How to Find Free or Low-Cost Prom Dresses

Whether it's for free or lower cost, you can still bring your dance fantasy to life on a budget.

Updated March 22, 2023
Girl showing prom dress to mom

When you add up the costs of the dress, flowers, the pictures, dinner, transportation, and the ticket together, prom can be so expensive that some people opt out of going. It doesn't help when the special events industry knows they can charge more for a dress that would cost half the amount in the off-season.

But you don't have to settle for less than you deserve. There are places where you can get free prom dresses or ones at a lower cost, and we're here give you tips on the best places to check out.

Places to Find a Free Prom Dress

According to Penn Live, the average price of a prom dress before alterations is about $300-$700. Depending on how many alterations you need and how quickly you need them done, that price can easily jump $200-$300.

Once you've got high school in your rearview mirror, hearing totals like that can feel like jumping into a freezing cold pool. In a way, prom's become the dress rehearsal for the modern day wedding, including the outrageous price tags.

But, cost shouldn't be a reason that you don't attend a major social function with your friends. It might not have even crossed your mind, but there are places you can get prom dresses for free.

Friends trying on prom dresses

Operation Prom

Operation Prom's a unique 501(c)(3) nonprofit that offers both prom dresses and tuxedos to needful students across the entire United States. You can visit one of their locations in the following states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Throughout the year, Operation Prom holds giving events where students can schedule an appointment to browse through their collections. Visit the events page on their website for more details.

Becca's Closet

Becca's Closet was built to honor one family's lost teenager. Becca passed away from a car accident in 2003 at just 16 years old, but just a few years prior had organized a dress drive. She collected 250 formal dresses to help balance the financial inequality of prom in her area.

The organization now collects dresses from around the country and seeks to help provide students in the South Florida area with free prom dresses. If you live in the area, all you need to do is submit a form on their website to schedule a consultation.

If you don't live in Florida, Becca's Closet could still help. You can visit one of their chapter locations in any of the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The Cinderella Project of Kalamazoo

The Cinderella Project of Kalamazoo was founded in 2006 and is sponsored by multiple Michigan businesses. Every year, they hold a dress giveaway event where teens can get access to hundreds of donated prom dresses. Their events are by appointment only, and you apply on their website.

The Giving Gown Foundation

The Giving Gown Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides teens with access to free prom dresses. On top of providing these gowns, they seek to treat each of their clients "with respect, grace and love." If you live in the Houston, Texas area, you can sign up to register for one of their Boutique Days where you can be fitted for a dress.

The Princess Project

According to their website, "The Princess Project promotes self-confidence and individual beauty by providing free prom dresses and accessories to teens who would otherwise be unable to attend their event." Based in California, the Princess Project accepts donations and celebrates people of all body types.

However, to get one of their free dresses, you do have to attend one of their 'Free Prom Dress Giveaway' events throughout the year. If you don't live near the Silicon Valley area, this won't be too easy to get too.

The Prom Project

Every year, Girl Foundation, Inc. supports the Prom Project, an initiative that seeks to provide teens in the Charlotte, North Carolina area with free prom dresses. Their permanent location is in Huntersville, North Carolina, and you can get fitted for a prom dress by signing up for a Saturday appointment.

Tips for Finding Free Prom Dresses Near You

Currently, they are only a few organizations with national or multi-state reach that provide teens with free prom dresses. Local groups are the backbone of supporting these equity-driven initiatives. So, if your area isn't listed here, it doesn't mean there isn't an organization or event you can attend.

Ask your teachers, guidance counselors, and adults in your community if they know of any events that're happening. Also, drop by a few local boutiques to see if they donate dresses to any organization you can go to.

You can also check with your local mall, call or look on local radio station or news websites, check city or community websites, or ask at local libraries or area churches about prom dress giveaway events.

Quick Tip

Many local organizations that offer free prom dresses have designated giveaway events scheduled for several hours on a specific day, so make sure to check for dates and times when you hear of a place that offers them.

