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Sherri Richards, Published February 03 2012

Mom organizes prom dress exchange to help daughters save money

If you go

What: Prom Dress Exchange/Sale.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Colgate (N.D.) Presbyterian Church.

Tickets: (701) 261-9087.

COLGATE, N.D. - Twenty years ago, Heather Erickson bought her first prom dress inside a Page, N.D., gymnasium.

It was a dress exchange, where girls could buy or swap gowns. She thinks her short, magenta frock with spaghetti straps cost about $35.

Now the mother of twin 16-year-old girls, in a time when prom dresses often retail for $400 or more, Erickson is organizing a similar event this weekend at her Colgate church, 63 miles northwest of Fargo.

Gowns will be displayed in the church’s fellowship hall, and there’s space for five makeshift dressing rooms.

Erickson emailed invites to schools within a 100-mile radius, including the Fargo School District, and put out the word on Facebook. Sellers will set their prices and sell their own dresses. There’s no charge to attend.

Erickson says she isn’t looking to get anything out of the event, except for hopefully two inexpensive dresses for daughters Rebecca and Rachel (who wore her mom’s 20-year-old dress to a school dance this fall).

“My girls went window shopping over the weekend, and the ones they like are $350 and $400,” Erickson says. Add in the extras, like shoes, jewelry, hairdos and a limo, and prom expenses can approach $1,000.

The same weekend as their March 24 prom, Rachel and Rebecca are going on a school-related trip to Washington, D.C. They’ll probably head straight from the post-prom party to the airport.

Already spending thousands on the trip, Erickson told the girls they had to find an alternative to the dresses they liked in the stores.

As she chatted with other mothers at a ballgame one evening, Erickson realized many had dresses from past proms or bridesmaid duties filling up their closets. She recalled the prom dress exchange from her teen years, and started to plan the event.

She hopes by inviting lots of regional schools, the inventory will be “new” for everyone. She acknowledges it could be a long drive to Colgate, but rural residents would have to drive quite a ways to any prom shop.

She says her daughters are on board with the event. She thinks it will be especially valuable for girls who have to pay for their own dress.

“A lot of my kids’ friends have said they’re coming to look, and a lot of moms that have dresses in their closets, they want the space back,” Erickson says.

Cheryl Krueger of Hope, N.D., plans to bring several formal gowns worn by her daughter, Shelby, who graduated in 2010.

“I think it’s a great idea. Her dresses have only been worn once, dry cleaned, and I would love for someone else to wear them,” she says.

Shelby went to prom her freshman through senior years. Krueger notes it’s common for girls in rural communities to go to many proms, as there aren’t as many kids in the school. It’s not feasible for parents to spend so much money on multiple dresses, she says.

“Why not buy a dress that is within your budget and you can feel good about it and you’re going to look just as beautiful?” Krueger says.

Dress for less

Prom-goers looking to dress for less can also find used gowns online and in local stores.

The Craigslist site for Fargo features dozens of postings advertising prom dresses, with recent asking prices as low as $25 and as high as $400.

Some people donate their used prom, bridesmaid and wedding dresses to area thrift stores.

The Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch thrift stores display formal dresses around the holidays and in the spring, says Diane Rust, retail director for the eight North Dakota stores.

Some of the dresses are in good condition, some aren’t. Dated dresses are sold as Halloween costumes, she notes.

While the teens likely prefer to buy new, Rust knows the moms often want to spend less.

“If you can find something for less money, go for it,” she says. “If they can sew, they can change it. That’s another option to make it your own.”