Scholarships for college are difficult to come by. That’s what Oak Creek High School senior Ritika Singh was thinking early this year when she looked for scholarship opportunities. So she changed her Google search parameters and looked up “weirdest college scholarships in the US.”
“I thought if it was a little bit on the weirder side, it would be lesser known so I would have more of a chance,” Singh explained.
She discovered a few odd scholarships, such as one for duck callers, another for tall persons, and another for Minecraft gamers.
But the Stuck at Prom scholarship contest by Duck Brand stood out the most to her. High school students were invited to design and wear a dress or tux made entirely of Duck Brand duct tape or crafting tape in order to compete for a $10,000 cash prize.
Singh first shown an interest in being a fashion designer in sixth grade, when she started to sew.
“But since I got to high school, I haven’t really been doing much crafting,” she said. “I did help someone in the pupil services office when she decorated for the holidays. She calls me her master cloud maker, but that’s about it.”
Still, the contest piqued Singh’s interest enough that she began drawing a dress design one day in biology class, and that’s when she decided to give it a shot.
Singh, a Sikh, aspires to study religion and sociology at Hofstra University starting next September, and she wanted her clothing to reflect her religious worldview.
“There’s a concept that society itself can live in a utopia where we all accept each other the way we are,” said Singh. “When we get too focused on the differences in our beliefs, we forget to think about other people’s emotions. We need to think about that so we can live together in harmony.”
Singh said that lesson is reflected in her dress.
Singh’s dress’s bodice portrays the entire planet; she cut out all seven continents from green duct tape and glued them to a blue background to represent the ocean.
The bottom of the bodice and skirt were then fashioned to “flow into three different categories.” The first category is religion; she chose the world’s eight main religions and incorporated their emblems onto the outfit.
“The second layer focuses on people in general, so I made a human chain,” Singh explained. “If you look closely, the arms and legs form hearts, indicating that everything is about love because that’s something we naturally know how to do.”
For the third layer, Singh researched all of the world’s countries according to the United Nations and designed their flags.
The regulations of the event allow for materials other than duct tape to be used for the clothing; Singh took advantage of this by making some of the flag crests out of paper.
“It’s hard to get little details in duct tape, so I used paper because I didn’t want to make mistakes or be imprecise because I know those symbols are meaningful to people,” Singh explained.
Apart from the paper crests and a very thin painter’s tarp that forms the bottom tier of the skirt, Singh’s dress is entirely fashioned of duct tape.
“At first, I thought it would be easier to use cloth for the bodice, so I stitched that together and then added the tape on top,” Singh explained. “But that kind of made me look like a Lego.”
She did some research after rejecting the fabric concept and discovered that DIY duct tape fabric was a hot fad in the 2010s. Singh explained that the process is to stack tape on top of tape and utilize that as fabric, which is what she did for the bodice.
Singh’s first trip to Meijer to search for duct tape was a revelation.
“I was honestly shocked at how many different colors there were. I’ve always just seen the silver color,” said Singh. “When I saw the huge variety of different colors, I thought it would be really easy.”
There are nine duct tape colors in Singh’s dress — red, orange, yellow, black, green, blue, light blue, gold and purple.
She purchased a couple rolls on her first trip and also placed a bulk order on Amazon. She initially purchased between 20 and 25 rolls, but quickly realized she would require more.
She was in good shape for raw material for the majority of the procedure, until she ran out of light blue at the very end. She didn’t have time to place an Amazon order, couldn’t find it at Meijer, and her local Menards was also out.
“Near the end, I was just running from store to store to find light blue tape,” said Singh.
The final product is made from 38 rolls of duct tape.
Although the contest touts itself as a prom contest, there was no requirement that the dress be worn to prom — which is good because Singh’s dress weighs around 15 pounds and is also incredibly broad, making it unsuitable for dancing.
Singh’s prom was in May, and she didn’t finish the outfit until the day before her photo shoot on June 5.
“The whole thing took me about six or seven weeks to create, and it got really intense between that and AP exams and studying for final exams,” said Singh. “I didn’t sleep a lot.”
Singh is now waiting to hear out if she is a finalist after submitting a photo of her garment. The finalists will be determined by a team of judges the week of June 19, and Singh should find out if she has made it by June 23.
“I’m gonna be honest; ever since I submitted it, I’ve checked my email every day,” said Singh. “I know I won’t find out for a few days, but I’m so nervous.”
If Singh is selected as a finalist, a round of community voting will begin. From June 28 to July 12, people can vote for their favorite dress and tux (one vote per email address per day for the dress and tux categories). Following that, the designers of the dress and tux who receive the most votes will receive $10,000 scholarships.
“Everyone in my school knows I’m working on it, and everybody’s hyping it up,” said Singh. “I know Oak Creek and Wisconsin are very supportive so I feel like I’d have a good chance in community voting.”
Regardless of the outcome of the election, Singh intends to donate her gown to the United Nations or a museum for display.
Singh aspires to win the contest, but she plans to move her focus from duct tape dress design to the issues represented by the garment through her studies in religion and sociology once she starts college.
“I feel like this year has been the peak of my crafting career,” Singh said.