UI students collect dresses to create a “perfect” prom

Roxana Davison, center, helps her daughter Shannon Davison, 16, pick out a dress at the Perfect Prom Project boutique on Sunday afternoon in the Illini Union. Volunteer Lihui Chen, 23, left, and Oakland High School student Jessie Baker, 16, right, also b Beck Diefenbach

Roxana Davison, center, helps her daughter Shannon Davison, 16, pick out a dress at the Perfect Prom Project boutique on Sunday afternoon in the Illini Union. Volunteer Lihui Chen, 23, left, and Oakland High School student Jessie Baker, 16, right, also b Beck Diefenbach

By Janice McDuffee

Over the weekend, high school girls around the Champaign County area left campus with the assets for a potentially perfect prom night.

The second annual boutique of the Registered Student Organization “Perfect Prom Project” was held last Sunday at the Illini Union. The project dedicates itself to providing free prom attire to high school girls in Central Illinois.

The Project was founded by graduate student Autumn Griffin, who was inspired by the generosity she experienced during her junior year of high school. Griffin’s apartment caught fire, and prom attire seemed out of the question.

“The last thing I could think about was getting a prom dress,” Griffin said.

Fortunately, Griffin received a free dress from a similar organization, inspiring her to participate in Chicago’s Glass Slipper Project – a larger organization that provides free formal dresses to girls in the Chicagoland area, according to the Perfect Prom Project’s President, Allison Castillo, senior in LAS.

Griffin started Perfect Prom Project as a way to feel connected with the community and to give something back after attending school here for several years.

“Prom is one of the defining moments of commencement. … I think that everyone should be able to have this experience,” Griffin said.

At the boutique, girls had the choice to pick from four racks of dresses, and the option of selecting matching accessories and shoes. Members of the Project built their own racks for the dresses, which they felt would be better than the coat racks provided by the Illini Union.

After showing the proper identification to determine their status as high school students, girls entered the room with their friends, boyfriends or parents to rummage through the racks of formal attire.

“Any girl who is in high school and can get to the University of Illinois on the Boutique Day can come,” Castillo said. “We believe that nobody should have to pay to look and feel like a princess on their prom night.”

The girls also had the choice of selecting a “personal shopper,” a member of Perfect Prom Project dressed entirely in black, to help them find what they were looking for.

There were several private dressing rooms set up within the boutique for the girls to try on their findings. Three juniors from Urbana High School, Samantha Schwartz, Toya Kruse-Wu and Amber Chokquette, stood in line to try on their selection of dresses.

“Everyone can have the chance to look really pretty,” Schwartz said.

Kruse-Wu pointed out the aspect of convenience the Project provides, saying that spending a lot of money on something that will probably be worn once is less than practical.

“A prom dress isn’t something you wear every day,” she said.

Last year, the Project gave away 40 dresses. They hoped to give even more this year, as the Project is a yearlong effort which extended their advertising to counties outside of Champaign. It went as far as presenting a “Fashion Preview Show” to showcase some of the dresses and the quality of the gowns available. This and the Project’s Web site led to donations from people around the country, according to Castillo.

Within the first two hours after opening, 25 dresses were given away. Castillo said at the close of the boutique, the total reached around 80 dresses.

While she can’t recall her exact emotions while awaiting her prom, as a senior about to graduate, Castillo feels she can relate to some of the girls in the sense of possibly celebrating an ending to a period in their lives.

“Prom is one of those last events before everyone has to say goodbye, and I don’t believe that the rising price of prom should be a deterrent (from experiencing it),” she said.