Free or Cheap Prom Dresses: Gowns for Girls on a Budget
The information in this article is current as of February 17, 2022.
Prom is a fun coming-of-age experience for many adolescents. It’s a place for romance, dancing, glamor, and fun with your friends! But, if you’re from a low-income family, prom may also fill you with anxiety. How can you afford the night of your dreams if your family struggles to pay the bills?
The good news is, help is out there! If you’re looking for the prom dress of your dreams on a budget, read on. There are great ways to get free or cheap prom dresses for your special night.
Find Free Prom Dresses Online, Social Media
Want to pay $0 for your prom dress? Try the internet. Peruse this roundup of the best websites and social media spots to get FREE things.
Facebook marketplace is a searchable section of Facebook. For example, to find free dresses, use the search bar. Then, filter your search results to see “only free items.”
You can also set a price window, so you only see results within your price range.
Facebook also has groups with dedicated themes. For example, some groups empower members to trade or borrow designer clothes, including designer items. Consider joining Facebook groups dedicated to buying, selling, or trading clothes. These groups often use the acronym “BST.”
Craigslist Free Pages
Craigslist is like an old-school newspaper ad section, but online. In addition, each Craigslist section is defined regionally.
To find free stuff, go to Craigslist for your city. Then, click the “for sale” drop-down menu and choose “free stuff.” You can narrow it down using the search bar if there’s a lot.
Reddit: r/Freebies (and Similar Subreddits)
Reddit is a social media platform built around subreddits. Each subreddit focuses on a specific topic.
If you’re looking for a free or cheap prom dress, consider joining one of the following subreddits. Some are dedicated to free things, while others are all about fashion, bargains, or generosity:
There are many more subreddits out there where you might get your dream dress. Why not explore?
Twitter: @FreeStuffFinder, #giveaway
Twitter isn’t the best place to find a low-income prom dress. Still, some accounts and hashtags may be worth a shot. For free clothing, try following the account @FreeStuffFinder. Or, explore the posts on the hashtag #giveaway.
Instagram: Brand Deals and Promotions
On Instagram, you can get free dresses by collaborating with brands. But, brands only give ambassador deals to users with popular accounts.
Fashion Journal offers hopeful collaborators insights on how to make it work. Typically, designers offer an influential user free dresses in exchange for promotion in a post, a story, or Instagram Reels.
Non-influencers can also get free stuff on Instagram. Much like Twitter, you can follow the hashtag “#giveaway” to enter contests. You never know if you’ll be the lucky winner!
Swap and Trade Prom Dresses, Clothes
If you want a prom dress, and you have other clothes or items you don’t want, why not swap? Clothing swap and trade sites have been booming lately.
Some swap sites are strictly for clothes. Others encourage barter of all kinds of things—including services. If you don’t own anything worth trading, that’s great news! Plenty of people would love a helping hand.
Specific trade sites are strictly 1-to-1 bartering scenes. Others, like Timebanks.org, enable more complex trades among multiple people. The most popular barter sites have differing rules, so explore each of these to find the best fit for you:
- Meetup.com (clothing or fashion swap groups)
- Facebook.com (Buy/Sell/Swap/Trade groups)
Trading is a great way to get a prom dress without spending money. But if you have a little cash, you’ll find even more options.
Apps For Free or Cheap Prom Dresses
Want prom dresses in exchange for shoes you don’t like? There’s an app for that. Apps are one of the most popular ways to get free or discount items. Prom dresses are no different.
Barter and Swap With Apps
Barter and trade apps are similar to some of the websites in the previous section. If you create an account on one of these apps, you might find someone offering a prom dress in exchange for an item or service.
Barter and trade apps typically connect people in the same region. But, others enable trading worldwide, as long as you’re able to negotiate shipping costs. Currently, the most popular barter and swap apps in the United States are:
- This For That
Note that many apps are multipurpose. That is, some apps allow reselling for money as well as trade.
Resell and Buy Secondhand Clothing
Today’s best consignment shops are just a click away. On popular clothing reselling apps, it’s easy to find prom dresses for under $20. Some clearance sections even offer dresses for as little as $5, plus shipping.
