At Huntington's Project Prom, students got to pick out free dresses, suits, ties and shoes to help cut costs. Newsday family writer Beth Whitehouse reports.  Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

When it comes to high school, prom is often among the most anticipated occasions. It’s the last hurrah — a celebratory time for classmates to come together after years of hard work. On the flip side, it’s also likely the most expensive event in which the bulk of students will participate.

Financially speaking, this can be a heavy lift. There are the tickets for the big gig, sometimes transportation costs and after-parties to contend with. But among the biggest hits may be the clothes. Many young women aspire to a dreamy gown and guys often go for a tux or suit rental. According to Estelle’s Dressy Dresses in Farmingdale the average prom dress runs from $300 to $500, this not including accessories such as jewelry, handbags and shoes. At Esquire Tuxedos in Merrick suit and tux packages for complete ensembles are $199 plus, and an additional $30 for shoes.

Jordan Cerna, 17, of South Huntington, and her brother, Alexander, 15, show off their chosen attire during a Project Prom event at the John J. Flanagan Center in Huntington April 4. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

But here’s the good news. There are plenty of Long Island organizations that have stepped up to help out. Prom dress and suit collections have been in the works for months and there are frothy mountains of new and once-worn dresses out there available for free. Sometimes, there are even accessories and makeup being offered. And more and more frequently, guys can get into the act as there’s been an increased focus on menswear with the availability of free tuxedos, suits, shirts and footwear.

Most recently, one of these prom giveaways occurred at the John J. Flanagan Center in Huntington. Dubbed Project Prom and sponsored by Huntington Town Council members, the event was geared to creating a boutique-like atmosphere with a red carpet, photo booth and refreshments along with hundreds of dresses, suit jackets and accessories.

Jordan Cerna, 17, of South Huntington, shows off her dresses during Project Prom at the John J. Flanagan Center in Huntington April 4. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

“The cost is a big factor,” Ingrid Menor-Olguin, 18, a senior at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, says of why she found the event a big help.

Tickets for her prom are $120 a person, she says. There’s also Ubers or party buses to add to the cost, and makeup and hair — she’s planning to have little gemstones put into hers, she says. She thinks she would have had to spend at least $200 for the purple spaghetti strap dress she chose if she bought it in a store.

Katherine Wede weathered the wind and cold to get a...

Katherine Wede weathered the wind and cold to get a picture of her friends Isabella Falcone and Aedan Cotter on the veranda of the Manhasset Yacht Club on April 5. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Kevin Membreño, 17, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, found himself torn between a traditional black suit jacket and a snazzy blue plaid one. “Here’s what we’re gonna do,” says Ronald Worrell, a Huntington employee who helped boys choose their suits. “You’re taking both of them.” Membreño promises to let Worrell know which one he ends up wearing. 

There are plenty more places for free prom clothes.

Project Prom Pop Up

Date: April 18

Location: John J. Flanagan Center; 423 Park Ave., Huntington

Time: 2-6 p.m.

Required: A valid high school I.D.

This is the second such event sponsored by Huntington Town Council supervisor Ed Smyth, District Attorney Ray Tierney and Councilwoman Theresa Mari where there will be plenty of offerings in what they’re calling “a prom attire boutique experience.” Find prom gear for both girls and boys here, and volunteers who will help find the perfect look for the big day.

Prom Boutique

Date: April 20

Location: David S. Mack Center For Training & Intelligence; 1 Law Enforcement Way, Garden City

Time: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Required: A valid high school I.D.

Formerly led by the Long Island Volunteer Center and the Junior League of Long Island, this year the event has been taken over by the Nassau County Police Department and fraternal organizations. It is open to the public and “spectacular,” says NCPD Det. Tracey Cabey. Girls can pick two dresses (there are 4,000 of them) along with pocketbooks, jewelry and makeup. For prom-going boys, there are some 300 suits and plenty of dress shirts and shoes to go along with them, according to Cabey. She says, “I can’t imagine anyone going into this event that won’t find something that fits their style.”

Added fun: A DJ, balloons and a stand-on podium where shoppers can take 360-photos of their new finery.

Prom Impact

Date: April 20

Location: Suffolk County Police Academy; 1001 Crooked Hill Rd., Brentwood

Time: 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Required: Suffolk County students only; bring a valid high school I.D.

“This is the Suffolk County Police Department’s biggest event of the year,” says SCPD Det. Sgt. Tamika Mays. “We want all students, no matter what their economic status, to have the best attire for their most important event of the year.” Mays notes that they’ve collected more than 1,000 prom dresses along with a good selection of tuxedos and suits, ties and footwear. Free makeup is also available.

Youth Bureau, Brookhaven

Date: Now through June 14

Time: Daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (except holidays) and 5 p.m.-7:30 p.m. April 25, May 16 and June 6, 

Required: Student I.D., resident of Brookhaven only. By appointment only. Call 631-451-8011. 

Enjoy a private appointment with interface coordinator Josie Lunde who runs the boutique-like space within an office building. The program was started in 1997 with 25 dresses, according to Lunde. Today, they have more than 1,000 (many new with tags) along with shoes, costume jewelry, makeup and handbags. It’s a positive experience, Lunde explains. “The girls think it’s fabulous and the parents say, ‘You don’t know how good this makes us feel.' ”

Southold Youth Bureau

Date: Year-round

Location: Peconic Community Center; 1170 Peconic Lane, Peconic

Time: Hours vary

Required: By appointment. Call 631-765-8251 or email Residents of Southold only.

Have a look at this cache of donated dresses in a private setting where high school students and those involved in ROTC and any type of military occasion are invited to “shop” on a one-to-one basis. Added bonus? Youth Bureau director Tracey Moloney offers young women who donate their dresses a certificate of community service.

The Prom Closet

Date: April 17

Location: John Bowne High School; 6325 Main St., Flushing 

Time: 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Required: Student I.D. and preregistration, only for senior students at the school

“We noticed that kids weren’t signing up for senior activities and the biggest concern this year was cost,” says senior adviser Lisa Graer. “We didn’t want to add the additional cost of prom.” To that end, the school is offering free prom wear in what Graer calls “a boutique atmosphere.” Included in the mix: tuxedos, suits, ties, cocktail dresses and evening gowns. “We have all kinds of dresses,” says Graer, noting various styles including, “Cinderella, slim, bridesmaids and more.”

Senior Prom Dress Giveaway 

Date: April 20

Location: Elmont Memorial High School; 555 Ridge Rd., Elmont 

Time: 1-4 p.m.

Required: Preregister by writing to Bring student I.D. Event is open to the community and hosted by Elmont Memorial PTSA in partnership with MeeraEmpowerment and You’re Our Unity.

“Anybody in need of a prom dress is welcome,” says Savitre Ferdinand of MeeraEmpowerment, a foundation launched in 2021 by her daughter, Selene Ferdinand, now 12. Find plenty of new and gently worn gowns along with a small selection of menswear. There will be snacks and activities.

LIHBA Annual Prom Dress Drive

Date: June 4

Location: Huntington High School; 188 Oakwood Rd., Huntington

Time: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Required: Only for students at the school.

For last-minute types still in need of prom gear at Huntington High School, this is a great opportunity to peruse the rolling racks brought there by members of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association, which sponsors the event. Find plenty of dressy dresses, cocktail and gown styles, along with shoes, accessories and jewelry. The organization expects to have some suits and tuxedos.

With Beth Whitehouse