Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: Finding a fabulous prom dress on a budget

Monday, February 1, 2016

Finding a fabulous prom dress on a budget

I mentioned in my earlier post about getting ready for a homeschool prom that I would let you in on a few great tips for finding a fabulous dress on a budget. With spring formals and proms just around the corner, there's no time to waste in finding that perfect dress.

I'm not much of a girly girl, but I just love this time of year, when my Facebook feed is flooded with photos of dress fittings, and exclamations from moms who can’t believe their babies are so grown up. I love the fanciful prom pics that will be floating across my screen soon, with bright, clean-scrubbed young men and beautiful young ladies in dresses of every sparkling hue. This year, I'll be joining them with pics of my own, as my kids attend their first semi-formal dance, a masquerade ball hosted by our homeschool group.

I bought my daughters' dresses secondhand this year, and saved a bundle. I bought my son's suit secondhand, too, which is great because at 14, he is still growing like a weed. If your kids have a big dance coming up, you can save money, too.Here are some of the best ways you can save a bundle on a beautiful dress for prom or a spring formal.

Check the secondhand stores

Believe it or not, I found the perfect dress for my older daughter in about 15 minutes when we stopped in a Goodwill store in Tulsa and browsed their boutique racks. They had dozens of formal dresses there, in a variety of sizes. My daughter found a silvery blue gown with tiny buttons all down the back and a dainty bow at the waist that reminded me of something Grace Kelly would have worn. It was classic and elegant, and ours for a sale price of just $10!

I was so excited, we went back to the same store after running a few other errands, and with a little texting back and forth, we picked up dresses for two of my daughter's best friends. We couldn't pass up sale prices like that, and the girls all loved their dresses.

Look for charitable events

A couple of years ago, volunteers in Pasadena, California came together with The Salvation Army and other sponsors to give 100 young women free prom dresses and $30 worth of accessories in time for their big night. I'm sure the smiles on the girls’ faces were worth every bit of the effort the volunteers put forth, and similar events have been held in other locations around the country.

In preparation for our own homeschool group's masquerade ball, several moms got together and went through piles of formal dresses that a couple of the moms had in their closets. These moms turned our semi-formal event into sort of a ministry of love for their girls, giving them gently used dresses to wear on the big night.

Whether it's a large charitable event like the one sponsored by the Salvation Army, or a small event at a local church, it's great to be part of the giving or receiving of a secondhand dress that gets to shine once more.

Check online listings

Now is the time to hunt for dresses online. On Craigslist and in the garage sale groups in practically every town on Facebook you will find dozens of formal dresses for sale. In my own town, I have seen dresses from size 2 to 24, with prices ranging from $20 to more than $200. You never know what you are going to see, or how long it will last, so check often and be ready to buy if you see the dress of your dreams.

Of course, what looks like the perfect dress online may not be such a great deal in person. Here are a few extra points to consider when buying a secondhand prom dress.

Try on the dress

It sounds like common sense, but apparently it isn’t. I’ve seen more than one prom dress advertised this year that was purchased secondhand, only to discover that it was sized too large, too small, or was way too long or short.

Don’t fall in love with the look of a dress online and just hand over your money. Arrange a meeting where you can try on the dress, with the shoes you plan to wear or shoes of the same height, and in front of a full length mirror.

Check the details

Make sure to check the seams and work the zippers. Check the hem and see that it is intact. If the dress needs repairs, be sure they are ones you can easily make or it might not be worth the cost of alterations.

Smell the dress. Funky odors can be hard to remove, especially in a dry clean only garment. And dry cleaning formal wear is probably a lot more expensive than you think. Look at the fabric all over in natural sunlight to see if there are any stains that may be impossible to hide or remove.

Forget how it looks on the hanger

Prom dresses don’t come to life until they are slipped onto your body and allowed to move. Only then can you make the right decision. Don't be too quick to fall in love with a dress on the hanger, and don't be too quick to toss one aside, either. Try them on and see how they look and feel.

Don’t settle for the first dress that fits

There are so many dresses in so many secondhand shops right now, there’s no reason to run out to one shop and grab the first dress that comes close to fitting. You might have to hit several stores to find a dress you really like, but there’s a good chance there’s one out there.

But don’t pass up a great candidate

While you shouldn’t settle, you shouldn’t let a great candidate slip through your fingers, either. If you find a gorgeous dress that flatters you and fits like a glove, don’t leave it on the rack just because you wanted blue instead of pink. There’s a good selection of prom dresses out there, but it’s not unlimited, and if you are shopping secondhand, chances are the dress you pass up today won't be there next week.

If you’re shopping at a store, check to see if returns are accepted, and if so, buy with confidence, hold onto your receipt and keep looking for another dress you love even more. Just make sure to return the original in plenty of time for another Cinderella to pick it up before prom.

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