Going to prom? Group helps every Bay County girl say yes to a dress

Prom is a cultural cornerstone that dates as far back as the mid-1800’s.

Originally called "promenade", proms began as a way to promote good manners and etiquette, and in 1935, “Parents” magazine described prom as a good way to teach teens "gracious manners and good taste.” 

After World War II, however, proms began to play a more important role in American culture. Amy Best, a professor of sociology at George Mason University, attributes their popularity to the post-war 1950’s economic boom. 

“The message [pre-WWII] was that you did not have to be rich to wear a fancy frock, be adorned with a corsage, or waltz the night away,” she wrote. 

Things are different today. 

“...Not only must she set herself apart through what she wears at the prom, the dress must also be remembered in a particular way," Best says. "It must be able to endure changing styles and outlast current trends...how she remembers the prom is contingent on how she remembers the dress.” 

While many of prom’s early traditions are still practiced in banquet halls and in gymnasiums across the United States, the cost to attend the event has skyrocketed. 

In 2015, a survey conducted by Visa found that families were spending an average of $919 for prom. 

Becca’s Closet moves to Bay City Central 

Becca’s Closet is a national, non-profit organization that donates dresses to high school girls who cannot afford to purchase them. It was created to honor Rebecca Kirtman, who collected and distributed over 250 prom dresses to girls in South Florida before she passed away in an automobile accident in 2003. 

Now located in a classroom on the second floor of Bay City Central High school, a chapter of Becca’s Closet is committed to providing every girl the opportunity to attend prom in style, with beauty and confidence. 

“We brought it here because we knew it would be easier to meet kids after school and on weekends.” said Meagan Panzner. Panzner, along with another teacher at Bay City Central, Joan Bukowski, lead the Bay City Chapter of Becca’s Closet. “We don’t do it during school hours. They can come and meet on the weekends or after school and we find the dress!” 

“Becca’s Closet is a welcoming place that has one goal,” said Emily Hill, one of the young women that ran Becca’s Closet her Junior and Senior year. “To give every girl an opportunity to attend a school dance. No one should not attend because they cannot afford a dress.” 

“My favorite part of Becca’s is seeing the girl’s face when she finds a dress... Every girl should get the opportunity to feel beautiful. My mom now runs it... I help when I can but she is the real mastermind.” 

“Homecoming we gave out 250 dresses, and prom will be bigger. Prom dresses are more expensive than homecoming dresses,” said Panzner. “My big focus has been larger sizes... When we first started we didn’t have larger size dresses. That’s when I started looking for them. I even found a size 30.” 

When Graff Chevrolet heard Becca’s Closet was looking for dresses in larger sizes, they donated several. 

“There is no way I'm sending a girl away that wants one,” added Panzner. 

Becca’s Closet’s Second Life Teaching Life Skills 

“6th hour I bring a group up here and we go to work. We work on job skills.” said Panzner. As a special education teacher whose focus is on life skills, Panzner saw an opportunity to involve her students in Becca’s Closet. 

“A month ago you couldn’t even get through here! There were boxes and boxes of dresses! My students organized the closet for me.” Panzner’s students organize, wash and occassionally mend gently used dresses. They also created a unique filing system for shoes. 

“The students came up with this! We had a filing cabinet so we decided to use it for shoes.” 

How to Help 

“We are really in need of shoes and accessories. We just make do with what we have,” said Panzner. 

With prom around the corner, Becca’s Closet is looking for help putting away prom dresses and for volunteers at open houses. 

To learn more about Becca’s Closet, get involved or leave a donation, visit www.beccascloset.com. 
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