Dressing TV prom queens a prime headache

March 13, 1991|By Sujata Banerjee | Sujata Banerjee,Evening Sun Staff

Prom night is just around the corner, and while teen-age girls everywhere are scrambling for the right frock, so are their TV counterparts.

Since Marcia Brady first put on an A-line formal, TV's teen-age beauties have gone to the prom. But on TV shows today, the sweet and lacy formal is being replaced by the dramatic evening dress. Just as many teen-agers seem to be growing up faster, so are the girls starring in shows such as "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Major Dad." In fact, when TV teens go to the prom they rival their older counterparts on "Dallas" for dazzle and flash.

At Beverly Hills High School, the setting for "Beverly Hills 90210," a Fox Network program airing on Channel 45 Thursday nights, girls grow up fast.

"None of the girls like the sweet 16 frou-frou look at all, and neither do I," says Dianne Anthony Kennedy, costume designer for "Beverly Hills 90210."

"We like a more elegant, sophisticated approach to evening wear. These girls are at the age where they are becoming women. They are not little girls anymore. They have beautiful figures and we like to show that. Let's face it, it's the one time in your life your body is in such great shape."

Kennedy has a cast of 100 to dress for the prom, and will probably "shop" many of the clothes from Beverly Hills boutiques and stores such as I. Magnin. She likes Victor Costa, who is noted for designing excellent copies of couture dresses.

Kennedy will take special care dressing the characters of Brenda, played by Shannen Doherty; Kelly, played by Jennie Garth; Donna, played by Tori Spelling (the producer's daughter); and Andrea, played by Gabrielle Carteris. If she doesn't find dresses in stores that suit the characters, she will design them herself. Expect to see plenty of strapless looks and decollete necklines, sequins and vibrant, jewel-toned satins that show up well on TV. Black, though popular with teen-agers, will be conspicuously absent on TV because the color doesn't show up against the set.

Money is usually limited when it comes to shopping for the prom, even on TV. Kennedy has a budget of $10,000 per show to pull costumes for 11 major characters. Many of the characters change 10 to 14 times per show, so the sum is quickly used up. Kennedy's hoping to get more money for the prom show -- just as many teen-age girls try to wrangle extra money from their parents for the big night.

To save money, Kennedy will probably borrow some gowns from Beverly Hills boutiques that specialize in evening wear rentals. The show's executive producer, Aaron Spelling, also has a wardrobe of clothing once worn on shows such as "Dynasty" and "Hotel" that may be rented for a fee.

"Major Dad," the CBS sit-com on 11, features a teen-age heroine, Elizabeth, played by Marisa Ryan, who is considerably less sophisticated than the Beverly Hills bunch. She's a small-town girl, eldest daughter of three, in a household headed by a journalist mother and a stepfather who is a Marine officer.

In real life, Ryan is a fashionable Hollywood teen who likes to wear black and white and funky thrift store finds, says Dorothy Baca, "Major Dad's" costume supervisor and designer. But her screen character wears conventional, casual clothes from stores such as The Gap and Esprit.

"We like to do a lot of classic clothes because of TV re-runs. You also don't know when an episode will appear in the season and you don't want it to look dated," says Baca.

When it comes to prom, the fashion situation becomes especially complicated.

"Marisa's a hard age to do. Lots of kids in her age group are wearing very sexy clothes, the skin-tight, sculptured, black dresses. It is hard to find something youthful and flattering that's not looking like Madonna or Tina Turner," says Baca.

"Marisa's character is somewhat girlish, she knows about clothes," says Baca. "We don't want to do on-the-verge-of sleaze, but something cute and youthful."

Ryan's character Elizabeth goes to dances a lot because "we like to show off the Major's dress blues every chance we can," says Baca.

For a father-daughter Ball, "We were really trying to make Marisa look young," says Baca. "She wore a pale pink Jessica McClintock waltz length dress, lace over pink satin with a sweetheart neckline, short puffy sleeves and a cut-out in the back." The designer never considered a strapless dress: "We couldn't do anything strapless because we wanted her to look like a daughter, not like the other woman!"

TV's take on fashion will be most certainly be mirrored by teen-age girls, many of whom watch the shows as avidly for clothing and beauty ideas as for the story-lines.

Lori Moore, merchandising editor of "Teen," says that when it comes to selecting prom dresses, teens are "going toward the more sophisticated look."

Moore sees black and white looks and stream-lined sheaths as the styles that will star at this year's off-screen proms.

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