Formal dresses don’t have to become dust rags

By Helena Rodriguez: PNT staff writer

Cost of prom dress, $150. Gas to Lubbock to shop for prom dress, $25. Jewelry, $25. Hair, $42. Nails, $30. Prom ticket, $20. Junior class dues, $30.

Cost of memories: Priceless. Can’t put a price on memories. But if I could, $322 sounds about right to me.

Return on investment: Zilch.

My daughter Laura has just hung another high-ticket dress in her closet, one she will probably never wear again — unless I have a say in the matter.

The stunning white gown, lined around the collar and waist with rhinestones, and with a short front and a sheer, full-length train in the back, has made its home next to another recent addition, a full-length pink chiffon bridesmaid dress Laura wore in my sister Becky’s wedding in February. It’s a sparkling $80 gown, which again, she will probably never wear again — unless I have a say in the matter.

What can frustrated parents do about these one-time-only gowns that cost a pretty penny? This includes wedding, Maypole, dance recital, ballet folklorico and quinceañera dresses, many of which take up most of my hall closet.

I used to think these special-occasion dresses for women could be like tuxedo rentals for men, but have you seen the cost of tuxedo rentals? Might as well buy the tuxedo and wear it again and again. Try and tell that to a woman about her prom, bridesmaid or wedding dress, though.

The next best solution is to sell the dress, as very few do, or hand it down to someone. Hand-me-down prom dresses were common during my high school days in the 1980s. I think some of my aunts wore the same prom dresses. Hand-me down wedding dresses were common once upon a time, too. My mom loaned her wedding dress to a friend, Frances Gonzales, for her Big Day.

I wish dance schools would use the same costumes for more than one year so those could be handed down as well. Young women, nowadays, however, want everything new.

I tried to talk Laura into having her pink bridesmaid dress altered for prom, but if you don’t know a seamstress or don’t sew yourself, which I’m ashamed to admit I don’t, the price for alternations can run almost as high as the dress. I told Laura that the next best thing is to hand down her prom dress to her younger cousins, who may not mind wearing a hand-me down, especially since it is a rather cute one.

I also told Laura she can wear this white gown when she gets married someday … someday far from now.

Of course, special-occasion dresses can also be worn while dusting the house (yeah, right), or as I’ve often suggested, as Halloween costumes.

While you may never get a return on your investment for these special occasion dresses, unless, of course, you count the priceless cost of memories, here are a few suggestions besides selling them on eBay:

• If you sew, even small stuff, make them into projects such as elegant throw pillows or purses, or make minor additions to differentiate it from the first time you wore it (add sequins, rhinestones, cut length, etc.) and wear it again. People may not recognize it.

• An even better suggestion, however, is to look for charitable organizations and donate them. I found a Fairy Godmothers of Greater Rochester online, which sounds like a cool project that accepts donated prom dresses for girls who cannot afford them. When I lived in Abilene, Texas, Abilene State School accepted prom dress donations for a prom they staged for their special needs students. Local groups may be able to use them, too. Look.

Even if these fairytale gowns do end up on a hanger in your closet, however, keep your eyes open for future opportunities to have them worn. And if all else fails, start your own family museum, complete with written history, so your children and grandchildren will know the stories behind the dresses.

If dresses could talk, they’d have some great stories to tell.