In decades past, prom-going teens looked to Doris Day or Debbie Reynolds for fashion inspiration, and all turned up dressed alike in frothy, full-skirted fashions. My, how times have changed.
Listen up Moms. Poufy, overdone, demure concoctions have gone the way of drive-in movie theaters. Lean, simple and sexy dresses will be making their way to the dance floors of high school proms this spring, with a lot of individual style injected as well.
In the '90s young girls are yearning to dress like the curvaceou super-model Cindy Crawford known for her fluid, strappy, body-hugging column dresses, or like the funky pop vocal divas of En Vogue, who dazzle millions on MTV in thigh-high slinky slip dresses.
"Probably the biggest fashion event in a young girl's life, onl second to getting married, is going to the prom," says senior fashion editor of Seventeen magazine, Sasha Charnin Morrison. No wonder the prom sends mothers and teen-age daughters on a sacred mission every year to seek out the perfect dress. Many girls are bypassing the juniors department and heading straight for the women's cocktail section to find a more grown-up style.
"Teens today want to dress like young adults and therefore are gravitating to the sleeker sophisticated looks and away from the frou-frou crinolined party dresses of the past few years -- the simpler the better," says Bonnie Hurowitz-Fuller, editor-in-chief of magazine. Girls are definitely looking for simple elegance with little embellishments," says Liz Jarrett, junior dress buyer for Merry-Go-Round Enterprises. "The new choker dress and long sexy styles with a slit are selling best."
However, the growing interest in long hasn't pushed shorter flirty styles completely out of the limelight. "There is still a demand for short fit-and-flare looks, except with cleaner lines and less ornate treatments," says Ms. Jarrett.
CHecht's fashion director Nancy Chistolini is also predicting "short fitted looks to continue to make a splash, as well as the new "cold shoulder" cut-out styles, and anything with lace."
Still others prefer to hedge the hemline controversy with the hi-low hemline -- short in front and trailing to the floor in the back.
Retro influences abound: '20s no-waist boxy beaded sheath; shirred, draped bodices with thick halter straps reminiscent of '40s swimsuits, '70s-type dresses with built-in choker collars.
According to owner Tim Potee of the downtown vintage clothing store,Dreamland, "the typical '50s tulle prom gown and the basic little black dress are being overlooked this year for more '60s stylized clean and simple looks, as well as long floral dresses with ruffled sleeves and scalloped bottoms, worn with platform shoes."
Black continues as the most popular dress color, also combined with white for a fresher appeal. "Red is the strongest other color and looks good on everyone," says Ms. Hurowitz-Fuller.
"It's all in the mix of incongruous layering that makes anything look new," says Joanna Corsaro, a fashion editor for the national trade publication, the Tobe Report. She sees the ramshackle street style of grunge as the most important influence being carried over into prom attire -- blending casual with dressy. "Think clunky shoes or boots being worn with the most feminine chiffon dresses -- maybe even with a flannel shirt tied around the waist for good measure."
Even with all the options to chose from, Ms. Morrison has not yet denounced the long, flowing fairy tale ballgown. Cutting-edge fashion codes aside, for some girls, the prom is the one chance to bring fantasy to reality. So why not go ahead and wear that big fancy ballgown that looks as though Scarlett has been hitting the drapes again. Ms. Charnin Morrison suggests modernizing a fantasy look with quirky accessories such as lace-up granny boots.
You'll never have to worry about your mirror image if someone shows up in the same dress if you make accessories your personal stamp.
Creativity goes a long way. Try stringing his class ring through a velvet ribbon around your neck for a charming choker. Or cap off a feminine look with a top hat festooned with flowers.
According to Radebaugh Florists, for corsages it's no longer the bigger the better. Dainty wristlets are what's winning hearts this prom time. For boutonnieres, the red rose is still the preferred favorite --but hold the baby's breath.
Guys loosen up on the tux
Guys are also going eclectic at the prom. "The prom is not as stuffy and straight-laced as it used to be. It's become more casual where almost anything goes," says Tim Potee of Dreamland. "The '70s influence is a big deal this year. The bright polyester wide lapel dinner jackets, bell-bottom tux pants with ruffle shirts and big bow ties used to only sell at Halloween. Now they fly out the door for prom time.
"It's definitely a season of fun and flexibility for breaking the rules and adding your own personal style," said Steve McLerran, director of marketing for Merry-Go-Round Enterprises. YM's Hurowitz-Fuller couldn't agree more. "Guys have loosened up. Tuxedo jackets worn with jeans or T-shirts, have become more acceptable, as well as tuxes with high-top sneakers." For traditional with a twist, Merry-Go-Round offers a tux with "zip away tails" that does double duty as a waist-length cropped jacket.
The traditional rental tux doesn't have to be typical. Fred Hiken of Hiken Formalwear, sees many young men expressing their individuality through accessories. "Colorful printed ties, cummerbunds and contrast vests have become very popular," he says.