How to Donate Old Prom Dresses to the High School Drama Department 

Cathy Cruise

First, make sure dresses are clean and dry, with no spots or tears. 

This means you’ll have to mend the peach Gunne Sax gown with the filmy sleeves, torn from one shoulder by Billy Acres when the shitty disco band was on break and you snuck out to his Camaro to drink from his pint of Maker’s Mark. He sloshed bourbon in your hair as he crawled from his side of the car to yours and popped the lever that made your seat recline. Billy thought he’d pinned you, but he was drunk and only held the tulle sleeve of the gown, so you were able to grab the door handle and roll out from under him and right out of the car. You’ll also have to patch the small holes in the skirt from where your knees hit the asphalt gravel and the rip at the hem from where your foot caught as you got up and ran.

Consider how well-suited the dress is for the stage.

Meaning what? Does it shimmer properly under the lights? Is it loose enough so an actress can breeze across the stage and lift her arms during a fervent monologue? You wonder if the sleeveless white dress with the tie in the back and the tiny pink roses embroidered at the chest would work as a servant’s apron. That’s the same dress Leslie Barnes wore on prom night, when she hurried away every time she found herself near you, and then simply walked around encircled by six senior girls who hid her from view. Finally, she sent Isabelle Wright to your table, who reminded you that you were just a junior and you could have another prom but this was Leslie’s last and would you please go home and change, or leave early, or just disappear? You so wished you could do any of those things, but your date was your ride home and you hadn’t seen him in an hour and you couldn’t call your parents since they were out for the night. You waited in the bathroom until the dance was over and by then your date had left, too. The janitor gave you a ride home. He told you how pretty you looked, and that the little pink roses were just the right touch.

Even if a gown is not wearable, the department is always in need of fabric, notions and trims, lace, ribbon, buttons, snaps, zippers.

So that blue satin dress you tried on in the fancy boutique would be perfect, because the snooty saleswoman declared you weren’t built for the ruched top with the halter strap, but then decided maybe your boobs were just saggy. She shoved her hand inside the bodice and cupped your left breast and lifted it and then did the right one too while your mother stared wide-eyed, but then stood back and cocked her head and said yes that made all the difference. At prom you kept feeling that woman’s claw on your skin and you’d love to see this dress ripped up and stitched into a goddess tunic, a heroine mantle, a Viking maiden cloak.

Holiday wear is especially useful.

That red velvet gown with the tags still on it could be worth something on eBay, but that’s too much trouble. And even though it’s a timeless style, with a simple box neckline, cap sleeves, and an empire waist (so one of your own daughters could have worn it to a dance with the right accessories but of course never did), now you can see it could certainly be used for the role of Alice’s Red Queen. And so it will go from dress of hopeful teenager whose date cancelled the morning of the Christmas formal (because he had the flu but then was spotted at the dance after all with Mary Beth Simmons whom he dated all senior year and married after graduation) to regal garment of that sulky, murderous villain of blonde, blue-eyed girls.

Consider donating shoes. 

You struggle to remember what shoes you wore to prom, but they were no doubt too high and too narrow, and they must have been bought with the idea of hiding your ugly toes from view, which seriously took you years to get past. You will throw in your linen wedding shoes, though, which you dyed from ivory to black so you could wear them again, but three kids later the size of your feet has changed so much you can barely squeeze in your toes (still ugly), and isn’t this just so Cinderella-ish, trying to fit the crabby lady’s foot into the tiny, delicate slipper?

Please contribute jewelry, handbags, and small, dressy purses, as well. 

Take them, and take the pearl necklace he gave you, the matching earrings, the beaded hair combs, the tiny silver bag still stained pink inside from lipstick. It has that loose, sequined bottom that feels just like cool water in your hands, so no, maybe you’ll have to keep just that one thing. But let all the rest go and wish it luck and attend a school play next year. Bring binoculars. See if you can spot your things up on the stage, worn by girls who pretend to be people they never were, and women they never will be.

Cathy Cruise is a freelance writer and editor in Northern Virginia, where she is hard at work on her second novel and a collection of short stories. Her work has appeared in American FictionAppalachian Review, Vestal Review, Necessary Fiction, Phoebe, Pithead ChapelMichigan Quarterly Review, and other journals. She has a BA in English from Radford University and an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter at @cathycruise1.

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