Cape Elizabeth students pass along prom pizazz

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Every special occasion deserves a special dress, especially when the wearer is a young woman going to a high school prom.

Making that night easier to afford for teenage girls is Cape Closet, a club run by Cape Elizabeth High School students. Now in its fifth year, Cape Closet offers prom dresses at no charge to any high school girl in Maine.

On Saturday, March 11, from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Cape Closet will be open for the annual prom dress giveaway at 343 Ocean House Road, in the same building as Cape Care.

Beyond other activities that mark the senior year of high school, the prom is the current focus. This year, Cape Elizabeth High School’s prom is set for May 13 at The Landing at Pine Point in Scarborough.

Accessories, such as dress shoes and purses, also are available for free.

A dressing room is available so girls can try on their choices in private before deciding upon which dress – and only one dress – will mark prom night’s fashion entry.

Cape Closet President Elise Mullen, 17, a senior at Cape Elizabeth High School, works with fellow seniors Ellie Garfield, 18, and Maggie Baker, also 18, and other high school seniors. The trio reviews the dresses hanging on long clothing racks in the building’s basement. The space is clean and well organized in a temperature-controlled environment that protects the dresses.

“Being able to give back, to help,” is why Mullen said she participates in Cape Closet.

Garfield spoke thoughtfully and pragmatically about the high school group’s mission. “You don’t have to waste money,” she said, noting a prom dress is only worn for one night.

The average price of a prom dress now, the girls agreed, is about $100. Some students spend more, up to $300, though. Not everyone can afford that price range, nor does every high school girl want to pay that sum.

A recent partnership with students attending Portland Arts and Technology High School, or PATHS, and Cape Closet keeps the dresses fashionably up to date. PATHS students studying fashion will redesign a dress collected by Cape Closet to make it an original for the new wearer, so the dress looks fresh and timely.

Baker said the partnership and dress redesigns are “by kids our age,” which gives a sense of personal ownership to the designer and wearer.

Long dresses are the most popular choice among Cape Closet shoppers, Mullen said. Garfield said some dresses are two-piece, or feature the classic strapless, heart-shaped neckline. A-line dresses with a V-neck also are favorite options, Baker said. One year, a dressy pants suit was donated.

Mullen said most girls will keep their Cape Closet prom dress, but dresses can be returned, too. The dress will be dry cleaned and likely tailored again for another person.

About 211 dresses were on the rack this week, from velvet to satin and sequins to straps, a range of fabrics and style awaits prom shoppers. Even if the dresses require a girl to find and pay for tailoring services on her own, adjustments may be less than a brand new dress.

With Mullen, Garfield and Baker graduating from high school this year, the Cape Closet baton will be turned over to a junior now in the club.

It is important to these seniors that Cape Closet continues.

“We’ll talk to juniors in the upcoming weeks and see who’s interested,” Mullen said.

Lisa Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.

Cape Closet President Elise Mullen, 17, left, and members Ellie Garfield, 18, and Maggie Baker, 18, show off prom dresses that are ready to be selected Saturday in Cape Elizabeth by any Maine girl attending prom.

Dresses donated to Cape Closet where, on March 11, girls from anywhere in Maine can choose a special outfit free of charge to wear to their prom.