High school seniors missed out on a milestone this spring — as proms across Long Island were canceled and postponed — leaving students who had already purchased their attire wondering what to do with their glamorous gowns and high heels. But with the arrival of socially distant photo shoots, dress buy-and-sell groups and virtual celebrations, many Long Islanders are making sure no one forgets about prom amid the pandemic.
Senior Annika Wakefield, whose school Earl L. Vandermeulen High School is known for hosting elaborate, themed proms on its campus, expected to wear her dress to a gymnasium transformed by the efforts of parent volunteers. The school has hosted its proms on site since 1957, creating the likes of Peter Pan’s “Neverland” and Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Now, she says she'd be happy with any kind of prom.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that we still don't know what we’re doing,” says Elisa Scott, one of the prom committee chairs. Scott, whose son is a senior in the district, says the parents had to remove all of the supplies from campus in March. This included 300 sheets of cardboard and plenty of paintbrushes. She adds the volunteers were about “a quarter of the way” into the process, which begins in October and has parents painting, building and planning the prom until June.
“We are keeping our options open, whether that means we do a more traditional kind of prom or if we do something nontraditional, some kind of gathering for seniors as long as it’s safe before they go away to college,” she says
Wakefield bought her dress for the now-postponed occasion back in March from Merrily Couture, a boutique in Mount Sinai. It was the first dress she saw when she walked in — the scarlet gown has intricate beading across the bodice and a floor-length tulle skirt. “I really liked it,” says Wakefield, 18. “I thought, ‘I’ll try that one on,’ and I also brought 12 others into the dressing room with me.”
But her heart was set on that first choice. Wakefield says she’s hoping to pick it up soon in case her prom is rescheduled for this summer. That's the hope of many seniors who haven't yet gotten an official word on if their milestone will be moved.
In the tight-knit community of Shelter Island, the junior class had been working hard leading up to the big night previously set for May 30. It’s since been canceled, with plans to reschedule up in the air.
Michelle Corbett, the junior class adviser, says since there are only about 75 students in the entire high school, all grade levels are invited to the prom every year. Her daughter Angelina Rice would have attended her first prom this year as a freshman.
Rice picked out her dress from the Ask Alice Boutique in Oceanside: a backless, royal blue gown with a train.
“By the time it arrived, the shutdown had begun and the store was closed,” Corbett says. “Someone from the store contacted me, and my sister, who lives in Oceanside, was able to go pick up the dress from the woman's house.”
With a dress secured and nowhere to go, students in Rice’s situation may feel helpless. But they have a few options.
Capturing the moment
For those who don’t want to part with their prom dresses just yet, there are local photographers still looking to capture the special moments and fashion from a social distance — no prom necessary.
Darya Bradshaw, of Kings Park, posted on her photography Facebook page that she’s offering discounts for any student who would like to star in a prom photo shoot. She wrote: “If you have your dress, let's make the most of it!” The photo shoots will be held outdoors, and Bradshaw says it wouldn’t be necessary for her to get any closer than six feet from her subjects.
“I want to make girls feel better about missing out on something they look forward to,” says Bradshaw, who has been working as a professional photographer since 2014. “I’m hoping these photos do that. Even if they can’t go to prom, they can put on their dress and get all dolled up.”
Nancy Sinoway, who owns Nancy Sinoway Tailoring And Alterations Studio in Port Washington, is offering “social distancing” appointments in her shop for dress alterations, and prom photo shoots, dubbed "Prom on Main," with a professional photographer. The photo shoot setup is outdoors and includes an old school Volkswagen Beetle and vintage furniture, says Sinoway. There is more information, along with an appointment request form, on her website, nancysinoway.com/prom-on-main.
“The response has been amazing,” Sinoway says. “If there’s a demand, then we’ll do this through the Fourth of July.”
There is another chance to dress your best: a virtual prom.
Jen Forman of Charlotte’s Closet in Port Washington hosted a nationwide, virtual celebration on May 9, which saw close to 2,000 attendees, Forman says. Her daughter, Charlotte Forman, 17, who attends Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, was among the Long Island teens who participated in the celebration from their own houses. She wore a black, cutout maxi gown.
Still to come is the LGBT Network’s annual prom, which will be held virtually this year. It will be live-streamed across social media platforms with DJs, performers and LGBT youth sharing their stories on June 19.
“Our prom, which is traditionally attended by upward of 400 Long Island youths, now has the potential to reach thousands of youths across the country,” says David Kilmnick, CEO of The LGBT Network.
The prom is free of charge, and as always, the goal is for kids to have fun and “just be themselves,” Kilmnick says. More information can be found at LGBTNetwork.org.
Say yes, or goodbye, to the dress
Others may already be looking for ways to find a new use for their dresses.
The Long Island Dresses and Prom Buy and Sell Facebook group has gotten an “increase” in members and posts since the pandemic began, says Jessica Blanchard, the group’s founder. She created the group in 2016 so Long Islanders could buy and sell formalwear locally. “The group ranges from all ages,” Blanchard says. “There are wedding dresses, mother-of-the-bride dresses, baby christening dresses. It’s a whole community.”
Blanchard says though parties have been postponed, the group has still served as a resource — and sales have been made — for people looking to repurpose prom accessories for events like weddings later in the year.
Of course, many schools and local organizations are holding onto hope for making a memorable prom night happen from a distance.
Karen Sambursky is this year’s co-chair of Gambol, which is Paul D. Schreiber High School’s prom celebration. In the middle of the Port Washington school’s fundraising efforts, “everything was put on hold,” Sambursky says, “or canceled, because here we are in the great unknown.”
While they wait to make new prom plans, parent volunteers have placed “Congratulations Class of 2020” signs on the lawns of 390 students as a surprise. Sambursky feels sad for the students, and going forward she wants to figure out exactly what kind of prom they’d want to make it more special.
“It’s not set in stone,” she says, “but [the prom organizers] have talked about hearing what kids want and how they would feel coming back to a party at Thanksgiving. It’s very different. We’d envision it as more of a homecoming party. We want them to be able to come back and be happy and excited.”
She adds some students are saving their dresses for weddings and future occasions, while others may just keep them in their closets.