March 29, 2012 in Washington Voices

Senior project collects affordable prom dresses

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Shadle Park High School student Erin Fiorillo shows off one of the many prom dresses she has collected for her senior project.
(Full-size photo)

Julianne’s Prom Closet

Julianne’s Prom Closet, 218 N. Bernard St., is a nonprofit organization that donates prom outfits to low-income girls. It is staffed by volunteers and is open by appointment. Girls must have a current student ID and a letter from a teacher or family friend who’s familiar with the girl’s financial circumstances.

The Prom Closet accepts donations of quality new or slightly used formal dresses, shoes, purses, jewelry and other accessories. On weekdays, there is a donation bin located in the lobby of the building for easy drop-off.

“If you want to look at the dresses, you absolutely must call ahead and set up an appointment,” said Julianne Sullivan, who runs the Prom Closet. “When you leave that message, a volunteer will call you back.” To set up an appointment, call (509) 939-6324.

Prom dress drive

It’s not too late to donate clean, slightly used prom and formal dresses to Erin Fiorillo’s senior project at Shadle Park High School. Just email Fiorillo at to make arrangements for a meeting.

The try-and-buy event for Fiorillo’s dress drive is April 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Shadle Park High School, 4327 North Ash St., in the commons area.

In the romantic comedy “27 Dresses,” a young woman has been a bridesmaid 27 times. One at a time she puts on the gowns, in a rainbow of colors and styles, and relishes the memories from all the weddings.

Erin Fiorillo said she feels almost the same way when she walks into her basement. There she has close to 85 clean, gently used formal dresses neatly hung on racks, waiting for their new owners. On April 14, at Shadle Park High School, she’ll be selling them all to benefit Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

“One mom gave us eight dresses out of her daughter’s closet,” Fiorillo said. “It really was like that scene in ‘27 Dresses.’ ”

Fiorillo has collected dresses in many styles and sizes – short and long, puffy and slinky, and in all kinds of colors.

About a year ago, when Fiorillo began contemplating what to do for her senior project, she initially wanted to raise money to send a few low-income senior girls or couples to the prom with everything paid for.

“I realized that would require a lot of money,” said Fiorillo, who’s 18 and in Shadle’s leadership class. “I’ve always loved dresses, and I try not to spend a lot of money on them, so I guess that’s how I got the idea.”

She said she overheard other students talk about how expensive prom dresses are, and how difficult it was for them to afford a new dress.

It’s impossible to find an average prom dress price, but some sell for almost as much as wedding gowns and it’s not unusual for the price tags to be in the $300 to $500 range.

Fiorillo has priced her dresses between $15 and $80, and during the event on April 14, there will be a seamstress on site ready to do alterations on the spot, for free.

She has kept her friends out of the basement – no one has dibs on any of the dresses.

“I didn’t want to go there,” Fiorillo said.

She chose Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital as the beneficiary because she spent a lot of time there as a child.

“I was diagnosed with a blood disease when I was very little,” Fiorillo said. “I remember being in the hospital a lot.” She was in and out of the hospital countless times between the ages of 1 and 6 and wanted to do something good for other children in the same situation.

Fiorillo has had a demanding senior year. Among many things, she was part of the group of students that planned Groovy Shoes, Shadle’s annual basketball spirit game with North Central High School.

“And we won,” said Fiorillo, doing a little cheer. “That was probably one of the more stressful things I’ve ever done.”

At home, her dad Pat Fiorillo, who was a teacher and coach at Sacajawea Middle School for his entire career, was battling cancer. He died March 9.

“It’s been tough,” she said quietly.

Pat Fiorillo’s memorial celebration will be Friday at 7 p.m. at John R. Rogers High School.

Her mom Robin Fiorillo said that having the dress drive going on at the same time her husband was ill gave them something to look forward to.

“We are holding up really well,” said Robin Fiorillo. “The dresses are about the future.”

Erin Fiorillo doesn’t have dreams of becoming a fashion designer – she’d rather work in event planning or interior design. After graduation she plans on taking a few classes at Spokane Falls Community College while she makes plans for her future.

She’d love it if someone else wants to pick up her dress drive idea and run with it.

“Friends trade dresses anyhow; this is just a different way of doing that,” Erin Fiorillo said.

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