Let's face it, the high school prom is really one giant fashion show. Even more important than who you show up with, it's what you wear that counts. No wonder the pressure heats up this time of year as the prom draws near, sending throngs of teen-age girls into the malls in search of their dream dresses.
It's a dress-up dream scene with everything from sweet to funky to Hollywood siren styles making its way to the school dance floors.
"The idea is to find a dress that's unique so you won't look the same as everyone else," advises Sarasvati Walker, a senior at the downtown Baltimore School for the Arts, who recalls that last year five girls showed up at the junior prom in the identical dress. This time around, she's avoiding a dress-alike disaster by commissioning a custom-made style copied from a strappy Chanel number she fell for in Vogue.
"The girls are hooking into this retro Hollywood glam-slam that they're seeing on stars like Sharon Stone or on their favorite supermodels," says senior wardrobe stylist Jimmy Hanrahan, the trend-spotter for 55 million young viewers on MTV. He predicts that, although length knows no bounds, "slim silhouettes in shiny fabrics from sequins to satin will cross over for prom in a big way."
Alix Cochran Rodman, owner of the Ruxton specialty boutique Dressy Affair, is seeing standing ovations for colorful sequined dresses at prom fashion shows she stages for several area high schools. "We're also noticing for the first time less interest in all black and more attention to jewel tones like purple and jade, as well as pretty pastels with empire waistlines," she says.
Glamour, however, doesn't have to mean glitz. If you're a tad sequin shy, an elegant satin slip dress could be your match. "Not only is the slip dress considered glamorous, it's versatile as well, and with so many versions to choose from, you'll most likely be able to pick one up for under $100," says Rondi Cooler, fashion director for YM magazine. Layer it under a little bolero jacket. Come prom night, if the skin on your chest or back isn't as clear as you'd hoped, prevent a panic with a fitted semi-sheer T-shirt or bodysuit to layer under it.
Alternative style-setters who want to make a splash "might opt for mixing unexpected pieces -- like a little shrunken T-shirt, a romantic corset top, or even a fun denim vest, with a voluminous ball-gown skirt," says Elizabeth Brous, fashion and beauty director for Seventeen magazine. Anchor just about any of the preceding looks with a strappy heel in patent leather or clear vinyl as a welcome change from the ubiquitous dyed-to-match pump.
As for accessories, rhinestones are a girl's best friend in sparkling hair clips or dripping glitter. "You certainly don't have to be crowned prom queen to don a dazzling rhinestone tiara," says Ms. Brous. Added attractions like long satin gloves, back-seamed stockings or a little vintage bag also supply that glamorous edge.
However, do avoid accessory overkill by repeating the fashion mantra "less is more." If your dress calls for an amazing necklace, you may not need anything else but your school ring and a delicate earring.
The same motto goes for makeup and hair. Too much of anything, like thick makeup, heavy hair spray or sunburned skin, is a definite don't. Girls who don't normally wear much makeup often make the mistake of caking it on come prom night.
"Making the jump from zero makeup to deep purple lips and heavy black eyeliner is not the way to go when just a few coats of mascara and a tinted lip gloss will make enough of a difference," advises Anne Greene, Teen magazine's fashion and beauty director. After all, you don't want to look as though you've set out for the big night in costume. Which is why Ms. Brous suggests choosing one feature to accent, while downplaying the rest. "If you choose to play up your eyes with a smoky shadow, then go lighter on the lip color and vice versa -- avoid heavy eyeliner if you favor a deep red lipstick."
Although side-swept Rita Hayworth '40s style finger waves and the '60s flip are all the rage with the retro-inspired fashions, stylists are quick to point out that elegant, upswept hairstyles rank highest among prom-goers.
Which may explain the growing popularity of hairpieces -- fake braids, chignons, bangs and little tendrils. "Girls with shorter hair who yearn for a fancy up-do can easily pull their hair back and attach these glamour pieces that are available at most wig shops," says Ms. Brous.
Just a little creative planning can land you a look all your own. And don't forget, proms should be fun.
ON THE COVER
Styling: Suzin Boddiford
Hair, makeup: Jill Turnbull for Etches Salon and Spa.
Model: Ria Snyder of Three West Casting.
Clothing: Zum Zum ice blue satin gown, $94, at Nordstrom. Short fit and flare dress by En Francais, $210, at Dressy Affair. Black satin with marabou trim slip dress by Lip Service, $64, at Stikky Fingers. Tiara, from Heirloom Jewels, Cross Keys. All jewelry from Dressy Affair. Shoes from Joanna Gray. Gloves and hair accessories from Nordstrom.
Nordstrom Prom Seminar: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 18 in the Brass Plum department. (410) 296-2111 Ext. 1570.
Seventeen magazine's Live Prom Style Fashion Show and Seminar: 7 p.m. Friday, April 7 and 3 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at Owings Mills Mall. (410) 363-1234.
Hecht's Prom Expo and Fashion Show: presented by DJ Kathryn Lauren of 99.1 WHFS radio at 3 p.m. Saturday April 18 at the Tyson's Corner Mall. (703) 893-4900 Ext. 571.
Pre-Prom Beauty Demonstration and Seminar: 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9 at Etches Salon and Spa, 1709 Reisterstown Road. Call (410) 484-3121 to reserve a seat and enter to win a prom make-over.