Sonoma County Retail Pop-Up to Give Prom Dresses to Local Teens in Need

High school is hard. Let us who’ve been through it count the ways. Add to this the grand, but sometimes fraught finale called “the prom” – wherein pressures of surviving grade-getting and social scenes are heightened by the challenge of finding the perfect dress, date or group to go with, as well as the cash flow to make it all happen, and you have some familiar teen woes in need of a fairy tale-type fix. (According to a 2015 study by VISA, the average prom night costs for a teen range from $500 to more than $700.)

Well, Fairy Godmother has arrived in the form of The Princess Project, a nonprofit, free retail pop-up that provides a wide selection of dresses at no cost to teens with a financial need. Sonoma County will hold its first dress giveaway March 24 and 25 at the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets mall.

The Princess Project was born in 2002 when founders Laney Whitcanack and Kristi Smith Knutson were managing youth programs at COROS Northern California and learned that an intern wasn’t attending her prom because she couldn’t afford a dress. Whitcanack and Smith Knutson were moved to email a number of people in search of a dress, and when many responded to this one request they knew there was an ample supply of dresses and generosity ready to meet a demand.

Now the all-volunteer organization has hundreds working to transform donated spaces into pop-up boutiques where teens in need of a no-cost dress can “shop” for the perfect fit. With chapters in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Silicon Valley, The Princess Project each year outfits an estimated 5000 teens of all shapes, sizes and genders in new and gently used dresses.

The Princess Project’s number one core value is to celebrate bodies of all sizes. To that end, they commit to using no body imagery in their promotional materials.

Volunteers are tasked to help match teens with their idea of the perfect dress, and, according to Princess Project Board of Directors member, Jennifer Lynch, “to be supportive of teens without focusing on individual body traits.”

“We try to position every question designed to make the teen think, ‘How do I personally feel in this dress? Am I physically comfortable? Can I dance in this dress?,'” says Lynch. 

“Our volunteers honestly dote on all of the teens,” says Alisa Sharp, co-founder of the Sonoma Princess Project. “From the minute you walk in the door, you have someone assigned to you to help be your personal shopper. They compile an entire armload of dresses to take back to the dressing room. If the teen gets to the dressing room and isn’t happy, (the volunteer) runs back out to grab another handful. It’s fun!”

Lynch expresses gratitude to the Petaluma Premium Outlets for being  “a great support,” and for providing valuable space for the dress giveaway on March 24 and 25.

Teens interested in getting a dress through the Princess Project can sign up here for an appointment time and need only provide a valid student ID at their appointment.

Volunteers, dress and monetary donations are needed around events and throughout the year. For more information visit: princessprojectsonoma.org/volunteer-1

Princess Project Sonoma’s dress giveaway will be held March 24 and 25 at the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets Mall. Please visit princessprojectsonoma.org for more information and to schedule an appointment.

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