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Pieces of Eight

Jessica Gagne, a student engagement specialist with ECU’s Volunteer and Service-Learning Center, examines a dress donated to the Fairytale Boutique for local girls unable to afford a prom dress. (Photo by Jeannine Manning Hutson)

Fairytale Boutique May Make Dreams Come True

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

Organizers of the Fairytale Boutique are hoping to make the dreams of high school girls in Pitt County come true.

For most high school students, the prom is a rite of passage. A reason for girls to study the pages of “Seventeen” magazine with their friends.

However, for some girls, the cost of a dress, shoes and the tickets to the event prove to be too much for them and their families.

The Volunteer and Service-Learning Service at East Carolina University is hoping to grant the wishes of some female Pitt County high school students through the Fairytale Boutique, which will be held March 1 and 2 in studio space above the Tipsy Teapot on Evans Street in Greenville.

This is the first year that the center has offered the Fairytale Boutique, which is based on other similar boutiques held around the country. The idea is simple: previously loved and danced in prom and special occasion dresses are donated to the center. Girls from area high schools, who are unable to afford the purchase of a new prom dress, “shop” at the boutique for a dress and accessories.

Right now, the Fairytale Boutique is in need of more donated dresses, according to Jessica Gagne, student engagement specialist at the Volunteer and Service-Learning Center, who is helping organize the event. They have around 50 dresses.

“We heard about the other projects like this three years ago, and we’ve been thinking about launching it here,” Gagne said.

“Our goal has been 300 dresses and with that number, we were thinking we could help 50 girls, based on the information from other dress projects.”

Gagne said that they need dresses in all sizes, especially larger sizes, along with shoes, purses, tiaras, any accessories that a girl might need for the prom.

Students who want to “shop” at the Fairytale Boutique will arrive the morning of Saturday, March 1 and receive their appointment time to come back and shop later that day or the next with an ECU student volunteer assisting them.

After finding a new owner, the prom dress will be sent to Bowen Cleaners to be cleaned and pressed for its new owner free of charge to the girl. The Boutique is also seeking donations from other businesses, such as restaurants and salons.

While the Volunteer and Service-Learning Center staff is organizing the donated dresses, Gagne pointed out this is an ECU student volunteer event. Students will be serving as the personal shoppers with the high school girls and running the boutique.

“Even though our focus is to provide an opportunity for ECU students to interact with the community, this project allows us to fulfill that need and provide a new type of service to the community,” Gagne said.

The Fairytale Boutique will allow ECU students to interact more with older Pitt County students than they do through their elementary school tutoring sessions, she said.

“I read recently that girls spend an average of $400 and up on their prom dress,” Gagne said. “We don’t want anyone to miss out on going to their prom because of financial circumstances.”

Gagne, who remembered an “Under the Stars” theme for one of her proms at Stevens High School in New Hampshire in either 1999 or 2000, said she and her co-workers have enjoyed reminiscing about their proms while they organize the donated dresses.

“We have an all female staff right now,” Gagne said. “And we’ve been remembering the fun of trying on dresses and the thrill of finding your dress. We’re excited to share that with another person.

“If we help five girls, then that’s a start for us, and we’ll grow from there for next year.”

Persons interested in donating or bringing a high school student to shop for a dress should contact the Volunteer and Service-Learning Center at 328-2735.

This page originally appeared in the Feb. 29, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at