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Abby’s Closet: One of Our Favorite Portland Organizations

Because no girl should be embarrassed by her prom dress like I was…

When I was 16, I went on my first date to my junior prom. My family didn’t have money for a prom dress, so I made mine from a Simplicity pattern. In home economics class, I worked very hard making an A-line dress of pink dotted swiss that had short sleeves with white daisy edging. 

When my date and I got to the prom, all of the other girls were in beautiful, formal dresses. I felt very out of place. What should have been a rite of passage fell very short, and I was embarrassed by my homemade gown. 

I never went to another prom.

Abby’s Closet began when Abby Egland was going away to college. Her mother Sally held up Abby’s junior year prom dress and asked, “What are we going to do with this?” Abby loved that dress and how it had made her feel. As the youngest child after three brothers, Abby was a bit of a tomboy, so her junior year prom was the first time she had worn a long dress. She wanted that special memory to go to another girl.

Sally called around to different high schools, but they only accepted jackets and clothes useful for everyday wear. Sally’s boss suggested she start a non-profit. Sally and Abby each called ten friends and asked them to call ten friends and so on. They collected a thousand prom dresses that first year. Red Lion donated the use of a ballroom for the first Prom Dress Giveaway.

Sally and Abby wondered if anyone would show up, but when they opened the doors, over 300 excited girls were waiting outside. Sally and Abby immediately shut the doors and burst into tears, because their emotions were so high. When they reopened the doors, the mother and daughter helped every girl find her perfect dress. The Abby’s Closet motto is, “There is a dress for every girl and a girl for every dress.” Abby’s Closet has dressed over 30,000 girls for prom since 2004. 

When our HOAG REAL ESTATE team attended the 15th Prom Dress Giveaway this year, we were impressed by the event’s organization and overwhelmed by the quality of the dresses, which included designer gowns. A student advisory board was on hand to help the girls choose dresses and help in the dressing rooms. These volunteers bring energy and fun to the annual giveaway.

High school is tough, but Abby’s Closet volunteers pride themselves on creating a community environment that welcomes all abilities, sizes, gender identities, and economic statuses. The goal of Abby’s Closet is to make every attendee feel special, beautiful, and confident. Each year, special needs students are invited to select a free prom dress the Friday before the weekend giveaway. Abby’s Closet realizes that the hustle and bustle of the main Prom Dress Giveaway might make it difficult for some of these students to attend.

For the past ten years, Abby’s Closet has also partnered with the Portland Rose Festival to provide formal dresses to high school students competing for the Rose Festival Court and scholarships. Most recently, Abby’s Closet began their new Sharing the Love program. This program provides prom dresses to underserved communities in Oregon and Washington with students who are unable to attend the Abby’s Closet annual giveaway due to distance.

In 2019, of the 7,999 dresses Abby’s Closet had on hand, 4,037 were given away. Of those, 72 went to special needs students, 2,222 went to students at the prom dress giveaway, 43 went to students competing in the 2019 Rose Festival Court, and 1,700 went to students in the Sharing the Love program.

Sally and Abby have also started an annual scholarship which awards $2,000 to a girl from Oregon or Washington. The scholarship is equally funded by a private donor and Abby’s Closet, but they are looking for another permanent donor to increase the scholarship to $2,500. The essay-driven scholarship requires applicants to be attending a trade school, community college, or four-year college and be involved in their community and school. They are looking for the girl who will embody the values and spirit of Abby’s Closet by paying it forward. Last year’s scholarship winner was chosen out of 197 applicants, and $5000 was awarded in scholarships, including the Juan Young Trust scholarship of $3000 specifically for a student.

What can you do to support this life-changing and empowering organization? Anyone can donate cash, dresses, shoes, purses, wraps, jewelry, or makeup or attend an Abby’s Closet fundraiser. As a business owner, you can make your business a drop-off location or sponsor the annual giveaway event. Bring a student with a valid student ID from any state and volunteer at the 17th annual Prom Dress Giveaway April 10-11, 2021.

I asked Abby about her most rewarding story from her time with Abby’s Closet. 

Five years ago, Abby noticed a quiet, bald girl off by herself. She found out that the girl had cancer. Abby took the girl under her wing to find dresses, but was amazed by how the other girls in the dressing rooms also took an interest and made the day special for her. The dress was just the beginning; the girl returned the next year as a volunteer and cancer survivor. She had begun to pay it forward!

HOAG REAL ESTATE is proud to be an Abby’s Closet drop-off location, and we welcome your used cocktail or prom dress. Better yet, volunteer with us at the next Prom Dress Giveaway; it is a sight to see! For more event dates and details, follow Abby’s Closet on social media @abbysclosetpdx or visit their website.

Note: This blog post was written by Nannette Troutman, a licensed Oregon broker and member of the HOAG REAL ESTATE team.