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‘You can’t tell’ the difference in dresses

Secondhand shoppers find prom dress for less

Kierstyn Summers, 15, of Rock Falls High School tries on several gently worn dresses from Goodwill in Sterling. With no dress costing more than $40, the savings are great and the selection runs from formal to fun.
Kierstyn Summers, 15, of Rock Falls High School tries on several gently worn dresses from Goodwill in Sterling. With no dress costing more than $40, the savings are great and the selection runs from formal to fun.

STERLING – Should girls consider secondhand prom dresses?

That's what Sauk Valley Media asked local students, parents, and Facebook fans. With new dresses costing hundreds, most agreed: "Yes."

'It's gotten out of hand'

A Visa survey showed that the American household spent an average of $1,139 on prom in 2013, according to PR Newswire.

Tickets, limousines, hair appointments, and flowers all add up, but the dress alone can cost upward of $600, evidenced by a simple Google shopping search.

The mother of three boys, ages 8-12, Christy Harshman of Dixon is thankful she will never have to buy one.

"It's gotten out of hand," she wrote, responding to SVM's Facebook post. "It's prom, not your kid's wedding. Glad I have boys!"

Many agree. Families are holding their wallets tighter this year, according to the survey, spending 14 percent less on prom than last year.

To save on the cost of the dress, SVM’s Facebook fans offered tips.

They suggested that girls borrow a friend's dress, wear a homemade dress, browse clearance racks, and shop at local consignment shops and thrift stores.

Others recommended online shopping at eBay, Craigslist, and several Facebook exchange groups.

'I was surprised'

Goodwill in Sterling sells all dresses for $30 or less.

Kierstyn Summers, 15, of Rock Falls High School, agreed to try them on. The sophomore, who will attend prom next year, hopes to model and study fashion merchandising someday.

On April 1, Summers browsed racks of colorful dresses in a variety of styles and sizes. She especially liked a flowy, purple dress and a red one with a beaded bodice and full skirt.

Dresses were on trend, she said, and made her feel like a princess.

“I was surprised,” she said. “They did not look like they had been worn. They were in really good condition.”

Gently used formals also are available at Dress Code in downtown Sterling. They can look as good as new, owner Tammy Larson said.

The 47-year-old Sterling woman also sells new prom dresses, but the majority of customers – about 60 percent – buy used, she said.

Prom-goers will pay about $20 to $150 for a secondhand formal, not factoring the store's frequent 50 percent-off sales and other discounts. One girl recently walked out with a $10 dress, Larson said.

Another customer saved her baby-sitting money to buy a prom dress, the store owner said, and found one she loved for $37.

“She was so happy,” Larson said, “just kind of jumping in the air.”

Larson pays girls on the spot for their gently used dresses after prom.

'That sounds really pretty'

Many local girls sell and shop for used dresses on Facebook. Popular groups include "Central Illinois Prom Dresses for Sale" and "For Sale Used Prom Dresses of Northwestern Illinois."

Girls from Morrison, Albany, Rock Falls, Sterling, Mount Morris, Dixon, and Savanna all recently had posts on the Northwestern Illinois page. Some posted pictures of a dress to sell, and others asked for help to find a dress.

That's where Sarah Snapp, 16, of Tampico, a student at Prophetstown High School, searched for a dress to meet her $100 budget. Group members were very helpful, she said.

"I have no problem with secondhand dresses,” she said. “They're cheap and, most of the time, cute."

However, even used dresses can cost hundreds, depending on how much the owner originally paid, Snapp added. She eventually bought her dress at Dress Code.

Catherine Weinzierl, 17, a senior at Dixon High School, also shopped on Facebook. She found a dress she loved, but the seller canceled their meeting and failed to reschedule, she said.

Thankfully, Weinzierl found another dress at the sixth annual Second Look Prom and Homecoming Dress Sale on Feb. 22 at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Dixon.

Proceeds from the secondhand sale help to fund local proms. Weinzierl's school received $320 this year.

She smiled as she described her $20 find – a lime green, A-line dress with beading.