These apps typically feature used dresses. Some are listed as “N.W.T.”—meaning “new, with tags.” Sellers offer these never-worn dresses at a great bargain compared to the dress’s original price. The best reselling apps to buy a prom dress are:
Another upside to these apps is the opportunity to make some cash yourself. If you are 18 years old or older, you can sell your gently worn clothes. Then, you can spend the money you’ve earned on making your prom night extra glamorous!
Bonus Tip: Cashback Apps
Cashback apps give you cashback on almost anything you buy. Popular apps like Ibotta and Krazy Coupon Lady give users actual cash for buying items from major retailers. So if you’re buying a dress from Target, the cashback can help you stay within your budget.
Free Prom Dress Organizations, Charities
The fourth tactic is to try to connect with local nonprofits. There are charitable organizations dedicated to helping low-income students. Some groups even specifically cater to young people seeking prom dresses.
These nonprofits work by receiving previously-worn prom dress donations from high-school graduates who no longer want them. Then, they redistribute them to low-income students. Students who apply fill out their size, style, and color preferences so they’ll get a dress that fits.
Local and Nationwide
Many prom dress charities are regional. You might want to search for “donated prom dresses near me” on Google to find a local group. Prom dress nonprofits with chapters nationwide include:
- Cinderella Dreams
- Glass Slipper Project
- Abby’s Closet
- Becca’s Closet
- Fairy Godmothers Inc.
- Operation Prom
- Project G.L.A.M.
- The Princess Project
Please note that many prom dress nonprofits are on temporary hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, most will resume as schools sanction indoor prom events.
Local Social Services Clothing Centers, Thrift Stores
Your city or county may support a free clothing center. If it does, you can find it by Googling “[Your County] Free Clothing Center.” You can also call 211 to reach a local directory. Thrift stores aren’t free, but they’re very low-cost.
There’s a downside to clothing centers and thrift stores, though. It’s harder to find something in your size and style. But, on the other hand, you may want to use a thrift store for a big dance, like prom, as a starting point. Then, elevate it.
Tailor to Your Size, Shape
If a clothing center has a cute dress, but it’s slightly loose or unshapely on you, try tailoring. Sites like The Spruce Crafts offer free guides to sewing basics. You can also watch dress tailoring tutorials by fashion vloggers, like Sew Anastasia on YouTube.
If you need a free or low-cost sewing machine, many of the apps and websites mentioned earlier might help. You can also try contacting fashion schools to see if they’re getting rid of any working sewing machines or replacing them with a newer model.
Level Up With Original Art
Your local thrift store might not have any prom-worthy dresses. In that case, pick a ho-hum shift dress or A-line and “make it fashion.”
One enterprising teenager took a $4 dress then embellished it with a complete train. The result? Stunning!
A dress with a stiffer fabric, like cotton or vinyl, makes a good canvas. You can paint directly on it with acrylic paint or fabric inks. If you use sublimation inks, you can heat them under an iron to dye your dress permanently.
Some young artists feel confident freehanding on their dresses. Others choose to use stencils or trace projected images. Either way, original art can take your dress from a “huh,” to a “wow!”
Mix-and-Match With Unconventional Materials
Another way to elevate a cheap dress is with unconventional materials. You might even skip the thrift-store garment entirely and D.I.Y. your dress from scratch. In past years, enterprising teenagers have made prom dresses from recycled magazines and newspapers. Others used pop cans, curtains, or wallpaper.
All of these materials are free. But if you’re willing to spend a little, you can buy some duct tape. Then, you could enter the Stuck at Prom contest.
The Stuck at Prom contest awards a $10,000 prize to two student designers who make duct tape outfits. Can you make the best dress or tuxedo from Duck brand duct tape?
How Else Can I Get Free Stuff on a Budget?
At Standup Wireless, we’re here to support low-income people and families. So whether you need free or cheap prom dresses or help to pay for utilities, we have resources organized.
That includes wireless phones and the internet. You may qualify for free or reduced-cost high-speed data, nationwide coverage, and a free smartphone if you’re a low-income individual.
All these resources are available through Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program.