Skip to main content

The Yankee Express

Gowns are Free at Oxford’s Prom Closet

By Janet Stoica

Michelle Aronson and Debra Mercure have been collecting prom gowns for high school students for five years now. They are dedicated high school teaching colleagues who saw a need and set about finding a solution. Many high school girls couldn’t afford to attend their Senior Proms because of the large expenses involved. Aronson’s and Mercure’s dedication and persistence speaks volumes about their character and desire to fulfill the needs of students to attend one of the most significant social events of high school without having to spend hundreds of dollars for fashionable and beautiful gowns and accessories. The young ladies who visit their prom gown outlet will attend their proms in the most elegant and kicky styles their tastes prefer. All at no cost.

Michelle Aronson and Deb Mercure


“We wanted the kids to go to their proms without having to spend $500 or more for their formal wear,” said Aronson, “we had many community donations and decided we could help with their gowns. Prom tickets are $100 or more. When you add in the cost of their dresses, shoes, nails, makeup, and hair, the ultimate price is out of sight. Many of the girls are into thrifting and repurposing now so this works out very well for them. If they are going to college, they can certainly use the extra cash they’ll save by choosing one of these beautiful gowns. College books and fees are expensive. Now they can dedicate the money they’re saving for college expenses.  Some of these dresses are priced at $900 and are just perfect. They borrow from us and wear the item for four hours and then clean and return it. It works out very well. The styles are from vintage to contemporary.”
The Prom Closet also offers shoes, jewelry, hair pins, and accessories. It’s really a one-stop shop. Many of the students visit with a favorite pair of shoes and go about searching for just the right complementary gown. “It’s all about helping them have a good time,” said Aronson, “We fit them and help adjust the gowns. We have sizes from 0 to 26. We carry over 600 dresses and currently have lent out about 50 but our appointment schedule is becoming more booked as the prom season of May nears. We have over 100 pairs of shoes from heels to flats. All of the girls who visit us are very appreciative. They are from local high schools as well as from the Worcester, Springfield, and Connecticut areas. The gowns are given in good faith, 80 percent are returned to us cleaned or we have them cleaned. We have several great volunteers but would look forward to having more volunteers. Volunteers are welcome to message on Facebook. There is a young woman who is a student at Nichols College and she is into fashion and is volunteering. I also have to mention Lisa Laconto of the Barton Center who is simply amazing!”
Recently, the Prom Closet relocated to The Clara Barton Center, 60 Clara Barton Road, North Oxford. The Center had reached out to the Prom Closet when they announced they were closing and were about to donate their inventory to another location. The Center felt that the Prom Closet was a good cause and they have been very accommodating according to Aronson. “The Center is amazing.” she said, “We are very much like a boutique now. We have a large boutique mirror as well as a pedestal viewing mirror, beautiful rolling display racks for our hundreds of gowns, and the atmosphere is just wonderful. A beautiful cathedral ceiling, plenty of room, a fireplace, wood floors, ceiling fans, and great lighting. Our atmosphere is very calm, private, and comfortable.” 
The Sweet Lou Flower Shop of Charlton has donated two floral wrist corsages for two lucky prom attendees and there is a box set up for the drawing. “Alex Diaz Salisbury, the owner, is super-creative,” said Aronson. “He named his shop after his mother-in-law. All girls who visit the Prom Closet are eligible for entering their name for the beautiful wrist corsages. Of course, we do accept donations and were recently able to buy rolling racks for all the dresses. A total of $1,000 was given by the Southbridge Lions Club and Al’s Pest Control of Southbridge for which we are very grateful.” 
As Aronson was quick to mention, so many of us are used to picking by price tag but now with the beautiful array of gowns at their location that practice is unnecessary, you can select just about whatever catches your eye. The students are advised that this is a “borrow boutique” and that the dresses must be returned. They cater to students of all income levels. Many of them are grateful to save their money for future educational purposes.  
Aronson and Mercure have used their connections to reach out to other schools telling them about their venture. They are on Facebook and Instagram “The Prom Closet at the Barton Center.”  Potential prom customers must visit the two social media sites to make an appointment where they can pick a time and set up an appointment to visit and try on gowns and/or accessories. Busy season begins at the end of February and goes through mid-April with June being the month for gown returns. 
The Prom Closet, 60 Clara Barton Road, North Oxford MA.  By appointment only. Visit them on Facebook or Instagram.