Hundreds of dresses were donated to this year’s Cinderella Project from locals and businesses. Young women and their families shopped in the gymnasium at Brookland Baptist Church. (Photos by Emily Okon)

Music poured into the parking lot when the doors to the church opened, inviting people in to the atmosphere full of thrill and promise.

Dua Lipa’s hit song “Levitating” rattled the sound system in the gymnasium, where hundreds of formal gowns hung on racks waiting to be taken home by a happy high school student.

The South Carolina Bar’s Young Lawyers Division has been making dreams come true across the Palmetto State for more than 20 years with its annual Cinderella Project.

The Cinderella Project this year hosted two pop-ups in the Midlands on Saturday, one in Columbia and another in Orangeburg County.

The Columbia shop served more than 200 guests at Brookland Baptist Church. 

Miracle Wortherly, a student at River Bluff High School, found her dream dress at the Columbia boutique.

Wortherly tried on five gowns before finding a pink satin dress with blue tulle laid on top to give the gown an abstract purple coloring.

She especially liked “trying on the dresses, because there’s a lot to choose from,” Wortherly said.

The boutique and shopping experience isn’t just for the young women. It’s also for moms, sisters and friends that attend with them.

Wortherly’s mother, Lakeya, said her favorite part of the event was seeing her daughter “in a lot of beautiful dresses that she’s never worn before – kind of felt a little bit like trying on wedding dresses,” she said. “I never did this before with my daughter. That was the most fun part about it.”

The magic of finding the perfect dress does not end with the shoppers. The organizers and volunteers at the event find the day to be just as magical.

“It’s interesting to see how those girls’ faces will just light up whenever they find the dress that they want,” said Hanna Lapp, Cinderella Project’s Columbia co-coordinator. “It’s super important to present them with as many options as possible – give them as much inclusivity or whatever they would want.”

The project asks for donations each year from local businesses and the public to ensure that they can provide a variety of choices.

The young lawyers group is working to increase its inclusivity: Its Greenville chapter will introduce a Prince Charming boutique in early March.

The boutique will offers suits, tuxes and other accessories completely free of charge.

“I just think that no matter who you are, you should be able to experience prom,” said Ryan Pasquini, Cinderella Project’s Upstate co-coordinator. “It’s fundamental that every student has the opportunity to enjoy an event that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime.”

But the Prince Charming project has seen a low amount of donations in comparison to the Cinderella Project.

There could be a variety of reasons behind this, but Pasquini thinks more of the population is willing to part with a prom dress than with a tux.

“That’s some of the trouble that we’ve faced in starting this pilot project,” Pasquini said. “People are more willing to part with their prom dress that they may wear one or two times in their lifetime. Whereas a suit, you can get years and years of wear out of a single suit.”

The Young Lawyers Division, a professional service organization made up of all members of the S.C. Bar under the age of 36, coordinates a wide range of programs around the state that serve the public and advance the legal profession.

People interested in donating to the Cinderella or the Prince Charming projects around the state can check out

More than 200 young women found their dream dress this past Saturday. The project’s purpose is to provide free formal wear for the community.

The Columbia boutique had a DJ who offered his time to support the project. Shoppers enjoyed the music as they danced while looking for their gowns.

The dresses displayed Saturday were just the tip of the iceberg. The Cinderella Project has collected enough donations in the past two decades to fill a room twice this size.