Carolyn Zinni hosts prom dress giveaway on East Passyunk

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Carolyn Zinni hosts prom dress giveaway

Esteemed local stylist reprises her 17-year-old Springfield prom dress giveaway event in South Philadelphia this past weekend

Carolyn Zinni recently hosted a prom dress giveaway for girls in need at her new bridal shop on East Passyunk, carrying over a 17-year-tradition from her former boutique in Springfield. Above: high school senior Gianna Mastrando and stylist Megan Heppard browse through designer gowns. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

As prom season approaches, teens from around the region said “yes to the dress” this past weekend on East Passyunk Avenue.

And since expenses for formals grow each year, the gowns were bestowed by South Philly’s very own Fairy Godmother — more commonly known as boutique businesswoman Carolyn Zinni.

For the past 17 years, Zinni and her team have hosted a massive afternoon of prom dress giveaways in early January at the former Zinni’s of Philadelphia in Springfield, Delaware County.

Throughout close to two decades, dozens of disadvantaged girls from across the East Coast wore the names of high-end designers, all thanks to Zinni’s charity.

So, after closing the Springfield location to open Carolyn Zinni Bridal Salon at 1725 E. Passyunk Ave. in 2017, the esteemed stylist, who descends from a lineage of local dress retailers, felt she needed to revive the tradition this year in South Philly for the first time.

“It’s basically donating for a cause,” said Kimberly Vottero, a former employee of Zinni’s of Philadelphia. “Girls who are the less fortunate who see gowns online that are over their price range or something that they see on a celebrity. They can’t really afford that, so this was really our way of giving back to the community, giving back to the less fortunate who can’t be there to purchase their own gown.”

Throughout the afternoon, girls and their mothers filtered in and out of the store, perusing through close to 100 gowns in a range of shades and styles. Sources of the glamour included former merchandise from Zinni’s of Philadelphia, as well as stock from Maria Bennett of Mia of Philadelphia, who is not only Zinni’s sister but business neighbor located on the opposite side of Passyunk.

With designers ranging from Jovani to Mac Duggal and cuts differing from mermaid to sheath, several gowns retailed more than $600.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to get a pretty dress for my senior prom,” said high school senior Gianna Mastrando of Gateway Regional High school.

Zinni says any leftover dresses will be donated to a local school in need.

Zinni, the daughter of the late Philly fashion icons Jennie and Lou Zinni who originally opened a successful dress boutique at 12th and Mercy streets in 1946, felt inspired to establish this annual giveaway in gratitude for both her business and personal life.

“I’ve had a lot of blessings with the lives of my children,” she said. “So when we did well in our store, I always felt like I had to do something to give back.”

Stylists Gabrielle Henry and Kimberly Vottero assists local girls with choosing the perfect dress for junior and senior proms. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

The day’s benevolence went beyond the beaded embellishments, as during the giveaway, donations were being collected for aspireLIFE, a “Philadelphia philanthropic movement consisting of individuals whose mission is to support cancer research,” which was founded by Zinni’s son, who survived leukemia after being diagnosed at 15 years old.

Once a year, aspireLIFE hosts a major black-tie event called JAM that raises funds for cancer research while also showing support for patients living with cancer. This year, the event is scheduled for March 15 at the Ben Franklin Ballroom.

“I’m very, very grateful to research with childhood cancer,” Zinni said. “So, when my son received his bone marrow transplant, he felt like he needed to give something back. So, I always felt like I needed to give something back and especially with childhood cancer.”

Continuing the cycle of compassion, recipients of the dresses kindly contributed to the donation basket before leaving the boutique.

Whether benefiting cancer research or senior proms, Zinni’s team was elated to reprise this afternoon of goodwill.

“Whatever we do, we try to be able to help out,” Vottero said. “If we can give back in each and every way, we definitely want to do that.”

Follow Grace on Twitter at @gracemaiorano.

Grace can be reached at gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com