Sometimes I like to just write for writings sake. With Prom Season coming up I remembered I had this essay that I wrote earlier when a former High School student of mine was asking for help to find or make her Prom dress.
And so here it is. A bit lengthy so don't feel bad if you don't read the whole thing.
Prom Season the never ending Bane of our Youth.
Prom season is always huge for any High School student be it, boy or girl. In my life I have gone to 6 proms during my High School career and for every reason from sympathy date, school assignment, and to first love, as a freshman till senior.
For the boys it is always pretty simple, one word, Tuxedo. At least it used to be that way. Now days there are a plethora of options for this once simple ensemble. Our young men can now choose their color of the suit, the color and style of the tuxedo shirt. They have socks to worry about, shoe styles and cufflinks. Then there is of course the option for tie, bowtie or ascot. A trend that I have noticed more also is the addition of a hat. Sometimes our young gentlemen want to pull a little Humphrey Bogart or tilt it like the cool Usher from his music videos. All of which must match up perfectly with their Prima Dona Prom date madam or sir.
The biggest challenge for the Prom Season is for the ladies, finding that perfect dress. It can equate to a women searching for her wedding dress or perceived as the trial run before looking for a wedding dress. Parent’s beware this is most assuredly a foretelling of the future as you may have the unfortunate pleasure to play a role in it. If you are lucky your lass already has a good idea of the dress she is looking for then it is simply a “Where’s Waldo” search amongst the sea of dresses which in itself can be daunting but we’ll get to the search a little later.
If you are unfortunate and have a particular princess then she wants something one of a kind and dramatic but will have to try on a million and one dresses before she is marginally satisfied. For that as lame as it sounds you may need a specialist. A specialist does not have to be a pageant director or stylists, it simply needs to be someone fashionable, preferably older who has gone to prom and not related to you in any way shape or form. There is something about the psychology of getting advice from a near stranger or some one you have no affiliation that makes it easier for the teen to take criticism and advice. This could simply be a friend of yours that the child looks up to as the “cool” Aunt or Uncle or just a store clerk that dresses particularly well and is knowledgeable. Another good thing to look out for is that whoever is giving the advice is not dedicated to just ONE store. That means they are selling something and they are trying their darn hardest to make their goal or make commission and could inflate the price with a few sparkly nothings that your little lady does not need. Just because they work for a particular store does not mean they have to sell from that store. I’ve worked retail for 16 years and I know that if my store doesn’t have it I can recommend them to a place that does and 9 times out of 10 they come back to my store just to shop and visit me because of the valuable advice I had given them.
Back to our princess! Do not be disheartened if she hates everything. If in hating everything has narrowed down the search to what she is looking for then it is still not a battle lost. You will also learn of the temperament and patience your girl has and as the adult lay down the law if necessary and give her an early reality check. Another good way to help her figure out what dress is best suited for her is give her a budget to begin with this will greatly narrow down the search. Even if you are willing to go all out don’t let her know that because that widens the options much too far. You can decide for this budget to be all inclusive, meaning dress, shoes, jewelry or allocate a different budget for each. It may seem trivial but these are small lessons that she will learn remember on budgeting later in life because it is associated with such a major event.
Think of going straight to those Big Prom dress stores in the malls and around them if she wants to be one of a kind. Several stores have registries where once the dress is paid for no one else from their school can get that same dress. It’s a great option but also limiting. In those stores every dress that is sold is one less dress your girl can have. Also you won’t know the status of the dress usually until you get up to pay which can be frustrating all around especially if she fell in love with that particular number and you’re forced to start from ground zero. Another little tip about these stores is to go early in the day, you never know how long it will last, once a consultant is set on you they will continue to bring dress until you tell them quite pointedly to stop. If you are annoyed easily by sales people you can tell them up front that you are only looking for dresses to avoid them from bringing you anything unnecessary to make the process longer such as shoes, and jewelry. A good sales consultant will take that into consideration and respect your wishes or ask before throwing anything into the dressing room without your permission. Please remember that even if you are annoyed it does no good to treat your sales consultant badly, just keep calm and remind them exactly what you wanted and if they aren’t listening you can ask for a manager to set you with another consultant or just simply leave thanking them for their time and that you have things to consider before this major purchase. Being Rude to a sale consultant will not help anyone, it will most likely delay your services as they complain to their manager or fellow consultants and give you poor results.
