Prom clos­ets lets teens play dress up — at no cost

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - LOCAL - By Lois K. Solomon Staff writer

As prom sea­son ap­proaches, vol­un­teers through­out South Florida are mak­ing teens look like a mil­lion bucks with­out pay­ing a penny.

Prom clos­ets give away gor­geous dresses, shoes, jew­elry, purses and other ne­ces­si­ties for the big night. Guys can some­times find a suit aswell.

Most proms are in April this year and the ex­penses can add up: Tick­ets can cost more than $100 per per­son. Then there’s the cloth­ing, ac­ces­sories, cor­sages, hair­cuts and make-up, as well as pre-prom and post-prom par­ties that can also re­quire ad­mis­sion fees.

As th­ese costs have mounted, some adults have de­cided to as­sist.

Becca’s Closet, based in Pom­pano Beach, of­fers more than 2,000 dresses, size 0 to34, at its home at the Fes­ti­val Flea Mar­ket, 2900 W. Sam­ple Road. Vol­un­teers will be on site each Sun­day through

May. Vis­i­tors must make an ap­point­ment for a try-on.

The closet was be­gun by Re­becca Kirt­man, a stu­dent at Nova High School in Davie, who was killed in a car ac­ci­dent in 2003. She had col­lected 250 dresses as a com­mu­nity project be­fore she died. Now her dad, Jay, is pres­i­dent of the non-profit closet, which has ex­panded to 26 chap­ters across the coun­try.

Becca’s Closet gets do­na­tions from­lo­cal fam­i­lies and de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing Bet­sey John­son and Steve Mad­den, and has also ar­ranged con­tri­bu­tions from depart­ment stores such as Macy’s.

Jay Kirt­man said the closet wants stu­dents to have a shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence sim­i­lar to a fancy depart­ment store.

“Girls are treated like they have a per­sonal shop­per,” he said. “They have their own dress­ing room and an adult vol­un­teer and a cou­ple of stu­dents to as­sist them.”

Kirt­man said Becca’s Closet helps about 18,000 prom-go­ing girls across the coun­try. Do­na­tions come from res­i­dents of each com­mu­nity as well as de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing Al­fred An­gelo, BCBG and Ja­son Woo. Sizes on the ex­treme ends, 0 to 4 and 16-plus, are es­pe­cially needed, he said.

Lynda Walsh was a cour­tap­pointed ad­vo­cate for chil­dren in the fos­ter care sys­tem when she no­ticed some of their cloth­ing was in poor shape. So she asked friends and fam­ily to do­nate items, and about three years ago, set up a store­front off Fed­eral High­way in Del­ray Beach.

The Cool Clothes Closet has 175 used for­mal dresses, as well as ac­ces­sories and ca­sual wear for girls and boys, in sizes 0 to 26, Walsh said.

Moe­sha John­son, 19, a se­nior at At­lantic High School in Del­ray Beach, said she had been trolling the in­ter­net for­weeks in search of the per­fect prom dress but had trou­ble find­ing styles she liked. Then she vis­ited the Cool Clothes Closet and found a flow­ing, bright-red, sleeve­less gown, worn only once be­fore. She called it a lit­tle sexy but not too re­veal­ing.

“I wanted a style in front that showed a lit­tle skin but not too much skin,” John­son said. “I found a dress here last year, too.”

The closet of­fers an an­nual prom gown try-on in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion, where girls can sam­ple fancy out­fits and ac­ces­sories that they can keep.

Walsh will bring her dresses, all do­nated by lo­cal res­i­dents, as well as shoes and purses, to Cather­ine Strong Park, 1500 SW Sixth St., Del­ray Beach, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on March 10; and from12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on March11. No ap­point­ment is needed, but stu­dents must show school iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Ev­ery­one comes away with a dress,” Walsh said.

Prom shop­ping is not only for girls.

Young men can get as­sis­tance from Suits For Se­niors, a Del­ray Beach-based closet with about 50 do­nated suits, sizes 38 to 44.

Jer­vonte Ed­monds, a real es­tate agent and state leg­isla­tive as­sis­tant, opened the closet in Novem­ber 2015 to help young men with “job in­ter­views and life,” he said.

Ed­monds, 25, bought his first suit at a thrift store three years ago to wear to a fundrais­ing ball. He said he im­me­di­ately felt trans­formed.

“It made me feel pro­fes­sional, like I could­hang­with the elite,” he said. “It gave me the confidence to talk to peo­ple. Iwanted to give that same feel­ing to young men.”

He started a GoFundMe cam­paign to pro­vide suits as well as mo­ti­va­tional speak­ers for the stu­dents. He had a $6,000 goal but has raised more than $7,800 through the site.

He now­stores the suits in his liv­ing room and brings them to events at schools, where he is typ­i­cally in­vited by ad­min­is­tra­tors. He usu­ally takes stu­dents through an eight-week course on fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy and col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions, but wel­comes calls from men who need promgear.

“I want young men to have a dif­fer­ent ap­pear­ance th­ese days,” he said. “I want them to wear cloth­ing they can­wear any­where and be a re­spected mem­ber of the com­mu­nity.”

lsolomon@sunsen­tinel.com

RANDY VAZQUEZ/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Va­len­cia Hol­comb, left, tries on dresses at Becca’s Closet. The closet, in­side the Fes­ti­val Flea Mar­ket Mall in Pom­pano Beach, gives away hun­dreds of dresses ev­ery year to high school stu­dents go­ing to home­com­ing, prom or a mil­i­tary ball.

RANDY VAZQUEZ/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Chris­nick Vesseau, right, shows off a dress she tried on at Becca’s Closet.

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