Dating Safety + Prom Fashion Show

This is the first time in 5 years that I’m not in the midst of co-hosting a Prom Fashion Show with our local domestic violence and sexual assault center, Guardian Angel Community Services (GACS). An event that is full of stress and lots of work, but worth every minute I put into it. You see, it was a Fashion Show with a twist; one that helped teens learn about healthy relationships and how to recognize and avoid abusive boyfriends/girlfriends. While the show may not be happening this year, I still wanted to write about it in hope that other libraries can use it to replication the program

The idea first started in 2009 when I decided I wanted to run a library fashion show. I considered partnering with local consignment or chain stores, but when I discovered GACS Prom ‘N Aide I knew I had found my match. Basically, local teens who participate in a two hour dating safety course are given a free dress or prom accessories. I loved the idea of girls being able to play model while learning the basis for a healthy relationship.

Creating the partnership was the easiest step. I sent an email to GACS’s general account explaining who I was and about my idea. While they had been hosting a fashion show already, they were happy to make it a joint project, especially since the library was able to offer two to three additional staff members, a beautiful location with three connecting meeting rooms, and a runway. Measuring in at 3 feet high and 40 feet long, the runway gives the shows that extra special something.

The show was always held after-hours on a Saturday evening in early to mid-March. This ensured we didn’t have to worry about disturbing other patrons or running out of parking space. Our goal is to have 30to 40 local high school teens each model one dress during the show; anything more than this becomes too much to handle.

How it Works

There was a lot of behind the scenes work that went into the fashion show. Not only did we search for volunteers who could help with hair, makeup and set up, but we also needed to arrange days for girls to try on dresses. The shopping days were done on two different Saturdays for 4 hours each session. Signups were taken at the library and GACS. A shared Google spreadsheet was used to keep track of time slots.

1522034_10152318764092756_8435351647807969327_nOn the shopping day, girls were able to choose from over 700 dresses that had been donated by the community. Arranged by size, the teens are given a “personal shopper” to help them pick out a dress. The goal is to have the girls in and out within an hour, although, this was not always possible. Some girls had a tough time deciding which dress they liked the most, while other girls struggled to find just one. It was always fun to see girls fall in love with dresses they never imagined they would like. If the girls wanted to keep the dress, they had to attend a dating safety class at GACS.  Before they left the shopping day, teens signed up for a class and decided if they wanted  the volunteers to do their hair and makeup or if they would do it themselves.

The next month was spent putting finishing touches on items for the show. This included creating a soundtrack for the girls to walk to, editing the program, and signing up any last minute volunteers or male models. My co-host also worked with companies to solicit donations of food or drinks that audience members could enjoy before the show or during the intermission.

Dress Rehearsal is held the night before the fashion show. At this point we gave the girls a walking order and found out if they wanted to walk alone or be joined by a teen male model. It also give them a chance to get a feel for the show. Many girls were nervous about the runway at first and this allowed them time to get comfortable walking across it in their dress and shoes.

The day of the show, girls started arriving 5 hours before the start to have their hair and makeup done. Without fail, we always had amazing volunteers from the community who are willing to give up their day to pamper and make the girls feel beautiful. Hair could be time consuming so the girls came in two waves and once they arrived were split between hair and makeup. All teens, including the males, are required to arrive an hour before the show in order to perform one last walkthrough.

10603511_10152318766762756_1998777207318159232_nThe prom fashion show normally ran for an hour. A local radio host MCed the show, announcing the teen’s name, school and hobbies. There was a small intermission and GACS staff members talk about the services they offer. We also had a teen girl, from GACS support group, tell her story about sexual assault. Their stories were emotional and very moving, leaving few dry eyes among the 200 audience members. The show ended with one last group walk, when the teens go out with their friends as a group and do silly walks or poses.

The Dating Safety Classes

To me, this is the most important part. While the dating safety class is handled by GACS, I learned quite a bit about what they teach over the years. The two hour class is an  interactive session in which teens are encouraged to ask questions as they talk about things such as the Wheel of Power and Control, how to tell if they are in an abusive relationship, and how to set boundaries. They discuss how seemingly innocent texts, such as a “miss you,” can be manipulative if the intent is to make you feel guilty and ultimately control you. Many participants discover that behaviors they learned from parents are not normal and are in fact controlling.

I’ll be honest and say I’ve convinced almost every single one of my regulars to go through the class, even if they’re not in the show, because I feel it’s so important that they learn this information. Teens are exposed to unhealthy relationships through media constantly; this class helps them learn that these straits and actions are not normal.

Replicating the Program

While it may not be possible to replicate this program exactly, here are some tips that can get you close:

  • You may have to form several partnerships to get the prom dresses and dating safety aspect. If you don’t have a community resource that does both, look for one that simply offers free prom dresses. Then see if your local sexual assault center would be willing to do a short class the day of the show/practice or another date.
  • Always book more teens than you need. Every year we have about 10-15 teens who cancel on us at some point in the process.
  • If you’re helping to collect dresses, plus size will be the hardest to get. Be sure you’re getting the word out into your community about dresses being needed. Newspapers and social media are a great way to spread the word. We post a flier each year on Facebook, which also got tons of shares.
  • You don’t need a runway, but it does make the event more special. My maintenance department was able to build a simple one out of wood that we reuse every year. You could also consider renting one or trying to create a low-budget stage area such as a red carpet/material runway.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for professional donations of materials or time. I’m always surprised that local hair salons, beauty schools, makeup consultants, and photographers are more than happy to donate their time or products.
  • Don’t worry if your first year isn’t perfect! Or even the second or third! There are still things we tweaked a little bit each year to make it run even smoother.


*Many thanks to John Parli Photography for donating his time last year and for letting me use the pics on this post.

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