Formal wear and libraries don't typically go together. But this month, sparkly gowns — along with high heels, purses and jewelry — are streaming into Highgate Public Library. For the fifth year, the library will host Cailey's Closet, an event where Vermont teens can try on and go home with dresses to wear to the prom free of charge. Librarian Liza Comiskey started the program — named after her oldest daughter — after the library participated in a similar prom-dress drive where the gowns were then shipped out of state. "We didn't get to see the benefit," Comiskey said. So the next year she decided to hold an event for local girls. She gave away 16 dresses at the first drive, and the program has grown ever since. Last year, 250 dresses made their way to appreciative owners.
Formal dresses can cost several hundred dollars and are often worn once and forgotten, Comiskey explains. "Why not give the dresses another life?" Even families who aren't struggling financially may appreciate putting money toward their mortgage rather than a party frock, she says.
In the past, local volunteers have collected dresses at work, built a rack for the gowns and offered to do free alterations. The day of the event, the library is transformed into a boutique. Girls come in with friends or parents and try on gowns in bathrooms and closets.
"A lot of people think, You do what at your library?" Comiskey says. "We work hard to meet the needs of the community, and right now this is a need of the community."