OTTUMWA — Most high school girls want the chance to say “yes to their dress” and feel special on prom night without worrying about paying arms and legs for prom dresses.
“Bless this Dress,” a nonprofit organization, allows them to do just that and buy dresses at the fraction of a cost. On Saturday, girls and mothers got to walk into Quincy Place Mall and choose from more than 400 dresses, ranging from short to long, from sparkle to simple.
Katie Phillips and her daughter Hailey spent a good deal of time searching for “the dress.” Both are good friends with Brei Holmes, Bless this Dress founder, and wanted to come to support the organization and support Team Tijuana Mexico, a missions organization seeking money to raise funds for their trip.
Hailey and a friend helped Holmes last year with a Bless this Dress resale. They helped girls their age find dresses and tried some on. Hailey loved the experience but was ready to find her own dress. Her goal was to find a pretty dress that fit the Mormon standards of modesty.
“[I just] want more classic, more jeweling, less bling and more just classic kind of styles,” Hailey said.
Many girls and mothers who came to find dresses said prom was traditional and a way for girls to feel beautiful and special.
That was true for Hailey. As the second to youngest of five daughters, three of her older sisters went to prom. After hearing about the fun they had and seeing Disney princesses in their ball gowns, she also wanted to experience what her sisters called “a night to remember.”
Katie Phillips stressed the strong sense of tradition. “Seriously, you can’t have a high school experience without experiencing prom at least once,” she said.
Prom wasn’t only fun for Katie and Hailey, it was also fun for Hailey’s boyfriend, Dustin Adams. He also said prom has a strong sense of tradition.
“They kind of gave us this one little thing to have that,” Adams said. “The prom is for us. I did it for her and essentially just had fun being there with her and enjoying the vibe of the whole place together almost. It didn’t matter if somebody had troubles with someone, or didn’t fit in with a certain crowd, everybody fit in with each other, essentially because of the games and food.”
Hailey has been to prom three other times and always had her nights of fun and memories. She said she would encourage every girl, especially the ones who cannot afford prom dresses or do not care to wear them, to go. She said Holmes will help girls find dresses within their budget.
Many girls said they had a great time trying on the dresses, but Holmes and Crystal Fellows, Team Tijuana Missions leader, said they had an even greater time helping girls find their dress.
“It makes me feel good to make other girls feel good, really nice about themselves,” Holmes said. “That’s the whole joy in itself.”
Eden Wolday, a junior at Ottumwa High School, got assistance from Holmes. Holmes worked with Wolday to find her likes and dislikes. Eventually, Wolday settled on a simple red dress with pockets. Wolday, originally from Ethiopia, only attended one dance. Buying a dress, she said, was part of experiencing the “prom hype.”
“I kind of just want to go to it — experience it,” Wolday said.
Fellows watched in amazement as Holmes guided Wolday through the fittings and asked if she needed help in putting on a dress. Watching made her joyful and made her think about prom in her family.
“Honestly I like to help the girls and my sister even came out and bought a prom dress today,” Fellows said. “I try to play off her; she’s the master.”
At the end of the day, Fellows and Phillips said Bless this Dress was all about helping others in some way.
“I love everything she’s about — helping girls who can’t afford dresses,” Fellows said, “and what her ministry is about and we don’t help the same kinds of people but it’s all about helping people.”
“Overall, Bless This Dress is a good cause,” Katie Phillips said. “It goes to help girls and different organizations, they bless a dress to a girl every year or two.”