Prom Prep Fashion: If the styles look familiar, they should. Glorious retro has earned itself an invitation to the big dance.

March 07, 1996|By Deirdre Clemente | Deirdre Clemente,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Spring is in the air, but as the average Baltimorean breathes a hearty sigh of relief, teen-age girls are in a storm of prom preparations.

Fashions rooted in the '50s and '60s have resurfaced in numbers that might give Mom a severe case of deja vu, but the social conventions of proms of old have fortunately faded. The '90s girl spends less time searching crowded school hallways for prospective dates and more time scouring the shops on a more pertinent quest -- what to wear.

Those classic mother-daughter tiffs may be a thing of the past with today's styles that both a modest mother and trendy teen can love. Party dress pros like the folks at the Jessica McClintock company have revamped the '50s starlet look, complete with a fitted bodice and a definite waist. The skirt may even be totally Doris Day with lots of tulle for extra fluff.

The A-line is out there, too, with a more gentle approach in icy pastels such as robin's egg blue and rose petal pink. These retro-inspired rags are anything but dated, however. A strappy pair of sandals and an updo say now.

The empire-waist silhouette, which was last seen during the hula hoop decade, is back in the loop, too. Fashion funster Betsey Johnson runs a silk ribbon under the bust line that helps to customize the fit, and floral prints accent the creamy lilac or butter yellow. The dresses run between $100 and $200 and are carried at Teens and Up in Stevenson Village or the White House. For the mod-loving teen this spring, the must-have dress is the signature shift. The Alfred Angelo "Flirtations" prom line has a white lace version of the shift for under $100. The loose A-line styling is kind to a fanny, but the short hem still shouts Sexy! "Flirtations" dresses are carried at Avenue Bridal and Chaud, Inc. According to Nikki Livas, president of the Zum Zum label, "Long and liquid column dresses are undoubtedly the definitive look of this year's prom season." Her sales figures indicate that 80 percent of girls choose long for the prom. The yum-yum colors of the season are icy pastels, shocking chartreuse, hot red and that old standby, basic black. The shine of last season has been carried into spring with gold, silver, sequins and satin.

At the prom shop at Nordstrom in Towson, manager Megan Dansicker says, "The trends I have observed have been away from super-fancy dresses overdone with lace and trim and toward a kind of simpler elegance.

"The junior prom," she says, "calls for a less formal dress while the senior prom is a girl's last chance to stop the show."

Not only have frills been pared down, but so have prices. Ms. Dansicker prices the average prom dress at $85, though a few frocks sell for as low as $39.

But prom shoppers who don't want to buy into the mainstream market have other options. Vintage evening gowns imported from Germany and England could be a promette's cup of tea. Shane Gullivan, who carries these oldies at Ten Car Pileup, his vintage shop in Towson, says older dresses are brimming with subtle details. "For those girls who don't want to settle for the '90s version of '60s chic, these are the real McCoy," he says.

Recycling has its advocates, and a trip to the local thrift store or a look through the closets of an older sister's friends can pay dividends. As any penny pincher will agree, there isn't a dress out there that a pair of scissors, a sewing machine and some ingenuity can't renovate. With frightfully hip accessories, such as iridescent stockings or a delightfully daring animal print purse, any dress can be brought into new stylishness.

Finding a dress that fits, falls in the right price range and isn't being worn by every other girl and her cousin is just the first hurdle in making a prom ensemble.

Other considerations? The simpler styles cry for just the right touches. Try a "Y" necklace or a strand of pearls either borrowed or bogus. Elbow-length gloves are unrivaled in the glamour mode.

Hair can go upswept in a fancy French twist or allowed to fall loose and long. It can take to a cool rhinestone barrette or a brigade of sparkling bobby pins.

Hairdo too boring? A trip to the local wig shop can spark up a hairdo with the addition of some pin-on highlighted streaks.

While the buzz in makeup is "pale" with whitened eye shadows and frosted pink lips, dramatic touches are allowed on promnight. Try batting false eyelashes at the beau of the evening. As with new spike heels, however, give your new look a test run to make sure you can handle it.

Whether this year's prom dresser is going for a retro look, stepping out in a clingy column dress, or recycling an old gown from Europe, the most important element of prom night can't be found in any store. Dresses may come and go, but the belle in the '90s should look to the same goal that propelled her older sisters and her mother in an earlier generation. The object of the evening is to have a good time.

School Prom Dos and Don'ts

Do:

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