If there are no results from this, broaden your range. Think outside of that bright colored flower scented bedazzled box. This goes for all girls. If they know what type of style dress they want then search on Google not just for “prom dresses”, try “evening dresses” or “bridesmaids” or “Quincera”(Hispanic sweet sixteen gowns), even “pageant” sometimes the dress in their mind can even be found as costume! The main dress types to search for are as follows:
-Mermaid - is narrow from bodice to hips or knees and flares out (think mermaid fin)
- Ballroom – Large floor length full skirt like a fairytale princess
- Straight – just like it implies, straight dress usually it indicates that it is also floor length
- Short – a dress with any variation of short skirt styles
- Corset – is the type of bodice top that has lacing in the back
-Sweet heart Bodice – meaning the front of the dress resembles the top of a heart curving up at the breasts
- Straight Bodice – Top cutting straight across chest
- Strapless – dress with no supporting straps and almost always has built in boning to hold it up
- Spaghetti straps – very thin straps resembling the width of spaghetti
- Empire – dresses that have a short bodice that stops just below the breast usually and has a flowing skirt starting at the high waist has a Grecian/roman look to it (Or think of the movie Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow)
My favorite of these searches is doing bridesmaid. Any company that does a bridesmaid dress with have a variety of styles, swatches of colors and fabrics, so that you can pick and choose the type of dress and colors yourself. It’s almost like making that perfect dress of your own. Typically they are not any more expensive then your run of the mill prom dress from a specialty store and in a lot of cases they can be cheaper. If you feel overwhelmed just looking up bridesmaid dresses on your own use a bridal website such as “the Knot” to help you look for them and narrow it down. Once you see several styles from a particular brand you can venture to their website on your own as well. Another advantage to using a third party website is a lot of them will tell you if there are nearby stores that carry those lines for you order from.
Another helpful way to search for dresses is to dismiss a low price point. Don’t feel like you have to spend at least $200 or else the dress just isn’t that special. There are dozens of beautiful dresses out there on sale all the time. Sometimes in these bridal websites they have sample dresses on sale for less then $100 and one of those could be the one!
There are also stores like J Crew and BCBG that have bridesmaid sections to order dresses. Don’t dismiss Urban Outfitters, Modcloth, Plasticland, FredFlare, Avantgaudy and some of those other “Indie” clothing stores. A lot of them have large dress sections with some very classy looking dresses. There is also Zappos which is not just shoes, Bluefly.com, and places like TJ Maxx and Filene’s basement carry a lot of designer dresses at discounted prices. Who cares if it was 3-4 seasons ago, that makes it better in my opinion because no one else is likely to have it or wear it! Remember Prom dresses do not always have to be this big extravagant taffeta ball gown. They are whatever makes the girl happy that fit with the guidelines of that school. If I had the variety in dresses when I was in school that the girls have today I would for sure have spent a lot less money and headache looking for what I wanted. For the recent generations they have the entire expansion of the internet virtually as a portal of stores at the tips of their fingers.
Lastly if they are really digging for inspiration they can check out some fashion blogs on the internet. Some of my Favorites that wear a lot of dresses are Weardrobe, Gala Darling, Doe Deere Blogzine, Keiko Lynn, Glamourai, and the website Polyvore.
Polyvore can be a great tool not only to look for dresses but also to accessorize once you have found the perfect one. It is like an internet collage that you can make taking images from different websites and combining them into one and share them with other members or e-mail to friends for opinions.
For my parting words I just want to remind you what is really important in prom. You want to keep reminding your kids it is just another dance and it is more important that they have fun and make positive memories then become the gaudy Prom Queen who gets a flimsy crown. Heck if they want a crown go buy them one! It’s not the end of the world if they can’t find that perfect dress, it’s only as bad and they envision it. Keep positive and keep pumping all the positive things going on for them and it’ll make it that less painful. Think of Prom as a good time to teach your kids the importance of the bigger things in life like budgets, courtesy and patience and that might help you keep your sanity as well. If you get wrapped up in the hype then it does no one any good.
It’s just another dance a little fancier and at the end of the year.