Prom-flation: How buying a prom dress in Ontario is unimaginable for some famillies

Prom Glitz offers free prom dresses to those in need during their Boutique Day at the Kozlov Centre in Barrie. Supplied by Prom Glitz

With inflation making basic necessities a struggle for many, affording luxury items like a prom dress may not even seem like an option for families struggling to make ends meet.

Prom Glitz, a local not-for-profit which provides free dresses to families who can’t afford a gown for Grade 8 graduation or prom, said in the first years since school events resumed post-pandemic, they saw over 412 girls from 132 schools, an increase from pre-pandemic levels.

“After not having prom and graduation for a couple of years, we had lineups down the centre of the Kozlov Mall from the very first night we opened last year in 2022,” said Carole Allen, president of Prom Glitz.

“It was an emotional time because we had families sharing stories with us about how they were so concerned they wouldn’t be able to have their child attend prom because they just didn’t have the money to get a prom dress.”

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Allen said they constantly hear from families who have been impacted by the pandemic and inflation. She is expecting that this year will once again see high numbers of families looking for support.

Looking at the impact of inflation, the United Way of Simcoe Muskoka has reported seeing a “dramatic increase” in the number of people accessing their services.

“The most jarring thing is the number of people asking for help that aren’t on our record of having to ask for help before. So it’s more and more people that have been able to get by previously, but they just can’t keep up due to inflation,” said Brian Shelley, chief executive and philanthropy officer at United Way Simcoe Muskoka.

For people with a lower income, there is no reserve, with most of their income going towards housing, leaving little room for larger expenses like prom dresses.

“I think those are the kind of things that people are not evening thinking about, like people are going to try to figure out which meals they’re going to skip as a family so whether or not kids go to prom or not or on field trips is not even in the realm of the decisions are being made,” he said.

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Allen said last year they saw girls from as far away as Toronto and Grey Bruce come to find a dress.

Prom Glitz Barrie display. Supplied by Prom Glitz

Prom Glitz has been operating in the Barrie area since around 2005 and takes donations of new or gently used prom and Grade 8 graduation dresses to help students who can’t afford their own.

Allen said over the last few years they have gotten a lot of donations from local boutiques that sell prom dresses, who have either closed down or are getting rid of older stock.

“Each situation is different, but generally, I don’t think they can afford them, which is hard because I have two daughters, and I know how much it means for them to have prom and the first experience when you can be dressed up and celebrate and of school with your friends,” said Helen’s Bridal owner Yarka Slowikowska.

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Helen’s Bridal has been donating dresses to Prom Glitz for several years.

She said due to inflation leading to the cost of the material needed to make the dresses increasing and manufacturers needing to make up losses from the pandemic, the average price has gone up by $200 to $300.

“Before COVID we probably the most expensive dress that we had would have been around $500, right now, that’s probably $800, which actually could even go up to $900,” said Slowikowska.

When it comes to larger cities like Toronto, Slowikoswska said the cost of dresses could be as high as $1,200 in some cases.

She said in most cases, students and their parents would split the cost of the dresses.

Those in need can attend the organization’s Boutique Day at the Kozlov Centre in Barrie. The dresses are free, but they do accept cash donations to keep the program running.

Prom Glitz Barrie boutique. Supplied bu prom Glitz

Boutique Days for those looking to get a dress are posted on the Prom Glitz website, with the first one happening from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, April 14.

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Anyone wanting to donate a new or gently used dress can contact for more information or by reaching out on Prom Glitz’s website.

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