Clogging closets throughout the country, countless gowns hang untouched for years or even decades, neglected momentos from thousands of prom nights, Sweet Sixteen parties and weddings long past. 

A decade ago, former Bryan High School classmates and longtime friends Denise Camp and Rose Mary Garcia came up with a plan to clear out those cramped closets and draw the half-forgotten dresses back into the limelight: The Princess Project. 

The Princess Project collects the fancy gowns, often worn once and only for a few hours, and distributes them to high school teens in the Brazos Valley.

Since its inception 10 years ago, the Princess Project has provided hundreds of new and gently used prom dresses to young women in the area. Camp and Garcia hope to lessen the financial burden of prom for teen girls and their parents.

“It really can add up very quickly,” Camp said. “If we can take a little bit of a burden off of these young ladies and their parents then we’re more than happy to do that.”

The average family spends close to $1,000 for their child’s prom night, according to a recent study conducted by Visa. While the tickets, transportation, accessories and commemorative photos add up, the dress often accounts for a significant chunk of the tab. 

Many households cannot afford to shell out more money for one night’s outfit than one month’s rent, which, in Brazos County averages $793 monthly, and in Texas averages $815 monthly, according to a New York Time’s report. 

“Not every family can meet that financial threshold required to go to prom,” Garcia said. 

Garcia understands the financial burden prom can place on a family more than most. Raised by a single mother, Garcia couldn’t afford to attend prom herself. 

Now, she hopes to help as many girls as possible get their princess-perfect night. 

“I know what it’s like not to go to prom and I wish I could have but this a way for us to say ‘You don’t have a reason not to go,’” Garcia said. 

Both Camp and Garcia consider prom an important, albeit expensive, rite of passage for young women. Camp, now 51, still has her prom pictures.

“It’s something that sticks with you for quite a while,” Camp said. “It’s that penultimate high school event. You have prom and then you have graduation. This is what’s going to define of your high school time so that’s what makes it important.”

Denise Camp, now 51, still has her prom pictures.
Denise Camp

This year, Camp and Garcia amassed over 600 dresses, a far-cry from the 75-dress rack they started with 10 years ago. 

“It’s just a happy feeling,” Garcia said. “As long as we can keep doing this and the girls are still coming, we’re going to keep doing it.”

The pair meticulously vets each dress they collect, assessing each gown for quality and style. At the end of each prom season, Camp and Garcia donate the dresses that didn’t leave the rack.

Garcia and Camp began distributing dresses on Saturday, March 2 at a pop-up shop in Camp’s garage, which is equipped with dressing rooms, seating and two warm-hearted women ready to dish out style advice at any given moment. They will continue handing out gowns at four additional events scheduled over the next two months: March 23, March 30, April 6 and April 27. Each event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 18544 Anasazi Bluff Drive in College Station. 

This year, the Princess Project partnered with Cherry Blow Dry Bar to add even more enchantment to the prom experience: each teen that walks away with a dress from the Princess Project will also receive free makeup or hair styling services. 

Briana Nipper