days, albeit the dresses weren’t free, but the sentiment was the same.

“I would help out just to see the girls’ faces,” she said. “It brings back memories.”

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com