Mormon students keep a promise, customize their dresses
By Natalie West, Features Editor
The weeks leading up to prom are stressful, spiteful and somewhat dangerous as girls pursue and battle for their perfect dress. Juniors Ashley Gillam and Maddie Small, however, were dismayed to find that none of the dresses sold in retail and department stores were quite right, and decided to take matters into their own hands by altering and lending out dresses that fit their personal dress codes.
Wearing spaghetti straps or strapless dresses that reveal the shoulders opposes the beliefs of Mormons like Gillam and Small.
“I choose not to wear clothes that are too revealing. No strapless [shirts] or spaghetti straps, only knee-length skirts and dresses, and nothing too low cut in the back or front,” Gillam said. “In searching for a prom dress, these criteria are very difficult to find, so I either had to pay three or four hundred dollars for a modest dress online or make my own sleeves. My dress actually came with a little shawl which matched perfectly, so I just cut up the material and used it for sleeves.”
The process of sewing sleeves onto her dress took Gillam a few hours with the help of her mom, who is an experienced tailor.
Small was also frustrated with the lack of variety of dresses available and was inspired to make a difference after watching a video on her church’s website about a girl who collected dresses for fellow Mormons. A few months before prom, Small began putting flyers up in nearby churches and sent out messages on Facebook, and soon had women contacting her, wanting to donate their dresses that fit church standards. Small planned on finding or sewing matching shrugs or sweaters to the dresses that did not have sleeves.
“I keep all the dresses in an oversize closet in my house, and when a girl has a need for a dress, they let me know and we set up a time when they can come over and try some on,” Small said. “So far, I have lent out four or five dresses for the prom season. [My] favorite part of doing this project [is] seeing a girl so ecstatically happy that she’s found a dress that fits her and that is simple to just wear a shrug or sweater with. The best part is, it’s absolutely free—as long as they bring it back, of course.”
Small originally planned on finding shrugs, or small sweaters that cover the shoulders and back, to match the dresses, but found that most girls already had one that was suitable. With the help of her mom, she has made a shrug out of a shawl that matches one of the donated dresses.
“It’s extremely difficult to find material that exactly matches a dress, especially formals, so we usually go with ones that just coordinate colors or accents,” Small said.
Although Small and Gillam’s church discourages revealing clothing, Gillam thinks that this lifestyle has become more of a personal decision, rather than a strict rule.
“It’s all about respecting yourself and your body, in the same way we are told not to drink alcohol, smoke or do drugs and to eat healthily,” Gillam said. “But I will also say that at this point in my life it is a personal choice I make each day to dress modestly. No one makes me do it. I do it for me because that’s what makes me the most happy.”
Gillam believes the experience of making her dress different than most was one that made prom more memorable and personal.
Sewing on my own sleeves “definitely makes me appreciate my dress a lot more, and it makes it seem more like my dress versus a dress I own,” Gillam said.
Natalie West can be reached at email@example.com.