McKenna Miller couldn’t make up her mind.
The 16-year-old sophomore at Collinsville High School loved the long, beige dress with spaghetti straps and black and pewter beadwork.
“I feel like I would wear it in college,” she said. “I want to join a sorority. It’s so elegant. But I feel really pretty in this one.”
McKenna was looking in a mirror at a blue-sequin dress with a plunging back and diamond-shaped cutouts around the waist. She thought it would be perfect for prom. Her mother agreed.
“I love the blue because her boyfriend has blond hair and blue eyes, too,” said Paula Shofroth, 45, of rural Glen Carbon.
McKenna’s only question was whether the extra-small dress was too snug.
“Sit down in it,” said Sara Musch, 36, of Glen Carbon, a member of the Junior Service Club of Edwardsville/Glen Carbon. “That’s the best test.”
McKenna ended up taking both dresses at the JSC Boutique in Edwardsville, which sells pre-owned dresses donated by members and others. Her mother donated $50, five times the suggested donation of $5 per dress.
“It’s a good cause,” she said. “Pay it forward.”
Paula knew similar dresses would cost much more if bought new at a formalwear shop.
This is the first year the boutique has been open to all girls in Madison County. Last year, the club limited it to families with low incomes. The change was prompted by the recognition that many teenagers, regardless of means, feel uncomfortable paying high prices for prom dresses.
“We went to (a bridal shop), and the dresses were $300 to $500 and on up,” Paula said. “It was crazy. And it’s like we were talking, you only wear it one time, and your friends don’t want to borrow it because everybody’s seen it.”
The boutique is in a back room at Crystal Garden Banquet and Event Center, which is owned by a club member. An estimated 600 dresses of all styles, sizes, colors and materials hang on racks. Jewelry lines the top of a wooden dresser, and shoes fill a wardrobe.
“We want girls to look as beautiful as they can for prom and not have to worry about the money,” said co-chair Carolyn Pilla, 34, of Bethalto. “We want everybody to feel like a princess.”
Girls generally shop by appointment, but the club recently held a two-day open house with balloons and cookies shaped like prom dresses. About 30 girls showed up, despite snowy conditions.
“There’s a heater in the dressing room, so it’s toasty warm in there,” Carolyn said.
It took Alyssa Thomlinson, 17, of Collinsville, only five minutes to find a long, black dress with a halter top and black beading in front.
“I’m a good dress picker-outer,” she said with a grin.
Alyssa’s cheerleading coach told her about the boutique. The junior had planned to wait and go to her senior prom to save money.
“I have three girls,” said her mother, Alicia, 35. “It adds up with the cost of braces and glasses and karate and cheerleading.”
Alyssa also found some gold and crystal chandelier-style earrings to go with the dress.
Other shoppers that day included Madisen Thomas, 17, and her mother, Rachel, of Troy. Madisen is a senior at Triad High School.
“We were interested in helping an organization that was raising money for a good cause,” said Rachel, 39. “And from a personal standpoint, it keeps the cost of prom down.”
Madisen is going to prom with a group of girlfriends.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I didn’t get to go last year because I tore my ACL and I had surgery the week before.”
Madisen found a long, black dress with spaghetti straps, rhinestone designs around the neck and scoop back.
“It’s good for her,” her mother said. “She’s a pretty simple kid, and she doesn’t like a whole lot of bling and flair.”
Carolyn put the dress in a plastic clothing bag for Madisen to take home.
“Have fun,” Carolyn said. “You’ll have to share some pictures with us on Facebook.”
Still looking for a prom outfit? With $5 admission, any high school girl or boy can choose for free any items from 300-plus gowns and suits, shoes and accessories at the Fairy Godmother Dress & Tuxedo Extravaganza from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Lebanon Community High School, 200 W. Schuetz St. There will be vendors and a silent auction. Fairy Godmothers will use money raised at the event to adopt a student they will send to Lebanon’s prom.