Walking the walk

Christine Keenatch (left) and Kayla Walker pose during the annual Wesmor School fashion show Wednesday in Prince Albert. Photo courtesy M. Dueker/Wesmore Community High School.

How an annual fashion show and graduation wear store at Wesmor school empowers students from across P.A

A growing initiative that provides affordable graduation wear for boys and girls held its annual fashion show this week, and for the first time, a handful of boys strutted down the catwalk.

The annual Wesmor Public High School Fashion Show is a way for students to look at some of the designs available through the school’s affordable grad wear shop, where donated dresses and suits are sold to students for a mere $25.

The clothing is donated from residents across the city, then dry cleaned and sold to students in need for $25 each, even though the items themselves can range in sticker price from $200 to $1,000.

“We try to provide as many options as we possibly can,” said Jennifer Brown, the arts teacher at Wesmor who oversees the project.

“We started doing a grad suit program for the gentlemen who are graduating. Suits are a little bit harder to come by because once a man buys a suit they tend to hold onto it for life. But we’ve been fortunate enough to get a few donated, and then we also get pieces donated: slacks, blazers, shirts and ties — so we try to piece together a suit for the gentlemen.”

The program has been around for the last nine years. It got off to a slower start, primarily serving Wesmor students and students from White Buffalo Youth Lodge. Each year the Youth Lodge students buy between four and 15 dresses. Over the past few years, students have come from other high schools.

“It’s an affordable option,” Brown said.

“More and more people are coming to accept it because once they are dry cleaned, they’re pretty much back to their brand new state. Grad dresses are often only worn once.”

The growing popularity of the program is an indication of just how much need there is in the city, Brown said.

A lot of students are coming from single-income families who find $500 per dress “a little ludicrous,” she said. Others are young mothers who don’t have family support, trying to make it on their own while also supporting their family.

“With the number of people on social assistance or getting subsidies, it really helps,” she said.

“We try to provide the same type of atmosphere you would get when you go into a shop. It’s a comfortable environment to come into, but you also have the privacy of a changing room and a selection of dresses. We try to be accommodating and welcoming in that regard.”

The fashion show was started as a way to show which dresses were available, but like the dress program, it too is growing. This year, six female and three male models were involved. The school tries to draw from a diverse group of students to be models, so students can see how the dresses fit and what options are available for various body types. This year, Wesmor even had an expecting mother participate.

In order to walk the runway, though, participants have to show they’re model students.

Models are chosen through an application process where they have to keep their marks up and have to keep attending school. They also have to be active and positive leaders in the school community.

“It starts to create that sense of leadership from the beginning,” Brown said.

The winners are chosen, and before they get on stage, Sask. Polytech hair and cosmetology students do the girls’ hair and makeup.

“The girls get that little boost of confidence that says ‘I look gorgeous and I can do that,’” she said.

“Then as soon as they get to the school, just before the show starts, the butterflies hit in their stomach, and they don’t want to go up there. But from the moment they hit that stage and from the first round of applause, the girls know they’re valued, they’re loved, they’ve special and the school appreciates what they do.”

Each year, the students who participate in the fashion show inspire the next batch of students to become leaders and to strive to be included in the next year’s show.

“It definitely empowers them,” Brown said.

“It takes a lot of self-confidence and determination to actually get up on stage.”

While the fashion show is empowering for that group of students, the knowledge that everyone can afford a nice grad dress or suit is also empowering for students who rely on the shop for their graduation wear.

“We have one dress that was donated, that cost over $1,000,” Brown said.

“A girl thought she would never be able to afford it, because she thought even here it was still going to be out of her budget, but she got the dress for $25, and she was just amazed. It’s really good for self-esteem and self-worth. You can look your absolute best.”

While the fashion show is done for this year, the school is always taking more donations. Brown said dresses and suits can be dropped off at anytime. Without those generous donors, the fashion show and grad dress and suit program wouldn’t exist.

“We’re greatly appreciative of the support from the community,” she said.