By Carol Vogel

As the manager of Rustic Ties in Dolgeville, Brooke Stowell hosted four proms last year and is looking forward to the five that are booked for 2024. “As a mom of a girl and a former high school girl myself, I recognize how important prom is and how special it is, but I also recognize how tremendously expensive it can get. My thought process was there’s got to be a better way.”

In speaking with Brooke, it’s obvious she has a big heart and cares about her community. She wants all kids to experience the fun of Prom, so she came up with a great idea.

From Idea to Reality

Brooke talked about her idea with her husband. “It would be really nice if we could just get free prom dresses, so nobody has to go without. These girls get these beautiful gowns, and then they try to sell them on Marketplace, and it doesn’t work out, and they just sit in their closets. It would be so nice if they let other girls wear them.”

Her husband, Ty Stowell, is on the school board at Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District (OESJ), and he mentioned Brooke’s idea about doing a prom dress giveaway to the OESJ Superintendent Adam Heroth. He was immediately supportive and thought it was a great idea. St. Johnsville has graciously donated the D.H. Robbins building on 61 Monroe St in St. Johnsville to host the event on Saturday, March 2nd, from 10 am- 4 pm. Rustic Ties is organizing and sponsoring the event.

Brooke was excited to have the support of her school district. “I started putting feelers out there to get donations, and my thought at first was just prom dresses – and then I started getting messages – ‘Do you want any shoes?’ ‘How about jewelry? I have a purse that matches. Would you take any of that?’ – and I thought, ABSOLUTELY!!”

As she spoke to more people, Brooke’s initial idea grew. “I found out that renting a tuxedo is now roughly a $200 fee! I thought, well, it’s not just the girls that are going to have trouble paying for this, but the boys are too. So, we’re also trying to collect formal wear for the boys – that may be a little more difficult to come by because not everyone has a tux lying around!” Brooke laughed.

The community response so far to this event has been incredible, and donations are coming in. “Kathy Winkler contacted me from the Helping Hands group in Dolgeville and said they had a bunch of formal wear they were willing to give us for boys and for girls,” Brooke explained. She has been busy collecting donations and setting up donation drop-off locations around the area. “As of January 18th, I have only been promoting this for about a week, and we already have 50 dresses! So, it’s really exciting!”

How it Works

Prom Attire Swap ad flyer provided by Brooke Stowell

Prom Attire Swap ad flyer provided by Brooke Stowell

Anybody who sees the ad and is attending a prom in 2024 is welcome to come and pick out one free dress or formal attire. There will be dressing rooms set up so you can try the formal wear on for the full dress/attire-shopping experience. With a few more weeks to go to collect donations, you will be sure to find formal attire that fits you.

“Jennifer Simpson, the owner of Sprucewood Designs, reached out about her idea “Paint your Prom.” This is where if a girl comes in and finds a plain dress that she likes the fit of, but it doesn’t suit her unique style, she can paint with fabric paint on the dress to make it what she wants it to be.”

Brooke has big plans for this event to continue each year. “Because we’re working on such a short timeline right now, my goal eventually is to hopefully be able to work with a local dry cleaner who could maybe offer us some discounted rates to get dresses cleaned before and after wear. Maybe next year we have some local vendors like hairdressers or barbers or whoever set up to offer a discount on a prom style or move into an area where we can offer a giveaway of services.”

The opportunity for local businesses to get involved and give back to their community is clear. Florists, salons, nail technicians, make-up artists, and more could participate to help make prom a joyous event for everyone.

Pay it Forward!

Cost shouldn’t be a reason anyone misses out on a school function with their friends, but it’s a hard reality in an environment where prices on everything are rising. On average, Prom and formal dresses will run between $300 to $600 – and that’s before alterations, shoes, jewelry, accessories, hair, make-up, and nails. That’s a lot of money to spend on one night!

This program is a great way to give a gown or suit/tux that was only worn once a second chance. Don’t let a former prom dress, bridesmaid dress or other formal wear sit in your closet gathering dust. There are students who would love to attend their school function and make memories if they had something formal to wear. Also, if you snag free attire this year, you can pay it forward too. You can re-donate the formal wear next year for someone else to use!

If you have formal wear to donate, there are many convenient drop-off locations for donations throughout the area. The drop-off deadline at these locations is February 25th, 2024.

For more information, please contact Brooke Stowell at 315-985-5296.

Donation Drop-Off Locations image provided by Brooke Stowell

Donation Drop-Off Locations image provided by Brooke Stowell