A graduation dress or suit is much than an outfit to wear at grad; for some students, it’s a reason to stay in school.
The folks at You Wear It Well ... Just for Grads are hard at work on plans for this year’s March 5 Boutique Day, when more than 200 graduates from high schools and alternate programs in New West, Surrey and Delta will gather for a day of pre-grad pampering and photos.
“The most important thing about our program, and one that is often overlooked, is that kids who participate in it are more likely to stay in school and graduate,” said Darcy Sudeyko, a member of the organizing committee. “I think that people sometimes assume that we are a 'frivolous' charity, because we are involved with outfitting kids so that they can attend their grad celebrations. But in reality, we have been told many times by school counsellors and other personnel that, if not for our program, their students wouldn't have the incentive they need to make it through to graduation. They tell us that many students feel like if they can't attend their grad parties, there's no point in even finishing school.”
Founded in New Westminster in 2009, You Wear It Well held its first Boutique Day in 2010. At that time, the program only served students in the New Westminster School District.
“We had only six kids enrolled that first year,” Sudeyko recalled. “Up until 2016, when we still only serviced New West, we outfitted approximately 125 kids.”
In 2017, the program began assisting students in Surrey, and a year later it started helping students in Delta. Since forming, it’s helped more than a thousand students.
What’s Boutique Day?
Each spring, You Wear It Well holds a Boutique Day event, where graduates select and don their grad attire, get their hair and makeup done, and have professional photos taken by Artona Studios. They also enjoy a buffet lunch.
March 2020 was the group’s last full-scale event — attended by more than 150 students and 150 volunteers. Just days after that event, B.C. went into lockdown.
Sudeyko said scaled-back events were held in 2021 and 2022, as it wasn’t able to offer extras like hair styling, makeup or photos, due to COVID-19 public health restrictions.
“The fact that several schools weren't having formal graduation celebrations during those two years reduced our enrolment by about half, but we still had approximately 75 students attend in 2021 and about 125 last year,” she said. “Students got to select a complete outfit — gown, suit or tux, shoes, jewelry, and accessories — all for free and all for them to keep.”
The group is thrilled to be returning to its pre-pandemic format and offering outfits and accessories, as well as hair styling, makeup application, alterations, photos and light snacks.
“The need appears greater than ever, as many families are struggling with inflation and the rising costs of living,” Sudeyko said. “We have over 200 students enrolled, and the referrals are still coming in.”
The event has been held at different locations through the years, but Boutique Day 2023 will once again be held at the warehouse space the group sublets on the top floor of the former Army & Navy Department Store building on Columbia Street.
“Our cut-off point is 200 students, and we have already surpassed that by a few,” Sudeyko said. “We have currently closed our referrals for this year but are still taking names from school personnel and putting students on a waitlist. We hate to turn anyone away — and haven't had to yet, to date.”
It’s anticipated that 200 to 225 students will attend this year’s Boutique Day. While the majority of them will be from Surrey, as it’s the biggest school district in B.C., about 50 students from New West are set to attend.
In the lead-up to the big event on March 5, students will be contacted to set up a two-hour block of time for their Boutique Day experience. During their time at Boutique Day, graduates-to-be are assigned a personal assistant who helps them navigate the day’s activities.
“Students rotate through four stations during their appointment times – gowns or suits/tuxes, hair, makeup and photos,” Sudeyko explained. “We also have an area where basic alterations can be done, a space where students can sit and have a light snack while they are waiting, and a red carpet photo area where kids can take their own photos.”
You Wear it Well is overseen by a five-person executive committee that plans and organizes the event throughout the year, but it is totally run and supported by volunteers. Between 150 and 200 volunteers will help with this year’s event, where they will volunteer as personal assistants (who will make sure their students to their required station on time and makes them feel pampered and special throughout the day), runners (who are responsible for restocking clothing racks after students have tried things on, bringing food to other volunteers and students/guests, troubleshooting, etc.), hair stylists, makeup artists, seamstresses and tailors.
“Boutique Day is always a crazily busy day, as there can be close to 200 people in the room at any given time,” Sudeyko said. “Our volunteers are exhausted at the end of the day (as are we!) but they consistently tell us that it's a very rewarding experience, and they can't wait to return in future years.”
At the end of their Boutique Day experience, students will take their outfit home. Their free package of retouched photos – taken when they had their grad outfit on and their hair and makeup done — will arrive a few weeks later.
“There is no requirement for students to return anything after their grads — everything they choose/receive is free, and theirs to keep,” Sudeyko said.
How you can help:
You Wear it Well’s biggest need for Boutique Day 2023 is hair stylists. A few more personal assistants and runners are also needed.
Along with volunteers, community members can support the program by donating the following items: stylish, current styles of men's suits, especially small and extra small sizes (36 and smaller); men's accessories — new socks, belts, shoes, pocket squares, fedora-style hats, jewelry, etc.
Other needs include items that can be given out as “freebies” to students as they leave. This includes makeup and men's personal care products such as shave cream, soap and body wash, hair gel, deodorant, etc.
Sudeyko said You Wear it Well is always in need of cash donations, which allows it to purchase various items that may be needed, including plus-sized clothing, personal hygiene products and food for the Boutique Day buffet. A registered charity since 2016, You Wear it Well can offer tax receipts for cash donations and can issue tax receipts for the fair market value of donated merchandise (new only) provided there is an invoice or the tags are still attached.
“We are also very grateful to the many people and organizations who support us in our efforts,” Sudeyko said. “Many local businesses donate goods and/or services, offer to be drop-off locations for us, or provide cash donations. So many people are willing to donate their time and talents to help out on Boutique Day. We are entirely run by volunteers and we could not continue if we didn't have the support of the people and businesses in the communities we serve.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer at Boutique Day can contact Kathy at email@example.com. Cash donations can be made via e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org or via the group’s website at youwearitwell.org.
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