When she slipped on the floor-length white gown and it fit her just as she had hoped, Hollie Bickerstaff sighed with relief.
The prom is in 30 days, and she needed something cheap that would make her feel beautiful.
She loved the dress’ smooth white material, that it made her feel like a princess, and that someone somewhere else in the world wore it once before and felt the same way.
“I don’t like just buying new stuff for no reason,” said Hollie, 16. “There’s a story behind this dress. There was another woman who wore it and loved it. It’s like an antique.”
Because finding the perfect prom dress can be one of the most stressful and expensive parts of high school, volunteers with SOFTER Mentoring Program worked to make the experience easier for Butler High School girls this year.
On Thursday, they hung about 70 gently used dresses in the gymnasium for girls to try on and take home free for their special night.
Teenagers turned the gym bathroom into a dressing room. They snacked on cookies and punch. They got to choose among floor-length gowns, knee-length dresses with sequins, halter dresses with rhinestones, satin and silk, the classic blacks and flashy pink party dresses.
“A good dress can transform them,” said Kim Walthour, the founder of SOFTER, which stands for Seeing Our Future Teens Evolve Regardless. “If all you need is a dress to make a girl feel like Cinderella, who wouldn’t want to do that?"
SOFTER launched in Augusta in October with about nine volunteers who hold monthly mentoring sessions for girls ages 9 to 19. The goal is to help with self esteem, but their talks focus on everything from hygiene to bullying to how to conduct yourself in a conversation.
Butler parent facilitator Inga Coleman said she helped bring Walthour’s program to the school to help girls who might not be able to afford a prom dress otherwise. It is also a part of the school’s effort to work with community programs and get the school more involved in outreach.
Parent Daniella Matthews said it was an unexpected blessing.
Having moved to Georgia from New Jersey last summer, Matthews said, it is one expense she won’t have to cover for the prom.
“Times are hard,” Matthews said. “I’m a single mom doing my best, and I just want her to have a good night.”
Her daughter, Tajanique Holmes, 17, tried on about 10 dresses before finding the perfect fit. There were the short coral one-strap, the knee-length beige cocktail dress and the floor-length yellow.
She would throw one over the bathroom stall and strut out to get her mom’s opinion.Finally, the floor-length black halter dress was it.
“Prom is a night to remember,” said Tajanique, who is looking forward to dancing with her boyfriend and dining at Waffle House afterward.
Hollie said before the event that she was worried about finding a dress she’d love in time for the dance.
Now that she found her ensemble, she has just one more decision.
This week at lunch, a friend asked if she’d like to be his date to prom.
Surprised by the offer, she said she’d think about it.
On Wednesday, a girlfriend said she knew a boy who wanted Hollie’s number to ask her to the prom.
Hollie said he’d have to ask her in person.
When he saw her in the hall and asked her to be his date, Hollie paused.
She said she’d have to get back to him.