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Thoughts on Prom Dresses: If I Were 17 Again
By Jennifer Szweda Jordan
Thoughts on Prom Dresses

For many teens, the high school prom can be…weird. At some schools, there is a king and queen. At all schools, there are princesses to compete with (or vie for), and all the social pressures that entails.

I, too, hated the prom pomp and the awkwardness. But I loved the circumstance: the DANCE!

Thirty years ago, I had a kind of social consciousness enacted on me around prom. I had to be conscious that a single working mom could spare little cash for a dress. So I got a simple classic black-and-white number at a department store. It was $40, which even then was a fraction of what the average girl was spending. My date did what pretty much every other guy did and rented a tux. (Which is a relatively eco-friendly way to do it.) My social consciousness has grown into realizing that many girls and guys can't even afford that, and that today's caring teens are also thinking about things like the impacts of pretty plastic beads getting into the oceans. (Also the more plastic you put on a dress, I guarantee you, is directly related to how embarrassed you are about your photos later in life).

So whether you (or a young person you love) is trying to get to the dance without trampling on the environment and other humans' dignity, here are some ideas.

DIY: If I were 17 again, I'd make my own gown. Some years ago, I sewed a two-piece halter dress for a special occasion. I'd purchased organic hemp and dyed it with used coffee grounds. (I still wear it frequently to fancy events.) Recently, I added an iron-on applique. Nothing increases your social consciousness about sweatshop labor conditions like making your own clothes! And if you have a family member or neighbor with some sewing skills and equipment, it can be a great inter-generational project! Guys can do this too, of course. (Hemp linen makes a great suit.) You can even have a sewing party with your pals! Organiccottonplus.com (fiber from Texas, crafted in Carolina) offers lovely fabrics, including silks and even vegetable dyes. I also made a purse once out of the trimmings of a bridesmaid dress. If I'd known then what I know now, I would tag on some easy-to-make paper beads!

REUSED: Many vintage / thrift and consignment shops have fantastic selections in gowns and suits. Try going to one in a high-end neighborhood — you won't believe what some people give away! Online, tradesy.com and ebay are also full of great finds! And while many places rent menswear, rentmycloset.com is another leading clothing rental site, with many women's dresses. Orth Cleaners also offers alterations so you can turn that old dress into something new that perfectly fits you!

ON BUYING NEW: When you buy clothing made in the United States, you can guess that workers are generally better treated than in many countries. So, if worker treatment is important to you, find out about the chain of supply, where was the fabric made, and where the outfit was assembled. Cotton is generally thought to be more sustainable than polyester, but cotton growing practices can also be harmful to the environment, and polyester can last a very long time. Thereformation.com's tagline is "We make killer clothes that don't kill the environment." My fave is the flowy Gisele gown made of natural viscose fiber. For accessories, on Etsy.com, creative entrepreneurs sell unique items like clutch purses for fair prices (which excludes many of us, but if you've got the dough, and want to use it wisely, this is a great place). There are several jewelry makers that employ women so they can get out of the sex trade: check out socomarketplace.com.

IF YOU CAN AFFORD NOTHING: We've all been there, or will be there, or we will all at least worry about being broke! And if you're like I was in high school, you may be working while attending school and don't have time to sew or shop! There are options for you, too! This spring, Orth Cleaners is running a program that can help: Gowns for Girls. Nationally, there's OperationProm.org.

And no matter what you wear, try to avoid doing anything you might regret on the heady night of prom. That guy or girl you go with will most likely not be your life partner, but they can always find you online and remind you of things you'd rather forget. So live it up, but maintain your best social conscious on yourself and the example you set for others!

Jennifer Szweda Jordan is a freelance writer and the former host of The Allegheny Front.

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Prom Dress
Homework for Prom Dress Care

If you dance all night, you'll likely end up with sweat-stained clothes. Many stains can be helped with club soda. But if your piece is a rental, says "dry clean only" or is a precious fabric like silk, you could do more harm than good. So, take a breath, consult Orth's specialists, or do your homework online before you start experimenting!

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