I recently had the opportunity to work for the Cinderella Project, a wonderful charity that matches teen girls referred by their school guidance counselors with beautiful prom dresses. Many of these teens are in foster care, have educational issues which interfere with their success in school, or live in home situations where there is a lot of financial and/or emotional insecurity. Each girl gets an appointment. About 10-12 girls arrive each hour and each is assigned a personal shopper to help them find the right gown. The Director of this project makes it clear to the volunteers that the girl shouldn’t leave unless she finds a dress that is at least a 9. That’s a pretty high standard! But, the personal shoppers guide the girls to the size and color the girl wants, assist the girl to try on each garment, and encourage the girl to make the right selection.
My role there was as Seamstress. That’s a stretch for my sewing skills, but I can definitely sew on a hook and eye, make minor repairs, and shorten straps. Those are the kinds of fixes most dresses needed. Each girl would be brought to me or the other Seamstress for an evaluation of what it might take to make the dress fit the girl perfectly.
Some dresses were just clearly too large or too small for the girl. But, we had over 2000 dresses, so each girl had at least 6 to choose from. Styles ranged from very frilly and full to sleek and sophisticated to short, baby doll looks. Many are strapless. Each girl also is gifted one additional item – either a shawl, purse, pair of shoes, piece of jewelry (necklace or earrings), or a coupon for an ‘updo’ at a salon. We ran out of shoes pretty quickly but since most girls chose long gowns, this was not a tragedy.
One of the things that struck me was the body image issues so many girls had. It was clear to me that a significant number of the girls were very much afraid to show any skin. I remember being that way as a teen – in fact I’m still pretty much like that. Of course, some of them seemed very comfortable with the strapless, backless, and thigh high slits of many of the dresses
I quickly found my stride here. I was able to convince quite a few girls that a dress was too large, too small, or too immodest for her, that there was a better color or cut, that the length would work if she’d just try on some heels. My best success was just being honest and encouraging. There were so many pretty dresses that I saw no reason for a girl to ‘settle’ That said, some girls simply chose a dress that was just wrong for her body shape. That’s where I had success explaining how just shortening straps or taking a nip or tuck would actually ruin the lines of the dress that would otherwise be flattering. A dress should not overwhelm a girl. A girl had to feel beautiful in her dress to look beautiful. For many, this was clearly the first time there was a feeling of beauty. What a joy to see!
The chatter from the girls quickly informed the volunteers just how important this project was. For so many of these girls, there would never be another social event that would top her prom. Many would not have dressy weddings. Many would not attend any further schooling. Some already had children of their own and prom night would represent the culmination of her teen years and the entrance into her adult life for good. They talked about how important prom had been to their moms. They texted pictures of themselves wearing each prospective dress to a dear friend. We were not just fitting girls to dresses. We were putting wings to their dreams.
Next year, I plan to volunteer to work each day of this project. It was extremely rewarding. How often does anyone get to be a small part of another person’s dream? How often can we actually watch a shy ‘duckling’ turn into a gorgeous swan right before our eyes when she sees herself in the mirror wearing a dress that would be perfect on the Red Carpet – and is perfect on her?
NOTE: I’m going to sew and/or crochet a few stoles for the Cinderella Project to be used next year. If anyone else is interested in contributing – something light weight and lacy – please let me know!