For the second year, a “Queen’s Closet” – offering free prom dresses, shoes and accessories – will be held in Burlington.

The new and lightly worn dresses were collected and curated by Claire Tillotson, a 23-year-old Burlington native.

“I know dresses are expensive,” Tillotson said this week. “When I was in high school, a prom dress could cost $400 and I know the price only went up. It really started because I knew a lot of people had lost their jobs due to COVID -19. I don’t want to charge for it, but that’s why I have a donation jar so people can donate. I just want to make sure people if they want to go to prom, they don’t don’t have to worry about the financial cost.

“A Queen’s Closet” this weekend in Burlington will give away 200 free prom dresses.

The giveaway will take place on Saturday and Sunday, April 2 and 3, from noon to 6 p.m., at the Optimae Life Services Building, 1000 Roosevelt Ave., Suite 11, Burlington.

Tillotson graduated from Simpson College (Indianola, Iowa) in 2020, with a degree in neuroscience and psychology, and is currently in graduate school at Drake in Des Moines, pursuing a master’s degree in mental health clinical counseling.

In February, Tillotson won the Miss River Bend pageant in Iowa City, allowing her to compete in Miss Iowa this month of June in Davenport. She enjoys competing for the chance to win a scholarship, as well as to build her speaking and writing skills, and for the friendships she has made.

Tillotson with some of her donated dresses.

She started pop-up store Queen’s Closet in Burlington last year after volunteering for something similar in QC a few years ago.

“I thought, you know what? I can do better,” Tillotson said, noting that she had free dresses in sizes 0-30. “I can do something inclusive and fashionable. So I did and started collecting dresses.

Last year she donated 100 dresses, and this year her goal is 200. While the fashion is free, she encourages monetary donations – last year she raised $1,000 for the Iowa Donor Network, to promote organ and tissue donation. The network says there are 583 Iowans waiting for organ transplants.

“It’s my platform in the Miss America pageant,” Tillotson said, noting that in 2017 she lost a 16-year-old friend in a car accident, who donated his organs which helped 100 people.

Just a few of the free fancy women’s shoes available this weekend.

“I just thought, you know, I have to keep sharing his story,” she said. “I have to keep making this trend a trend that people are getting into because it’s hard to talk about. I know this because not everyone is comfortable talking about death.

This year, she received over 50 dresses from Stacey’s Prom in Urbandale and 115 from Le Chic Prom & Pageant Boutique in Muscatine, brand new. They’re both linked to pageants, and Le Chic is very active at Miss Iowa, Tillotson said.

“I have even more variety this year. It just keeps growing and I love it,” she said. “I know my parents don’t like it because there are still a lot of dresses in their basement and their basement is a small store at this point.”