For many little girls, dresses play an integral part of the growing-up years.
Depending on the occasion, each dress lends a different functionality. For Christmas and Easter, mothers take their daughter, or daughters, to the mall in search of that "special dress for a special occasion." Excitement and anticipation fill little girls' eyes and add a bounce to their steps because they know that with the arrival of the holiday is the arrival of a new and special dress.
Not only do dresses signify the arrival of an anticipated holiday but also transform reality into make-believe. In make-believe worlds, little girls become Belle, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine and all the other Disney princesses that so often capture their imaginations. The dresses themselves are transformed into beautiful, flowing ball gowns that twinkle and sparkle while dancing with Prince Charming.
And yet still many times, mothers keep dresses worn as younger versions of themselves, knowing the time will come when their closets will be raided in the search for the perfect "dress-up" dress.
Thanks to Gracie Frame and the students at St. Anges School, several little girls will have the opportunity to experience the power of a dress because of a gift of more than 137 dresses.
How the idea originated
When it came time for Frame to do a book report, which is required every nine weeks, she chose Eleanor Estes's "The Hundred Dresses."
Estes's Hundred Dresses won a Newberry Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since.
At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has 100 dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn't and bullies her mercilessly. In the book, Wanda is a wonderful artist and has drawn 100 dresses, hence her "100 dresses at home." The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it's too late for apologies.
Unlike most book reports, the required book reports at St. Agnes are visual, not written.
"Each nine weeks the kids do a book report," Gracie's second-grade teacher, Jennifer Williams, said. "It's not a written book report. It's a visual presentation."
At first, Frame thought her book report would be about bullying.
"Me and my mom read the back of the book and it sounded like bullying and we thought we were going to do a bullying lesson but we couldn't find (anything for the book report) so we decided to collect 100 dresses," Frame said.
Inspired by Frame, the children of St. Anges helped to bring in a total of 137 dresses.
To help spread the word about dress donations, Frame made posters she put up and garnered donations from all over the school.
"Kids from preschool, kids upstairs, kids from daycare and kids all over the school have brought in dresses, and they're very excited to help out," Williams said. "Several kids have asked their friends and relatives, and I posted a picture on Facebook to kind of spread the word.
"Several of the moms said, ‘I put some dresses in front of your door.'''
The deadline to turn in the dresses was Jan. 28.
The original deadline was Jan. 17, but with the snow and water crisis, the deadline was extended. Several children asked for the extension so teachers could remind them Monday to bring in dresses for one more day, Williams said.
Where will the dresses go?
Originally, the dresses were planned to be donated to the YWCA Sojourners Shelter for Homeless Women & Families in Charleston.
However, the number of dresses was something Sojourners didn't expect.
"Our intention was to give them all to Sojourners," Sarah Frame, Gracie's mom, said. "But when I called Sojourners, they said, ‘This is a lot of dresses.'''
Because the numbers of dresses was a little much for Sojourners to handle, the dresses now are going to the YWCA's Past and Present, with residents receiving vouchers to spend there.
Several women's dresses have also been donated as part of the project.
Unexpected Christmas gift
Sarah, who said she hadn't read the book before the "100 dresses" project, doesn't know why she bought the book as a Christmas present for Gracie.
"The funny thing is, (Gracie and I) don't know why I bought it," she said. "I thought it was on her list and I bought it for her.
"She had never heard of it."
Gracie's giving idea has excited all the children at St. Anges, Williams said.
"What Gracie has done is phenomenal," she said. "It's amazing."