Free gowns let dreams come true

Teenagers sift through racks with various colors, styles

March 07, 2010|By Jill Rosen

Ashley Ingram and three of her girlfriends stayed up all night, giggling and talking and dreaming about one thing: prom.

The foursome from Baltimore's Polytechnic Institute will make it to the dance - and be as glamorous as they'd always hoped - thanks to the free dresses they claimed Saturday morning.

The Priceless Gown Project, in its sixth year in Baltimore, offers dresses to high school girls who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

Hundreds of girls line up each year to search for their selections, which are donated by stores and individuals. Ingram and her friends arrived at the Inner Harbor Marriott at 2 a.m. to be sure to have the best choices.

They were first in line.

They and more than 200 others waited in one hotel ballroom; the gowns hung in another. When their number was called, they lined up anxiously at the threshold, behind a velvet rope.

When they finally got in, they saw rack after rack, heavy with taffeta and lace, satin and sequins. There were short cocktail dresses and long ones with trains in pinks, purples, greens, blues - pretty much any color a girl could want.

Each of them flipped hurriedly through the hangers, pulling out possibilities, throwing back rejects. They cooed in appreciation of pretty styles and dismissed ugly ones with judgmental squints and flicks of the wrist.

"Each young lady comes in with a different vision of what their prom dress will look like," says Leslie Collier, a volunteer with the organization. "You see their personalities come out."

With so many girls waiting, and only 25 girls allowed to "shop" at a time, they only had minutes to find and try on the right dress.

Ingram's prom fantasy came to life when, like Cinderella, she slipped on a red satin gown with a long sash that wrapped, princesslike, around her waist.

"It's prom and I wanted to go out," she said, big smile on her face.

Ingram's older sister, Bambie, who was along for moral support and fashion judgment, said the large family really needed the financial break that the free dress afforded.

"This is a blessing," Bambie Ingram said. "I really appreciate this."

The organization is always looking for new or almost-new dresses. Donations are tax-deductible.

Shanika Coles, who attends Heritage High on the Lake Clifton campus, found a sparkly gold dress that she called "the most gorgeous" she had ever seen.

"It gives me a Beyonce look," she said, beaming. "It's making my dreams come true."

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