The Howard County chapter of the American Red Cross is hosting the resale event for donated, gently worn prom dresses, party dresses, pageant dresses and dress accessories as a way to provide assistance to girls looking for just the right prom dresses without the eye-popping price tags.
Among those taking part in the event are Cara Marrero, the 2011 North American Miss pageant's Miss Maryland. She has donated 17 dresses this year, including her mother's prom dress and her pageant dress.
"I'm donating that dress because I want to see someone really enjoy their night and look like a princess," said Marrero of her donation.
The Red Cross conducts Project Prom Dress, in its second year, with Coldwell Banker-Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, which is the drop-off site for items through Feb. 17. The dresses will be dry-cleaned and resold at a one-day boutique on Feb. 26 at the Dancel Family Center Y in Ellicott City.
Also on sale will be donated shoes, and the event will feature jewelry vendors and limousine companies. Local companies have offered dry-cleaning services, clothing racks and use of trucks to transport the dresses.
Jody Aud, board chairwoman for the Howard County chapter of the Red Cross, said the project was launched in part to "create awareness that the Red Cross was not about just large disasters around the world, but that there's a lot of work being done right here in Howard County."
She said the project was also born of necessity: One of her daughters is a sophomore in high school and eventually will be looking for her own prom dress.
"I started thinking, 'Gosh, I can't think about the money that's involved sometimes in prom dresses,'" said Aud. "We came up the idea to recycle prom dresses, but do it in a way that would raise money for the Red Cross."
Marrero, who became involved with the Red Cross during the organization's Baltimore Running Festival last year, is slated to attend the boutique sale and speak to youngsters about being involved in the Red Cross.
Last year, the organization collected 600 dresses. As of Wednesday, it had collected about 450 dresses for this year's sale. Aud said that most of the prom dresses were made within the past four years.
"There's this feeling that as you're within a couple of years removed from the prom, that you're going to wear this dress again," Aud said. "After that, you realize, 'I spent a lot of money, and I wore it once and I probably won't wear it again, but I'd like to have someone else get some use out of it.'
"When I tell people that you can donate it and get a tax write-off and get the chance to let it be worn again," said Aud, "women are like, 'That makes perfect sense. I can be putting it to good use in two ways.'"
Aud said that about 400 of the dresses were sold at the boutique last year. Others were given to a thrift store or sold at a consignment store.
"Last year, someone donated her bridesmaids' gowns that were never worn — Vera Wang bridesmaids' dresses," said Aud. "We saw people coming in who said, 'I have to be in a wedding … and this color works perfect.'
"We had mothers of the bride come in and find something that they can wear," Aud added, "mothers who brought their daughters in and found evening wear for an event they needed to go to."
Aud said she made a purchase. "I bought a dress last year that I know had an original price tag of over $500, and I paid $50 for it," she said.
Dresses are priced, Aud said, according to the style and make of the dresses.
She said the event has found favor with mothers who are looking for prom items for their daughters. Prom dresses can range in price from about $50 to more than $1,700.
"With the current economic environment," she said, "it's a big price tag if you're buying something new off the rack."