Lincoln-Way East High School senior Ali VanWyhe admits she's in the minority when it comes to prom dress priorities.
"I'm pretty much the only one I know who's borrowing a dress," she said. "It's a big thing to do junior year, not senior year."
However, as VanWyhe explained, her parents were willing to spend money on a more expensive prom dress, but she knew that money could also be used for college. She chose the latter.
Thanks to a combination of Internet shopping sites and bricks-and-mortar resale stores, high school girls in the Lincoln-Way area have a fair share of options when it comes to finding an inexpensive prom dress. As long as they don't mind wearing something secondhand.
Most of her friends, though, are purchasing new dresses for hundreds of dollars from boutiques such as Peaches in Chicago, Pink Slip Dress Boutique and That Girl Boutique, both in Mokena. According to VanWyhe, it's standard procedure for upscale shops like these to keep track of inventory purchases, ensuring that the same dress will not be sold to another girl from the same school.
VanWyhe said that really didn't matter to her. Plus her borrowed dress "fits her like a glove," something she struggles to find as a tall and willowy teen.
And while her friend lent the dress without expectations, VanWyhe said she will pay to have it cleaned and will also probably buy a gift card to say thank you for the use of the dress. Total projected cost: less than $100.
From things borrowed and blue, price-conscious prom dress shoppers might turn to an online marketplace like Craigslist for something old or new. As of April 13, there were more than a dozen prom dresses for sale for less than $100 within a 10-mile radius of Frankfort.
Most of those dresses on the site were worn only once, although some ads labeled them "new with tags." Sizes ranged from 4 to 14, with most prices hovering around the $50 mark. The complete prom dress category for Chicago boasted more than 300 gowns for sale from the Northwest Suburbs to Northwest Indiana with prices topping out at $400 for a Tony Bowls strapless aqua and silver prom dress in Orland Park.
If you prefer to see your purchase in person before buying a previously prom-tested dress, consider local resale shops. The Treasure Chest II Resale Store, 2571 E. Lincoln Hwy., in New Lenox, boasts a full, round rack of floor-length formal dresses in a variety of colors and sizes. Prices range from $13 to $26. Add a professional cleaning, and you'll still spend less than $100.
Over at the Mokena-Marley-Frankfort FISH Resale Store, 9625 W. 194th Place, in Mokena, prom dresses are being given away free to girls with a Lincoln-Way High School District 210 student ID card. This is the fourth year the shop has offered the gowns, but volunteer Louise Chase said only 11 of the 50 dresses have been given away to date.
"We thought in this economic disaster we'd have had more girls interested," said Chase, adding that the store has publicized the free dresses in area publications and sent a letter posted in the four Lincoln-Way high schools. Because of space constraints, the store likely will not be able to hang on to the dresses and will not offer this program again, Chase added. Bargain hunters with a L-W student ID might consider picking up next year's prom dress for free this month.
The formals are beautiful and some have never been worn, Chase said. The store is open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and the dresses will likely be pulled from the racks in early May to make room for summer clothing.
Another option for finding a preowned prom dress is checking out Nearly New Resale Shop, 9995 W. Lincoln Hwy., in Frankfort. The nonprofit store, which is run by and supports Noonan Elementary Academy in Mokena, receives plenty of donated prom attire, such as dresses and shoes, says Kim Townsend, president of the Catholic school's Holy Family Association, the parent-faculty group that operates Nearly New Resale. Dresses usually run $20 to $35.
But the store's merchandise doesn't cater only to the girls going to prom. Boys also can get in on the preowned action.
"We get a lot of tuxedos, but we've sold most of them already," Townsend said.
And if you're really looking for a deal, go to Nearly New Resale's website and print out a coupon for 10-percent off any purchase.
Finally, if something borrowed, isn't for you, The Pink Slip Dress Boutique will have a 30-percent off sale April 22-23, according to the store's website.