By Hannah Phillips
A student spent her entire birthday money kitting out the UK’s first pop-up prom dress shop loaning dresses to girls forced to miss out on their end of year celebrations because they couldn’t afford a frock.
Ally Elouise, 25, from Penrhyn Bay, North Wales, bought 15 formal dresses from charity shops in 2015 after being moved by a documentary about a girl forced to miss the big event because her parents couldn’t pay for a gown.
Since then, she has quit her job in student lettings to run PromAlly, the UK’s first charity donating dresses and suits to school leavers, full time and now stocks 3,000 dresses and suits which she loans to disadvantaged teens.
The law graduate initially piled up the dresses in her gran’s spare room but now runs a glitzy pop-up boutique from a transformed storage unit in nearby Colwyn Bay.
Ally said: “Everyone should be able to go to prom, but it’s so expensive and some people really struggling.
“Parent can feel like they are letting their children down so it’s a big weight off their shoulders to be able to loan a dress or a suit.
“There’s no point leaving a nice dress in your wardrobe or attic for years like I did.
“It is a lot of work, but it’s worth it to see the reactions and know you’ve helped take some pressure off.”
Since it launched, PromAlly has accepted thousands of donated dresses and 60 suits from people up and down the country including ball =gowns, lace frocks, sequin dresses and halternecks which are then loaned out free of charge.
Customers can choose their dream dress via the website and the outfit is sent to them before they send it back to be dry cleaned and for someone else to wear.
More than 100 dresses and suits were loaned out to schoolgirls and boys in 2019, which were mostly referred by social services, food banks and charities.
While each child remains anonymous, Ally said one young carer who couldn’t afford to attend prom last year was able to wear her dream scarlet dress thanks to the charity.
Ally said: “She couldn’t afford to go because her mum was out of work due to illness.
“Her mum felt like she’d let her daughter down but she was so relieved when we sent her a gorgeous red dress for her special night.
“I also helped 30 young girls from a brain injury charity with dresses for their prom themed party.
“They were all in wheelchairs and had never had the chance to wear a prom dress before.”
Ally also wants to encourage more people to reuse outfits and buy second hand to help save the environment.
She said: “People shouldn’t have to miss out because they can’t afford, and it seems that each year we get busier.
“We don’t get many boys yet but three-piece suits are just as expensive as dresses.
“Everyone is conscious about climate change, so it’s good to encourage people to reuse dresses instead of keeping them in their wardrobe or attic.
“Reactions from parents are always nice and we always get positive feedback.
“Girls send thank you cards and photos of them in the dresses while mums get emotional, so it’s nice to know we’ve taken that pressure off them.”