The floral printed dress with an empire waist and halter top looked great on Nikiski junior Diana Narimanidze, eliciting a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the group of women standing around the mirror with her, but that was the problem.
“That’s the issue I’m talking about, right there. Everything you try on is going to look fantastic,” Soldotna High School paraprofessional Tracy Foister told Narimandize at Soldotna Prep School on Friday afternoon.
The dress is one of many available at Cinderella’s Closet, a program that provides free prom dresses and accessories to girls throughout the school district.
Narimanidze, a foreign exchange student from Georgia, and said she had been struggling with finding the perfect dress for prom.
“I’ve been looking for a dress since before Christmas,” she said. “I was looking online but I didn’t know what kind of dress would fit me well, what kind of color would look good. I was worried, but I heard about this and thought it would be a good opportunity to actually see some dresses in real life. I did some digging and found a few that I really like.”
On Friday, her struggle shifted from finding one perfect dress to deciding which, of the many choices at Cinderella’s Closet, was the most perfect dress. The most exciting part, Narimanidze said, was that all the dresses cost the same price — nothing.
“I came in and had my wallet ready, to rent or buy the dress, but I found out it was free and that’s awesome,” she said. “I hope a lot of people get to know about this because they may not have the money to buy an expensive dress. It’s so great that people can come here, take the dress that they want, the shoes that they want, the make-up, all for free.”
Cinderella’s Closet has been running for about a decade, putting prom dresses into the closets of nearly 1,000 girls over that time, according to one of the program’s organizers Megan Murphy, a school counselor at Soldotna High School. The program collects dresses and accessories all year long from community members. Some bigger names help out too, with shoe donations from Payless Shoesource, laundering discounts from Summit Cleaners and makeup donations from Walgreens.
“It’s a community coordinated event,” Murphy said. “We were averaging 30 girls a day last year, with kids coming up in carpools from Homer and over from Seward. This thing is totally supported by and run for the community.”
The organizers said they love the look on a girl’s face when they find the perfect dress, it shows just how special of a moment it is.
“These girls just transform the dresses,” Foister said. “They get so excited and they find a dress that they’re comfortable in. We like to make them come out and show us the dresses and we’ll give them advice, help them make this big decision.”
While working to make the moment special for the girls, the organizers admit that each time a girl says “yes” to a dress, it’s special for them too.
“I grew up in Russia and never had an opportunity like this,” said Olya Silver, a paraprofessional at Soldotna High School. “I remember going to the dance and hiding in the corner because I couldn’t afford a pretty dress. I was hiding because I didn’t want to be noticed and instead of feeling that way, these girls get a pretty dress. Just seeing the satisfaction on their face, it really drives us.”
During its first day open, Cinderella’s Closet had about 20 girls leave with dresses. The program will continue throughout March. It will be open from 3–6 p.m. on March 21, 27 and 29 at Soldotna Prep School. For more information, visit the Facebook page at @cinderellacloset.kenai.