Once a high school senior has her date for the prom, she focuses next on her gown, shoes and accessories. “I rejoice in seeing young people get dolled up to go to the prom. I didn’t go to mine,” says Shaniqua Matthews-McClam, Coordinator of the Interior Design Department.
But what happens when a fashion indulgence for the Big Dance isn’t affordable? Matthews-McClam tends to that inevitability. On May 5, her organization, L.A.C.E. Leading Ladies, oversaw the giveaway of over 1,340 prom and graduation dresses along with shoes and accessories at C.S.21 in Brooklyn (making it a four-fold increase from last year’s prom dress giveaway.) It meant a lot of dolling up and a lot of rejoicing.
Prom dress giveaways are not new, says Matthews-McClam, but are rarer in less affluent neighborhoods. She’s quick to give a shout-out to all the stores and individuals who supplied the Leading Ladies with many top brand gowns and accessories. “There was Macy’s, Forever Yours, Open Ceremony, family, friends, neighborhood stores.” A raffle was held for a custom-designed gown donated by designer Gwen Beloti who attended the event.
Whether a rite of passage, a lavish indulgence, or just an outrageous night out, the prom has special resonance for teenagers and their families. Proms were the subject of two recent guest lectures at FIT. Mary Ellen Mark’s presentation of a four-year project photographing proms across the country was followed by the film “Prom” made by her husband, the filmmaker Martin Bell. In October, photojournalist Gillian Laub (see previous post) discussed her New York Times photo essay of the until recently segregated proms at Montgomery County High School in Georgia.
Matthews-McClam’s event was an artistic success as well. And the press took notice. Brooklyn New York 12, New York Daily News and BCAT television station have all done features on the prom dress giveaway. This year students from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism produced the video “Prom, Cinderella Style” about the Leading Ladies work for their publication Brooklyn Inc. The video features Kira Marie Britt (shown in first photo above).
“Every time I am interviewed people ask me ‘Why dresses? Why fashion through philantropy?’ I love fashion. Any time I have felt down or needed a change in life, I went and purchased a new item. It made me feel better. I am not promoting shopaholics. I truly believe people are at their best when they are looking good and confident. To look good is too feel good.” It’s a statement that bodes well for another fashion windfall for next year’s prom.
Photos courtesy of L.A.C.E. Leading Ladies