Lower the Cost By Thrifting Your Prom Dress

Thrift store dresses

While there are good options for finding free prom dresses for low-income families, finding one at a minimal price is another way to cut costs. If you just have a smaller budget to spend on your prom dress, thrifting it is a great idea. So many people wear their prom dresses only one time, so they're practically brand new when they donate them to a thrift store or try to sell it themselves online.

Here are just a few of the best places you can look for cheap prom dresses online.

  • Depop - Depop is a popular online retailer where people can list their old clothes for much cheaper.
  • Facebook Marketplace - Facebook Marketplace is a great place to visit right after prom season to see which used dresses you can snatch up for cheap.
  • ThredUP - ThredUP is a national retailer that sells thrifted fashion online for a fraction of the retail price.
  • Poshmark - Poshmark works just like Depop, but has a reputation for having more luxury and expensive items in their catalog.

Tips for Thrifting the Right Prom Dress

Whether you're shopping in-person or online, thrifting can be a godsend for people on a budget. But, there are a few techniques you can use when thrifting to find the right prom dress much faster.

Don't Just Search Prom Dress

If you only look for prom dresses, you might be missing out on a better deal elsewhere. Use other search terms like "formal dress," "fancy dress," "evening wear," etc. to get a broader selection of options. For instance, some bridesmaid dresses are just extravagant and formal enough to wear to a prom.

You Can Size Up and Alter

Most people don't discover the wonders of tailoring until they're well into adulthood. Yet, some well-done alterations can make a basic gown look incredible. If you can't find a cheap dress that you like in your size, expand your search up a few sizes. It's much easier (and cheaper) to take something in than it is to let something out.

Start Looking in the Summer/Fall

When thrifting, it's going to take time to find the perfect dress, so you do need to start looking before the dance. If you jump on it in the summer and fall, you'll have a good chance of finding people's prom dresses they just decided to donate. After all, when they're heading to college or moving out, the last thing most people want to keep around is a one-night-only kind of dress.

Rent Your Prom Dress for a Smaller Fee

If you don't want to spend a ton of money on a dress you're not going to keep, or don't want to find room for something extra in your closet, you can always rent a dress. Renting is much more sustainable than buying and it's often a fraction of the cost.

Here are just a few of the different online dress rental options you can choose from.

Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway is one of the best-known rental clothing businesses out there. You do have to sign up for a monthly subscription, but the base model costs $69, which is far cheaper than most prom dresses. It gives you access to their catalog of clothes worth up to $350. You can always just subscribe for the month of your prom and then cancel it when you return it.

My Wardrobe HQ

Just like Rent the Runway, My Wardrobe HQ is a subscription-based rental service that costs (at the baseline) $71.74 per month. They also lend out designer outfits for special events like Rent the Runway, but they're based in the UK. So, if you happen to have a school that's jumped on the prom bandwagon across the pond, this is a great alternative to buying.

Style Lend

Style Lend is a unique rental format that doesn't have a monthly subscription. Instead, you can browse through their catalog of clothing and accessories and rent anything for the less-than-retail price they've listed. Within 2-3 days you get your dress shipped to you and you can don't have to return it for 7 days.

Look for Sales & Discounts In-Store and Online

Many departments stores and junior's clothing stores will run sales at different times throughout the year on formal dresses, so check out what they have available on their sale or clearance racks. While the steepest discounts will usually be post-prom season, it's worth checking out their sales and looking for online coupon codes in your search for the perfect prom dress.

Opting in to email sign-ups can also yield coupons you may be able to use to get a lower price on your dream dress.

Extend Your Search to Outlet and Bridal Stores

Outlet stores and bridal shops are other places you can find prom dresses. Remember, it doesn't have to be sold next to a sign that says 'prom dress' in order for it to be your prom dress. You may find a discount bridesmaid dress that is the perfect fit.

Find the Fantasy for Free (or at a Lower Cost)

If you have a desire to go to prom, then nothing should stand in your way of being able to. What was once a pretty affordable event has now turned into something with a significant financial barrier. But, there are many places you can find a free prom dress or find one for a lower price - so long as you know where to look.

How to Find Free or Low-Cost Prom Dresses