Most high school seniors celebrate their prom at the school gym. It’s not the most glamorous setting but it makes for lasting memories of slow dances under a basketball hoop or make out sessions up against lockers. The students of East Rockaway High School didn’t have the chance: After Hurricane Sandy hit, the school sustained over $10 million in damages and its students were displaced for the next six months. Many of the students were forced out of their own homes, too. They’ve only just been allowed back in their school.
But last week 230 East Rockaway High juniors and seniors were treated to a dream prom courtesy of Rent the Runway, the wildly successful dress rental company. And when we say “dream prom” we mean beyond any 17-year-old’s wildest dreams.
“We thought that Hurricane Sandy was a great opportunity to give back,” Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss told us. “We’re all about giving women those Cinderella moments and we wanted to extend that vision.”
The dance was hosted at the Hempstead House at the Sands Point Preserve on Long Island–a literal castle on acres of groomed grounds overlooking the water. Darren Criss and Jordin Sparks performed. Aerial bartenders (yes, they exist) hung from the ceilings, their legs in splits while they poured sparkling cider to prom-goers. My Fair Wedding’s David Tutera created a Midsummer Night’s Dream’s theme for the night, which meant giant floral arrangements worthy of any over-the-top wedding adorned each table top. Rent the Runway outfitted the girls in designer gowns (400 gowns were donated), while the Men’s Wearhouse took care of the boys. Sarah Jessica Parker and Solange Knowles even donated their own dresses for the event.
“It’s so extraordinary–this tops any regular prom,” Brittany Schmidt, 17, wearing an azure blue floor-length gown, told us. “This is really special to me because I was displaced from my home [after Sandy]. I got a few feet of water in my house and we weren’t able to live there for a few weeks. So coming here tonight, it’s like, things happen for a reason.”
Schmidt was one of the girls Rent the Runway’s fashion director Lucy Sykes Rellie remembers making over at a styling party held just one month before the prom. “It’s just that magical thing that never gets old–a makeover,” Sykes Rellie said. “It’s that fairy dust moment–I’ve seen a few of the girls I made over tonight and they’re just like crying they’re so excited.”
No one was more excited than 17-year-old senior Molly Bastow, whose essay won over the Rent the Runway team, earning her small high school the chance to have a fairy tale prom. “She told us not only how devastated their school and their homes were but also how they’d really come together as a school and how it brought them closer and how they found positives amidst a terrible situation,” Fleiss said. “And that was the same for our company. Rent the Runway had a really difficult time with Sandy [the company lost power and business suffered], but it was the time that we had the closest bonding as a team.”
Only Bastow, shimmering in a strapless gold Badgley Mischka number, wants none of the credit.
“As much as I wrote the essay, everyone else voted and helped,” she said. “I can’t keep taking all the credit.”
The best part for Bastow was meeting Glee star Darren Criss. “They let me go outside and talk to him,” she said. “I was like, hyperventilating.”
It was quite the evening. When prom-goers weren’t dancing on a LCD dance floor or singing along with Criss or Jordin Sparks they were dining on a three course meal. The night went off so well that Fleiss thinks Rent the Runway will do it again.
“It’s bigger and better than we could have ever imagined,” Fleiss said. “We want to keep doing this. It just makes us want to make this event bigger every year so we can impact more women.”