Lauren Guy perused about 20 evening gowns hanging on a dress rack.
The 17-year-old gathered a handful of satiny material on a long, yellow, two-piece formal and rubbed it between her fingers. She held up the skirt to check its fullness, looked at the bodice and moved on to a light-green dress hanging beside it.
"I wore a light-green dress to the last dance, so I really like this one," she said. "But I like the dark colors the best."
The considerations swirling around Guy's head are familiar to any teen girl on the annual quest for prom attire: What do I wear? Where can I find the perfect dress without spending a fortune?
However, the place where she scouted prospective dresses on this day is a departure from the norm.
The garments were displayed in a portable trailer at North Harford High School, where senior Kaitlyn Boyd has run a dress consignment program since January. In addition to providing her classmates a less-costly option for buying formal wear, Boyd donates the proceeds to an orphanage in Africa that she visited in 2004.
"Mostly I wanted to do something to help the orphans in Africa," Boyd said. "But I think it's nice that the program helps people here that might need assistance on special occasions like prom and other school dances."
In the fall, Boyd took her idea to North Harford Assistant Principal Christina Reynolds, who was impressed with the student's initiative and agreed to let her give it a try.
"I thought it was very innovative," Reynolds said.
The idea stemmed from discussions Boyd had with her mother, Melanie Cross, about buying dresses for dances. As the mother of four daughters, Cross said that even the mention of a dance stresses her out.
"First of all, you have to make 10 different trips to the malls and stores to find the dress," Cross said. "Then they cost at least $100, and you have to get all the other things like shoes and jewelry to go with them."
Cross asked her second-eldest daughter why she couldn't just swap dresses with her friends rather than buy a new dress for every dance. Boyd had a better idea.
She told her mother she wanted to start a program where people could donate a dress outright or donate a gown on consignment with half of the purchase price going to benefit the orphanage Boyd visited in the summer of 2004 with the youth group from her church, Mount Zion United Methodist in Bel Air.
"We talked a bit about it, and then I thought she dropped it," Cross said.
But Boyd was at school talking to Reynolds about her idea and seeking permission to have a sale after school.
She sent out fliers soliciting dress donations and placed an announcement in the Mount Zion bulletin. She quickly received about 50 dresses.
"Although I didn't set any guidelines for the age of dresses people donated, most of them have been worn during the last couple of years, so they are in good condition and are still in style," Boyd said.
When she had enough gowns, Boyd opened for business. To her dismay, no one showed up.
"We are a rural school, and students didn't come because they had to ride buses home and couldn't stay after school," Reynolds said.
Boyd's next idea was to hold a silent auction in the cafeteria during lunch. She made sheets detailing the dress size, color, length, fabric, style and original purchase price of each dress. She included a minimum bid for each dress. Several students modeled the dresses and a dressing room was available for prospective buyers.
More than 50 dresses that sold new for between $50 and $200 sold for $10 to $50. One of the buyers was Kaitlyn Larrimore, a 14-year-old freshman, who wears a size 1 and always has difficulty finding clothes.
She saw a long, strapless black, white and pink dress that was a 1/2 -size. She was the only bidder, purchasing the $150 dress for $40.
"I wasn't sure about the dress, but once I tried it on, I loved it," she said. "This was a great thing to do at our school."
Justina Whyte, a senior, concurred.
"I thought it was a great idea when I heard about it, too, and I knew a lot of people would be interested in the dresses," she said.
Whyte has donated and purchased dresses from Boyd. She said she enjoys a good deal even more than shopping. However, she paid $50 - $20 over the minimum bid - for a dress because it was for a good cause. She also donated all the money for the dresses she had on consignment.
"No one bid against me. I just wanted to do what I could to help Kaitlyn raise money because I think what she's doing is really great," Whyte said.
Boyd recently sent the first check - totaling $300 - to the orphanage in Katima Mulilo in Namibia, where her youth group visited.
"It doesn't seem like a lot maybe, but $300 will go a long way at the orphanage," Boyd said. The youth group spent two weeks with 53 children, most of whom were orphaned when their parents died of AIDS.
"They changed my life spiritually and emotionally, and I want to do what I can to help them," Boyd said.