Louise Zollinger was torn.
The 16-year-old junior from Pine Valley High School held up the light blue satin prom dress with sea green sequins against her cotton-candy pink hair.
Then she held up the sapphire blue sheath dress with the shimmery, black overlay and white-rhinestone jewels that attached the dress straps. Her mother suggested that the dark blue dress went better with her pink hair.
Louise turned and looked in the mirror – again.
“I do like it a lot,” she murmured, having already tried the dress on once before returning to the racks to consider other options.
Louise was one of 75 girls who stormed through Performing Arts Dance Academy in Hamburg during the first 45 minutes the studio opened for the fifth annual Prom Dress Drive Shopping Days giveaway Saturday afternoon.
Girls, accompanied by moms, classmates and siblings, carried heaps of frothy, glittering fabric in their arms as they combed the racks and waited for dressing rooms to open. Many came from the Southtowns, though some traveled greater distances, from as far north as North Tonawanda and as far south as Cattaraugus County.
The event, sponsored by Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon, Urban Valet Dry Cleaners and the dance academy, gave girls the chance to pick up one of about 700 clean, gently used formal dresses for free.
Mikayla Pusatier, 15, and Ellie Demarchi, 16, both students at Orchard Park High School, held different variations on the color black.
Ellie was sticking with a black dress that featured skinny straps and a narrow, sequined top that flared out into a short, wispy skirt that ended above the knees.
“It’s simple,” she said, “but it still sparkles.”
Mikayla, meanwhile, was still looking. In her arms was a strapless, satin, floor-length dress with a simple sweetheart neckline. It was her top choice at the moment.
“I feel like I can wear it with pearls or diamonds,” she said.
The dresses were donated and collected during a few weeks in March, Dixon said. They were dropped off at Urban Valet locations, area libraries, Hamburg town and village halls and the Boys and Girls club of Eden. Urban Valet cleaned them for free before the event, then bagged up the dresses the girls took home.
Other contributing businesses donated accessories like jewelry and shoes.
But it was the dresses themselves that held the girls’ attention.
Maya Thompson, a 16-year-old junior at Hutchinson Technical High School in Buffalo, was on the hunt for a dress to wear to her junior prom. Even though the city holds its own free “Gowns 4 Prom” event at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Maya said, that event is held only a few days before her prom. She didn’t want to wait that long.
She stood in line for the waiting room carrying a strapless, black satin dress with a band of white trim across the bodice and a white skirt inset and another black dress that her mother described as the white-Marilyn-Monroe-dress-in-black. Finally, she held a short “butterfly” dress with delicate turquoise layers.
Maya said she was going for the “old-fashioned” look, though she admitted the turquoise dress didn’t fit the mold.
On the other side of the dressing rooms, near the door, was Robin Conrow, a 16-year-old sophomore at Gowanda High School, who had decided on a dress for her church formal.
Packed up in an Urban Valet plastic dress bag was strapless, lemon yellow ball gown with a petticoat-laden skirt, corset-string back and sequins zipping over the top. Robin said she was attracted to the fact that it was “really puffy and all glittery.”
She was one of 16 girls who made the 45-minute trip to Hamburg to look over dresses. It’s the third year in a row she’s come.
“Who’s going to turn down a beautiful, free dress?” she said.
The event continues from noon to 3 p.m. today in Performing Arts Dance Academy, 206 Lake St., Hamburg. Dixon said dresses that aren’t snatched up over the weekend will be donated to four other groups holding similar events in the future.