Priceless Prom

More than $1,100 – that’s the average amount families across the U.S. are spending to send a student to prom this year, according to a recent national survey.

Research company Gfk and payment processor Visa surveyed 1,025 parents of prom-age teens to find that the average parent said they would spend $1,139 on the event when they tallied the cost of attire, transportation, dinner and more.

But there are local resources for girls who are on a stricter budget when it comes the dress, or looking to save money for something else such as college expenses.

“No one should have to not go to their prom because they don’t have the proper attire,” said Gloversville resident Eileen Kremler, who helped found Elizabeth & Eileen’s Closet.

Elizabeth & Eileen’s Closet is a collection of about 200 in-style prom and special occasion gowns that can be either purchased or borrowed for a $30 deposit.

Girls can come view the dresses on specific scheduled dates from late January to late April at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Johnstown.

St. John’s agreed to store the gowns and offered a room to display them on dress selection days, said Nancy Brown, project coordinator.

The program is an Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association community service project the group began in 2009, in keeping with its goal of serving needs of women of all ages.

It started with Kremler, who donated 50 gently used prom dresses, then donations poured in and the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority sisters from Union College in Schenectady got involved.

Though there are no more dress selection dates this year, Brown said anyone interested can email her at or call Kremler at 725-7328.

Kremler, inspired by the idea that prom should be special for all regardless of their budgets, started collecting the gowns for the program years ago, and she even learned to clean and press them.

“Someone else who worked at Gloversville High and myself were talking about how expensive the proms had become in this area, and we didn’t want students to not be able to go because they couldn’t afford something,” Kremler said.

And seeing parents relief from their daughter’s excitement at finding the perfect gown at the right price has been priceless, she said.

There are no income requirements for teens to participate in the program. They have dresses from size 2 to 26, and dresses for eighth-grade dances as well.

Brown said the sorority sisters help to make sure everything is the latest fashion.

“They’ve been terrific about coming up and sending three or four of their sorority sisters up. They do a great job being our liaison to the girls,” Brown said.

Kremler said they’ve been a wonderful resource to help the girls who attend dress selection days.

Brown said the girls who come to the closet have varied reasons. Many are looking for a more sensible option than spending hundreds on a dress they wear only once.

It’s also more convenient than traveling outside the area, and the dresses are coming from all over, so the brands and styles are varied.

“Some people come to take a peek before they go shopping, some people go shopping and come in disillusioned [from prices]. I think there are a lot of varied approaches out there. We’ve gotten a wide variety of schools, too, from Fort plain and Canajoharie to Amsterdam, Johnstown and Gloversville,” Brown said.

Since the program looks to help people be smart about their finances, Brown said it suits the Hometown Association perfectly.

“The reason Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association got involved with this is because it’s all about equality and being smart and using your finances well and helping share your resources. So we just feel it really keeps her philosophy for us to do this for the younger women in our community,” Brown said. “We hope Elizabeth would be proud, and we are grateful for all the wonderful donations.”

Another dollar-smart option is consignment. Gracie’s Gifts and Consignment Boutique in Mayfield sells furniture, gifts, handmade jewelry and brand-name consignment clothes, but they also handle about 40 to 60 dresses each prom season, said store manager Del Masten.

This is the third year the store, owned by Sherrie Fonda and located at 2474 Route 30, has offered consignment prom dresses, shows and accessories.

“Sometimes girls borrow their friend’s dresses, and some of them find it’s just as economical to buy a gently used or prom gown worn once,” Masten said. “It’s a new way of thinking for a newer generation. Most of the time you wear it once and it hang in the closet.”

Masten said the parents are often very receptive to the idea of consignment.

“We like to make this affordable to all, especially with the way the economy is,” Masten said. Pointing out dresses at the store that retailed for $400 to $700, Masten said every dress at Gracie’s costs about $100.

Girls who want to sell their dresses can do so at Gracie’s. The consignment agreement is 40/60 on clothes. The gift shop also sells handmade jewelry and other items. The agreement on that is 20/80 – 20 percent going to the shop. They’ve also expanded their store to include furniture.

Masten said the store is very particular about what it accepts. Dresses must be clean and on a hanger. They must be free of stains and odors and in current styles.

Elizabeth and Eileen’s Closet has stringent rules as well for what it accepts. Kremler said the dresses that don’t seem they’ll fit a teen’s taste are donated to drama clubs or other organizations that can use them.

Masten noted that for girls who attend Wells or other schools up north, Gracie’s is a convenient location for them since it’s right on Route 30A, and the collection features styles they might otherwise have to travel more than an hour to find.

“People who bring their dresses here [to sell] have bought them all over,” Masten said.

She said the style this year seems to be slinky with a low-cut back.

“Every year is different,” she said.

She added that the idea of consignment shops has been picking up since the recession and seems to continue gathering steam.

“Consignment shops are on the rise. You get quality at reasonable and low prices,” Masten said.