Prom outfit hire service helps UK teens who can’t afford dress or tux for big night

A bog-hearted entrepreneur has created an award-winning social enterprise that lends prom outfits to young people whose family can’t afford a dream dress or new tuxedo.

Ally Elouise, from Llandudno, had the idea for Prom Ally while studying law at Liverpool John Moores University.

Having watched a documentary about poverty in Britain, which included families struggling with the financial burden of purchasing a high-end outfit, Ally decided to act.

She purchased several second-hand prom dresses from charity shops around Liverpool and set about creating a “foodbank but for formal wear”.

WalesOnline reports that earlier this month she won the social enterprise start-up of the year award in the Wales Start-Up Awards 2022.

Ally recalls her own school prom 12 years ago as a night to remember, where she had got the dress she wanted and had a “great time”.

Then just 15, she didn’t think much about the reasons some children in her year didn’t come to the pivotal event.

“I thought they just didn’t want to,” the 27-year-old told WalesOnline.

“But obviously as I got older and became an adult I looked back on it and I realised that the people that didn’t go to the prom were probably from a family that was struggling financially.

“It turns out there’s so many people that don’t go to these events because of the financial barriers.

“It just really upset me because we all had a great time at our prom. Some people leave school, some carry on to sixth form. It’s the last time you’ll see everyone collectively and your teachers.”

Children need to be referred via a form on the Prom Ally website by their school, a local authority, a foodbank, or a charity in order to use the service.

All families have to pay is £10 to cover the postage costs but Prom Ally will cover that too if need be.

Ally used her 21st birthday money to initially set up the venture from her university accommodation.

Armed with one mannequin and about 15 to 20 prom dresses which she bought from charity shops across Liverpool, she took photos of the clothes and contacted her old school.

“I was just helping a few kids from my local school back in Llandudno at the time. I didn’t actually think it was going to get as big as it got.”

After graduating Ally moved back to Llandudno and, instead of returning to law, carried on Prom Ally while working as teaching assistant at a local primary school.

“I did a lot of promotion on Facebook and social media and actually really quickly – I think because it was such a niche idea – we managed to get a few newspaper articles,” she added.

“Really quickly people starting asking if they could donate their old prom dress. So since that first purchase of 15 dresses I’ve never actually bought anymore because they’re all donated in now.”

Now Prom Ally has 4,000 donated prom outfits held in a storage unit in Colwyn Bay.

The growth of the project meant she could turn Prom Ally into her full-time job in 2020 and open a shop on the high street in Llandudno.

This year has seen the return of proms and a boom in referrals to Prom Ally.

For Ally it’s clear the cost of living crisis is a reason for the increase as well as the universal credit cut.

“A lot of the families we helped were on universal credit,” she said. “I think a lot of these families will probably go into debt to try and buy the dress that their daughter wants.

“There are other things that are so much more important that they could be buying like food and putting the heat on.

“Sometimes there’s a parent that will say that they were feeling really down and that they’d let their children down.

“So to know that you’ve helped that and helped to change that is a really nice feeling. Stuff like that just really makes me realise why I do it and why I’ve put so much time into it over these years.”