Sophomore Adna Kladusak rummaged through racks of dresses at Kelloggsville High School last week. The dresses were short and long, halter and strapless, shimmery and simple. They came with sequins, satin, lace and jewels. The materials were all colors of the rainbow — and black, of course — any dress shop must have a little black dress or two.
“It’s a very wide variety,” Adna said.
It all happened at The Boutique, a free dress shop started by teacher Kelly Hjelm. There, students can try on dresses and take one to wear to prom, at no cost. Adna won’t be taking home a dress: she has decided not to attend Kelloggsville’s “Enchanted Forest”-themed prom, set for Saturday. But that didn’t stop her from coming down on her lunch period to check out the selection.
A Formal Affair
The Boutique was born last spring, when Hjelm — inspired by a message she heard at church and cognizant of the great expense of prom dresses — began securing donations of formal dresses from family, friends, fellow teachers and those who attend her church.
The first dress distribution was a last-minute, word-of-mouth event held in the counseling office.
“That was last year. Then I thought, let’s do it bigger — more like a store,” Hjelm said.
This year, starting with homecoming in the fall, it became a larger production: more donations came in, the theater and music departments let Hjelm use their green room and adjoining dressing rooms to stage the shop, the spirit store loaned some racks to hold dresses, and Rob Fron, a technology teacher, made a commercial for The Boutique.
“We have such a giving, supportive staff,” Hjelm said.
This year she and teacher Kellie Phillips, who are the senior class advisors, set up an organized and well-stocked pop-up shop reminiscent of a dress boutique you might find in a mall.
Last fall, between 20 and 25 students found a dress for the homecoming dance. This year The Boutique opened for prom dress shopping on March 26.
Waste Not, Want Not
Hjelm said there are many good reasons for The Boutique. For one thing, formal dresses often get worn only once.
“My daughter and her friends would just switch dresses after that wear. Why not? They’re so expensive,” she said.
Then there’s the knowledge that sometimes not having a dress is the only thing standing between a student and the dance.
“The thought that someone would not go to a dance because they didn’t have the money to spend on a dress,” Hjelm said. “People wear these things once. Why not share?”
The Boutique has been a lot of fun both for the students and for Hjelm and Phillips, who were on hand to help during shop hours.
“At the homecoming pop-up,” said Hjelm, “we started asking students when they came out of the dressing room, ‘Are you going to say ‘yes’ to the dress?’”
Emma Sias, a senior, already bought her ensemble for prom — a long, capped-sleeve, open-backed hunter green dress. But it didn’t stop her from visiting The Boutique when it opened with her friend Jessica Leys, a senior, who was still undecided about attending.
“So many people are not able to go to prom because of money issues,” said Emma. “It’s a really great idea because it will help more people do something they’d love to do.”
While Jessica ran out of time before finding “the one,” she left with the assurance that she could come back the following day, and that there may even be new stock.
Hjelm said after The Boutique closes down for prom season, “We’ll pack everything away and bring it all back for homecoming next year.”
Anyone looking to donate their gently-used formal wear can contact Hjelm at firstname.lastname@example.org. While formal pieces of all sizes are welcome, the Boutique is especially in need of medium, large and plus sizes.