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Prom dress shopping made her feel horrible — so this teen set out to make it a 'blessing'

Though people in some parts of the country may be digging themselves out of back-to-back blizzards, here’s a sure sign of spring coming: Retailers are hyping their prom dresses with a vengeance. One teen in western Michigan is hoping to make other the young women in her area feel good about this particular rite of passage by opening her own used gown pop-up store, Blessed with a Dress.

“It originated from this experience I had at the mall, where I was looking in the mirror, trying on what felt like 100 dresses [for homecoming], and I couldn’t find something that I liked,” 16-year-old Chloe Mitchell told Yahoo Lifestyle. “The more dresses I tried on, the less and less confident I felt about my body. I ended up walking out of the dressing room in a gown, and this random girl who didn’t even work at the store came up to me and built me up in a way that I hadn’t been built up before. She encouraged me when I needed it, and she began telling me how nice I looked.”

Photo: Courtesy Chloe Mitchell
Photo: Courtesy Chloe Mitchell

That stranger inspired Mitchell, a sophomore at Western Michigan Christian High School, to see if she could re-create that encouraging shopping experience for others, particularly girls who can’t afford to spend hundreds on a dress they’ll only wear once.

With the help of her mother, Kimberlee, who works in publicity and marketing, Mitchell launched Blessed with a Dress, which she currently calls a “ministry” but is looking like it might turn into a full-fledged business. She began by texting 20 friends asking for dress donations, then she spread the word on social media and built a website with her mother.

“I think it was a wonderful way for her to bless other people,” Kimberlee Mitchell told the Grand Haven Tribune.

“People have dresses from prom, homecoming … and they really just wear them once and then they sit in their closet,” Chloe Mitchell reasoned. “They graduate and go to college, and before you know it they’re married and have kids, and the parents of these girls have these dresses just taking up space and collecting dust in their closets.”

Now she has 50 donated gowns and the sponsorship of local drycleaner Plantenga’s Cleaners, which will clean and alter the gowns for free, and she’s offering the gowns for rent or sale for $50 or less at a pop-up store this Saturday, March 17. She says she’s received donations ranging from the smallest sizes to plus sizes, and since they’ve all been worn to school dances already, she’s sure they’ll be dress-code-approved.

To staff the event on Saturday, Mitchell has recruited some friends who are all onboard with her mission to make it seem like getting a dress from an older sister’s closet.

“We’re going to be building up the women and having a fun time,” she said. “It will be a group hangout, a fun shopping experience for girls.”

Though Mitchell never planned on having a career in fashion retail before this, she’s received advice from a mentor from the local chapter of the Small Business Administration’s SCORE, and is contemplating how to continue this project into the future. If the first pop-up is a success, she hopes to have more this season.

In the meantime, she seems open to prospect of other girls across the country cribbing her idea.

“If girls helping girls were to spread like wildfire, and women all over the country are able to get blessed with the dress for less, and save money and spend it on things that are more lasting, that’s amazing,” she said.

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