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At Mall of America, teens prep for prom

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Operation Glass Slipper
High schoolers search for the perfect prom dress at the Operation Glass Slipper event at the Mall of America on Saturday, March 12, 2011 in Bloomington, Minn.
MPR Photo/Rupa Shenoy

It's high school prom season, and two events at the Mall of America this weekend helped teens prepare; one displayed all the newest trends in fashion, while the other allowed low-income girls to receive donated gowns. 

Promopolis was a first-time event set up in the Mall of America's circular Best Buy Rotunda, between the Sea Life Aquarium on one side and the Nickolodean Universe on the other. A raised runway in the middle was surrounded by tables of vendors who had everything a teenager needs for prom: dresses, tuxedos, makeup, hair, shoes, flowers and more. 

Brittany Link, a senior at Eden Prairie High School who happens to be Miss Minnesota, has a budget of about $400 for her dress. She worked hard to save the money, but she said she still isn't taking prom too seriously.

"I know a lot of people hype it up to a lot," Link said. "But I think for me, I went in just saying, 'hey I want to have a fun night, I get to get all dressed up, gorgeous gown with hair and makeup and super high-heeled shoes, and just have fun.' That's what it's all about."

Promopolis was the brainchild of MaryAnne London, who owns Glitz, a store that sells prom attire in the Mall. She said families are still willing to spend money on proms, despite the down economy.  

Promopolis event
A prom dress is displayed at the Promopolis event at the Mall of America on Saturday, March 12, 2011 in Bloomington, Minn.
MPR Photo/Rupa Shenoy

"I think a prom event is really second to a wedding in what girls dream about and what parents are willing to do for kids and grandkids," London said. "So sometimes they'll come in they'll say, 'we really scrimped on our sophomore and junior gowns, but this is my daughter's senior year, she can have anything she wants.'" 

But some families still struggle to pay for prom. Those daughters had a chance to get a donated gown up on the fourth floor, at Operation Glass Slipper.

The non-profit collects donated gowns throughout the year. Girls recommended by their schools get one of the prom gowns, along with free alterations, shoes, jewelry, a purse and a shawl. The event is in its fifth year.

Each girl also gets a "fairy godmother" to lead her through the process. Harding High School Senior Annie Moua's fairy godmother was English high school teacher Erica Ramisch.

On Saturday, Ramisch led Moua through the first section of what resembled a warehouse, filled with racks of dresses of all different styles and colors. They spent about a half-hour looking through hundreds of dresses. 

Glass Slipper's founder, Pam Philipp, spends a year getting these dresses together.

"We wash them, or we have them dry-cleaned, and I re-bead. I re-bead, I re-bead, I re-bead," Philipp said. "Our dining room table doesn't have place settings, it has dress settings."

Philipp said prom is a right of passage all girls should have.

"And it's a night of feeling beautiful and knowing that you look great and having a great time, and you're not outside looking in," she said.

Annie Moua tried on several gowns before she found the one -- a long flowing silver dress, with a square neckline and crisscrossed straps in the back. 

"I'm not very out there, I'm pretty shy and so prom and this helps me kind of socialize among other people," Moua said.

Moua and her friends have been promising each other they'll go to senior prom together since they were kids, and she said she's glad she'll be able to keep that promise.