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Lilac hosting Belle of the Ball event

Submitted by on 1, March 31, 2010 – 5:00 am2 Comments

On Saturdays, Pilar Burlingham’s babysitter drops by her sun-streaked Encinal Avenue dress shop, Lilac Dress Boutique, to try on all the new dresses Burlingham has gotten in during the week.

“She calls me her dress mama,” Burlingham says.

One day as she was trying on dresses, Burlingham’s babysitter told her she thought all girls should have the opportunity to come into a shop like Lilac, to get pampered and to buy a dress for a special occasion as she was that day. Burlingham apparently agreed: She decided to offer free prom dresses to high school students who might not be able to afford one.

The resulting event, Belle of the Ball, will be held this Sunday, April 18 at Lilac Dress Boutique, which is at 1918 Encinal Avenue. Burlingham will take appointments from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; to get one, call 865-2544. Girls who don’t have an appointment can drop by after 4 p.m.

“These girls can come in, get pampered, and leave with everything they need for prom except the ticket,” Burlingham said.

Burlingham said she expects she’ll have more than 100 new and gently used dresses to give away, and a host of local folks have signed on to help out. Photographer Anne Kohler will snap photos of the girls as they try on their dresses, and Nick from Alameda Beauty College will be on hand to offer hairstyle hints. Miss Alameda Jessica Robinson will help the girls select their dresses, and the good folks at Blue Dot Café will serve up lemonade.

The boutique will also host a raffle for day-of treats including corsages from local stylist Susan Bell (you can view her flowers on Kohler’s site) and hair and makeup sessions at Alameda Beauty College.

Burlingham said she set out to do something similar to The Princess Project, a Bay Area-based effort to provide prom finery to girls who can’t otherwise afford it. But she wanted to be able to provide something smaller and more personal.

Other people Burlingham has worked with – the group also includes her seamstress, designers who she buys from, community members who donated dresses and a group called Room to Read, which donated 20 dresses – were quick to sign on to the effort.

“We’ve actually got vendors sending in new (dresses) too,” she said. “A lot of these designers are helping out.”


  • Jim Meyer says:

    This is such an excellent example of what makes Alameda such a great place to live. Pilar, thanks for having a great idea and acting on it!

  • Jen Laird says:

    Thank you, Lilac! When I recently needed a dress for a wedding, I made a beeline for your store because I knew you supported our community. A month ago it was in the form of a gift certificate for my daughters’ school auction. How wonderful to hear of what you’re doing for these teenagers. The dress I bought for the wedding was gorgeous. I will continue to give you business and encourage other Alameda women to do so! Thank you!

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