JOHNSTOWN – A veritable kaleidoscope of dresses hangs in the top floor on the St. Johns Episcopal Church. Red, yellow, green and blue gowns glitter in the light filtering in through the fitting rooms waiting for the right young woman to come around.
Nancy Brown of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association said the group has been holding the Elizabeth and Eileen’s Closet event for about six years and puts about 25 young women from across the area into affordable rental or purchasable dresses for their prom or formal.
Brown said Eileen Kremler of Gloversville helped found Elizabeth & Eileen’s Closet in 2009 when she had 50 dresses and decided she wanted to do something with them to help the community.
Kremler said she got in touch with Brown who helped get space at her church to hold the event. Since then, the church has given the project a permanent home.
Kremler said that she wanted to ensure that teens had appropriate dresss that fit well and made them feel good to go to prom in.
“I hope this gives them the opportunity to go to prom that they might not have been able to go to,” Kremler said. “I want them to know the community is there for them and maybe someday they’ll reach out and give back too.”
Kremler said a similar operation was avaliable in Albany, but said that girls who had issues affording dresses, may not have a way to get to Albany, so she wanted something local for them.
Girls can chose between over 250 long dresses and gowns and over 100 short dresses in a wide variety of sizes, as well as jewelry, bags, shawls and even some shoes. Dresses can be rented for $30. Upon return, the rental price is refunded and the dresses are cleaned and pressed by Kremler so they are ready for the next young lady.
“If you come in with an open mind, you will leave with a dress,” Brown said.
Brown said women from the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority at Union College also take part in the event for their service project. The sisters help young women pick out dresses. Brown said the Gamma Phi Betta’s also help sort through donations and dresses every year to ensure dresses are current and in style, so dress shoppers can be assured dresses are currently in style.
Brown and Kremler said having the sorority on hand for try-on is very helpful, since the high school girls appreciate having a college-aged woman helping them find dresses and often take their opinions to heart.
Brown said the program has gotten dresses from all over the Capital Region, from Saratoga Springs to Albany, some from area stores that still have attached tags.
“The happiest moment for us is when someone finds everything they need. If everything aligns just right and they get everything they want, that’s is our happiest moment,” Brown said.
Kremler said she has even received dresses from the Hamptons after finding a friend who owns a dry cleaners in the area who agreed to put up information about the program.
Kremler said no dresses go to waste. Any that are deemed too old for high schoolers get donated to local drama clubs for use as costumes.
Along with their dresses, girls also get a history lesson about Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Each renter or purchaser gets a slip with a small biography about Stanton along with return instructions for their dresses.
Brown said that was a very important part of the event, to get the word out about a woman from the teens’ own backyard who helped change the world.
“She’s from here and they’re from here. She can be a source of pride about where you’re from,” Brown said.
Brown said it can be hard for some women to give up dresses that have special meaning, but said many who have given dresses for the event say they want someone else to have a great experience in it.
“A lot of wonderful people have donated dresses, they say ‘I loved this dress and I want someone else to love it too,'” Brown said.
Girls can “Say yes to the dress’ during the event that is open Feb. 27, March 26 and April 30 from noon to 2 p.m. at the St. John’s Episcopal Church. Dresses must be turned in by June 12 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the church.
For more information about the program or to donate dresses, shoes or accessories go to the “Elizabeth and Eileen’s Closet” Facebook page; by emailing Brown at [email protected]; or by calling Kremler at 859-5172.
Dress donations can be taken year round.
For more information about the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association including lesson plans and upcoming events go to www.ecstantonhometown.org.