How a Fairfax Co. school is making prom season more affordable for students across the DC region

Centreville High School makes going to prom affordable for students across the DC region

About 20 years ago, Miranda Schick was teaching fashion marketing at Centreville High School when her students started to complain.

First, Schick said, they started talking about how much money they were spending on prom. She asked if they’d tallied exactly how much they were spending on the event. Some said their totals were between $500 and $1,000.

In the same class period, the students started complaining that they have to do community service, and that it isn’t fun. It seemed to be a chore, Schick said, and they were dreading it.

Schick countered by suggesting that community service can be fun with the right project. That conversation prompted her to help organize the Fairfax County, Virginia, school’s Prom Dress Shop.

At first, the group had fewer than 100 dresses to work with.

Now, there are hundreds.

Schick and the students’ efforts have resulted in the shop now offering students plenty of choices, with the chance to take home a dress for free. The shop has become so big that it’s attracting kids from D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, she said.

“We’ve gotten some really nice emails for moms who were really appreciative of having the opportunity to let their daughter go to prom,” Schick said. “They were worried they were going to have to say no, because they couldn’t afford it. But now this gives them the opportunity.”

Students from Centreville High and the Fair Oaks Classroom on the Mall program opened the shop for the prom season last weekend, and it’ll be open again this weekend.

They’re involved in the logistics, including helping to transform a modular building on the school’s campus to look less like a school and more like a department store. The hallway is lined with mirrors and dress racks, and the classrooms are turned into fitting rooms.

On Friday afternoons, the students start the nearly 90-minute process of setting up. But by the time the shop closes Sunday, everything has to be packed up and moved back into the main school building.

The schedule for Miranda Schick’s Prom Dress Shop in Fairfax County, Virginia, which has gained a lot of traction. (WTOP/Scott Gelman)

All of the dresses are donated, either from department stores like Macy’s or community members, Schick told WTOP.

Short dresses are in the center of the modular building, and six racks of long dresses, sorted by size, color and style, are scattered nearby.

Community members have also donated jewelry, purses, bracelets and necklaces, Schick said.

Students can show their ID and pick a dress. The shop is staffed by the Alpha Delta Kappa teacher sorority to protect customers’ privacy.

As part of the process, students are applying what they learn at the shop in their classes. But, Schick said, “it also helps families [whose] kids are going to be going to college soon. They have huge expenses coming up.”

Student Marianna Martinez, who helped set up the shop Friday, said the highlight is “just getting to see people get their dream dresses without having to spend $1,000 on them.”

For Schick, the value of the shop was clear several years ago, when a girl who lived in a group home came searching for a dress. Her head was down and it was clear she was lacking confidence, Schick said. But that changed when she found three possible dresses for prom.

Schick cried after the girl picked one and left.

“You can see that their posture changes when they find the right dress, and their confidence (does too),” Schick said.

A mom who accompanied her daughter to the shop Friday said, “It’s been one of those opportunities where everything you need is here. And it’s so easy. All you have to do is just try it on.”

Last Friday through Sunday, the shop hosted about 50 people each day, Schick said. She’s expecting this weekend to be similarly busy.

“The girls leaving here with their moms with a big smile on their face when they have the dress that they picked, it’s just a very nice feeling to help out with that,” student Sophia Pena said.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up