"That sounds really pretty," her classmate, 18-year-old Alexis Plumb, said.

Weinzierl spent a little extra to have the dress professionally cleaned, she said.

‘I always end up selling my dresses’

Many girls, however, will wear expensive, new dresses.

AnaMarie Augustyn, 17, is one of them. The Dixon High School junior is a pageant girl. She has bought many formals to fit her tiny frame.

"Most of the time, my mom doesn't really care as much," she said. “Obviously, we are not going to buy an $800 dress for prom, but [she] doesn’t care as much because I always end up selling my dresses afterward, and so then we kind of get reimbursed for the money that we put into it anyway.”

For prom, Augustyn fell in love with a light blue, drop-waist, lace dress at Bridal Elegance in Ottawa. The price tag? $700.

Mom said no this time, Augustyn reported. However, she found and bought the exact same dress online for $450. She plans to sell it after prom.

Plumb, DHS senior class president and head of the prom committee, also bought a new dress. She found a black lace, mermaid-style dress at Wolsfelt’s Prom in Aurora for about $400.

"I didn't go to homecoming this year, so I used the money that I would have used on a dress, hair and nails," she said. "I saved that, and put it toward my prom dress this year. Also, my parents kind of saved it up during the year."

‘I don’t really care’

Although Plumb and Augustyn chose new dresses, they said those bought secondhand are often similar to new.

"You can't tell [the difference] a lot of the time," Plumb said.

Plumb would have liked to spend less, she said. She shopped gently used dresses, but did not find the one for her.

And Augustyn has rented other girls’ dresses for her pageants, she said.

Weinzierl is not ashamed of her $20 dress.

"I don't care if people know about mine," she said. "I feel like some people would have nasty comments about it, but I don't really care."

Where to shop

Rock Falls

CLS Thrift Shop, 607 First Ave.; 815-625-0517; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; benefits Christ Lutheran School in Sterling.


Goodwill, 2216 E. Fourth St.; 815-625-1740; or find on Facebook; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; all dresses $30 or less; helps people with employment barriers.

Dress Code, 5 E. Third St.; 815-625-9755; find on Facebook; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; dresses usually $20 to $150.


The Leydig Center, 1107 Warp Road; 815-284-7772; or find on Facebook; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, and Saturday; benefits various charities in Lee County.

Mount Morris

Angel Treasures Resale Shop, 4045 W. State Route 64; 779-545-0092; or find on Facebook; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dresses usually $10 to $25; supports Serenity Hospice & Home in Oregon.


Hope Chest “Twice Loved Boutique,” 411 Lincoln Highway; 815-562-8825; find on Facebook; 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday; all dresses $10 apiece; supports Hope Domestic Violence Agency.


Reruns, 120 W. Second St.; 815-406-8060; find on Facebook; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.


Goodwill, 4618 E. State St.; 815-484-9294; or find on Facebook; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; helps people with employment barriers.

Becca’s Closet at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 1829 N. Rockton St.; 815-962-4279; or find on Facebook; 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays in the spring and fall, or by appointment; all dresses are free for girls in need; a service of Rockford Area Lutheran Ministries.

Clinton, Iowa

The Dressing Room at Déjà Vu, 101 Fifth Ave. South; 563-242-3356; find on Facebook; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Local thrift and consignment stores with limited selections include Stage Two Resale Shop, 225 First Ave., Rock Falls, 815-626-7323; The Emporium Thrift Center, 115 W. Third St., Sterling, 815-535-0368; Showplace Antiques & Treasures, 307 First Ave., Sterling; Only the Best, 21 E. Third St., Sterling, 815-625-6827; Second Hand Rose, 102 E. Mason St., Polo, 815-946-2529; Presbyterian Thrift Shop, 210 N. Washington St., 815-562-5252; Rock River Resale, 404 Washington St., Oregon, 815-732-0300; Neat Repeat, 414 - 416 Main St., Savanna, 815-656-0808; and Illowa Thrift Store, 1004 Fourth St., Fulton, 815-589-2012. Call for hours and availability.

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