When she turned 21, Ally Elouise, from Llandudno, north Wales, didn’t spend her birthday money on a car or a new iPad. Instead she used it to buy a handful of second-hand prom dresses.
Her mission? To help as many girls as possible achieve their dream of going to prom without having to worry about footing the hefty bill for a dress, which can often set people back hundreds of pounds.
Sarah*, 17, also from Wales, used Ally’s free prom dress service and ended up wearing a dazzling turquoise dress to her prom last year covered with sparkling sequins. And it didn’t cost her a penny.
“She was amazing in every way in helping me find my perfect prom dress,” Sarah tells HuffPost UK. On the night of her prom, she says she felt like a princess: “I’d never worn a dress I loved so much!”
The 17-year-old doubts she would have been able to attend her prom if she hadn’t borrowed the dress – one of 1,000 accrued by Ally over the years. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford a nice dress that the people who bullied me wouldn’t have teased me about,” Sarah says.
The premise behind Prom Ally is simple. School children, sixth-form and college students who can’t afford a prom dress or suit can loan one from Ally, who currently keeps all of the clothes in her nan’s spare bedroom on pop-up rails.
This year alone she has helped about 50 people, she says, while also juggling a job. The year before there were slightly less.
“If they live local to me I can drop the dress off,” Ally tells HuffPost UK. If students live further afield, however, they have to pay £10 to cover the costs of postage and return postage.
Each dress is donated free to Ally’s cause. Most of the time donors have worn it once at their own prom and then donated it, sometimes however they’re brand new with tags.
Outfits are checked and freshly laundered before being sent out again and dresses come in all manner of colours, shapes and sizes (from a UK 6-20).
Ally has been running the small charity for three years now and recently quit her job in order to focus on it full-time. She’s branching out, offering suits too, and is hoping to be able to rent a unit to store all the outfits at some point in the near future.
The now 24-year-old tells me she’s also considering adding another string to her bow for outside of prom season: bridesmaid dresses.
Fortunately, Ally was able to afford to buy her own prom dress with help from family, but was inspired to help others after watching a documentary on poverty and learning about school kids unable to go to prom because of the cost of the outfit.
Ally knew she had to do something. So she counted up her birthday money and purchased a handful of dresses from charity shops, slowly building up her collection ever since.
People who use the service are mostly self-referred (they get in touch via her website), but parents, schools and even the social services have contacted her on behalf of others in the past.
When asked what motivates her to do it, Ally replies: “It’s just something I’ve enjoyed doing. It gives you a nice feeling to know that you’ve helped them.
“Some girls have written to me afterwards and have sent photographs of their proms. It keeps me going when things get stressful.”
Sarah, one of the girls who received a free dress, shared a touching message for Ally. “The work you do is truly amazing and I think you deserve the world,” she wrote in an email. “Thank you for being so amazing to me and if you ever need anything, I’d be more than happy to return the favour.”
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