Expo tries to give prom night a thrifty theme

Cole William, 17, a New London High School senior, jokes with Ana Cruz, 18, a freshman at UConn-Avery Point, prior to walking the runway Sunday during the fashion show portion of a Prom Expo in the ballroom of the New London Elks 360 in New London.

New London - With music booming, 16 teenagers from New London, Fitch and Waterford high schools strutted down the center aisle of the Elks ballroom Sunday afternoon, posing for pictures and showing off the latest prom fashions.

"Make sure you show off those shoes, girl,'' said Curtis Goodwin, who announced the models as they sashayed to the beat of "Sexy and I know it'' by LMFAO blaring on the speakers.

"Brittney in black is where it's at,'' Curtis continued, complementing the teen for her choice of a sophisticated black gown.

Parents and friends of New London seniors put together the first-ever Prom Expo, hoping to offer prom-goers greatly discounted gently used prom dresses and a place to find inexpensive accessories.

All the gowns in The Borrowed Fashion booth were for sale for $10 to $30. Some still had the price tags attached. One was once worn by Miss Alaska, according the organizers.

Local merchants sent up booths for hair styling, make-overs, costume jewelry and bags. There was also a raffle for chances on freebies - like a tuxedo rental - and gift certificates for flowers, makeup, jewelry and spa treatments.

The New London Lodge of Elks offered its ballroom for the event. Gift bags filled with shampoo, creams, hair accessories and other goodies were handed out to participants.

"I think this was a really good idea,'' said Jennifer Portella, a senior at New London High School, who had her hair and makeup done and walked in the fashion show.

She has not bought a dress for her June 1 senior prom - and didn't buy one on Sunday - she said the event was an opportunity to get a lot of free stuff.

Rosie Rosado, who runs Cocoa Dream Accessories out of her home, helped organize the fashion show. Although she is not immediately involved in prom planning this year - her daughter is a NLHS graduate and her son is a freshman - she said she wanted to be involved.

"I'd do whatever," she said. "I do anything for the kids."

Dana Vendetto, whose son is a senior, said she helped organize the event because she knows how expensive a prom can be and she knows not everyone can afford it.

A new survey by VISA revealed that American families will spend an average of $1,078 on the prom. The survey also showed that parents who make less than $50,000 will spend an average of $1,300 and those who live in the Northeast will spend closer to $2,000.

The stats are frightening for some parents.

""After the gown, the shoes, the tuxedo, the flowers and tickets ... I don't know how many people can afford it,'' Vendetto said. "My main goal is to help kids who can't afford the $300 dress, or to get their hair and makeup done."

Although the turnout was light Sunday, the organizers were not discouraged. They hope to turn over the event to the parents of next year's seniors.

"It would be nice if more parents were here,'' said Rosado. "It's good for the parents to be involved in the whole prom experience."

Mia Berube, owner of Greenlight Boutique on Bank Street and a friend of Vendetto's, helped get the spas, salons and costume jewelry people involved.

"It's been great for businesses,'' she said. "It is shows the kids there are places they can go that are inexpensive."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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