The Official Whitepaper on Prom Dresses | The Kewl Shop

The Official White Paper on Prom Dresses

Last updated on : July 18 2015

prom dresses

The history of prom night was first documented in high school yearbooks around the 1930s, however, it is believed that prom night actually dates back to the late 1800s. In the 21st century, proms have become a glamorous, all-night affair complete with an array of post-prom parties and events laced with plenty of extravagance and a growing trend in sexy dresses. It is one of the most quintessential high school experiences and creates memories that last a lifetime.

Prom offers young women a chance to be a princess for one night. A chance to shine, be the “belle of the ball”, and welcome womanhood without batting an eye. The biggest part of being a princess in your own right is choosing the perfect dress. Choose your perfect prom dress and everything else falls into place. It is challenge, headache, and a memorable time to argue with Mom. Here’s what you need to know about the types of prom dresses, silhouettes, accessories, and more to make your prom the best night you have all year.

Evolution of Prom Dresses

1950s prom dresses

Old-fashioned styled vintage prom dresses naturally bear the look of a different era. Depending on the decade of your choosing, a vintage prom dress is a show-stopper and is often preferred by young women of old-fashioned themed substance, confidence, and class. Dresses from the 1940s era are characterized by modest style and bear the undertones of war sentiment. Leaning toward simple and elegant, 1940s vintage prom dresses are typically formfitting with short sleeves or no sleeves at all. Swing dresses are common from this era with fuller skirts made for that form of dancing. Embellishments for these dresses include beads, lace, and scalloped edges.

1950s prom dress

In the 1950s we saw classic lines, huge tulle skirts, and tightly cinched bodices that defined the waistline. Think Audrey Hepburn for this era that produced a dress that wrapped your torso in one of the most flattering ways of all time. A 1950s vintage dresses never goes out of style. Trust me! 

1970s prom dresses

Most eras boasted a particular styles of dresses but the 1960s did a constant shuffle of dresses that sort of covered all the basics - similar to what we started to see in early 2000s. From sleek body tracing lines to A-line floor length gowns that featured bold prints, floral patterns, bright colors, and an army of sequins, these prom styles offer something tasteful and fancy. Choose this style if you prefer a combination style that is chic, girly girl, and reimensetent of hippies.

1980s prom dress

The 1970s were heavily influenced by disco and the dresses bear the marks. A 1970s vintage prom dress is going to be very sensual compared to what we saw in eras before. These dresses introduced more skin and feminine fabrics such as velvet and lace. We saw tons of sequins and wild prints during this era along with tons of legs. We also saw a handful of body-hugging patterns featuring pastels and softer color palettes during the 1970s.

Dresses from the 1980s amped it up and created a big on-stage appearance. With plenty of ruffles, neon colors, big bows, and sequins. This is the style of dress if you want to leave a lasting, funky impression.

Victorian Prom Dresses

Victorian prom dress

Characterized by corset bodices that define the waist and Cinderella-style full skirts, Victorian prom dresses are glamorous, alluring, and incredibly feminine. One of the popular elements in late 1800s Victorian dresses is the petticoat or secondary skirt that is layered atop or below the dress to create an illusion of volume. Traditional Victorian dresses often feature high necklines so opt for a high neckline crafted with tulle or lace inserts to create a look that is elegant and slightly contemporary.

An iconic element of Victorian-style dresses is the ruched bustle or gathered back. Many contemporary Victorian-inspired prom dresses today have designs that feature this same ruched back often cascading into a mini-train. The cuts of the dresses range from A-line to empire waisted. Fabrics of chiffon, organza, and satin are most commonly used. Pair a Victorian inspired prom dress with natural smokey eye makeup, limited jewelry, and up-do hairstyles.

Gothic Prom Dresses

gothic prom dress

In the early 1900s Theda Bara and Bettie Page introduced and refined Gothic style. Gothic prom dresses feature rich dark colors and fabrics with exotic and mysterious additions such as metal buttons or metallic lining. Popular Gothic prom dresses include deep tones of blue, green, violet, silver, and of course, scarlet. Primarily available in fabrics featuring taffeta, organza and chiffon, Gothic dresses are often crafted from stretch satin, a racy and more edgy option. Pair it with dark eyeliner, nail polish, and outlandish jewelry to complete the look without compromising elegance.

Eclectic and Modern Prom Dresses

modern prom dress style

Inspired by Nature motifs, eclectic prom dresses display animal prints, contrasting colors, and fabrics and prints that work surprisingly well together such as silk and satin or polka dots and plaid. Often an eclectic dress features modern embellishments that showcase the best of contemporary style by giving traditional prom dresses a modern twist. Modern and eclectic prom dresses are a tad offbeat and focus on comfortable yet sensual lines, shorter hemlines, and form-fitting silhouettes.

Unique and Ethnic Prom Dresses

If you want to set the tone for many proms to come consider an unique or ethnic prom dress. Take inspiration from your family history, favorite celebrities, or your own unique designs. Reflecting your unique attitude and style it always a sure way to turn heads and leave everyone wanting more but it is also very difficult and challenging in a pinch.   

Indian prom dresses

If you want an offbeat prom dresses that is different from the rest consider designing your own dress from scratch or simply reworking and reinventing a style you find attractive. Improve your dress by adding embellishments or refine it by adding a petticoat. If your efforts are in the right place and your dress truly reflects your personality you may get lucking and a celebrity ask you to make one just like it. Don’t believe me - this bullied teenage girl designed a stunning prom dress, won prom queen, and was later asked by Naturi Naughton to design her red carpet dress. Naturi wore the dress to the BET in 2015.

African prom dresses

An ethnic or unique prom dress is sure to turn heads. From the traditional Indian sari and lehenga to full-skirted dresses with ethnic prints, these prom dresses allow you to embrace your individuality and showcase the beauty of ethnic designs.

Prom Dresses by Silhouette

Play with hemlines, necklines, styles, and fabrics to get the perfect dress that communicates your confidence and unique style. From two-piece styles that feature a bodice and separate skirt (designed to show midriff) to trending styles you see on celebrities everywhere, finding the perfect silhouette is one of the key starting points when looking for your dress. Here is a high level look at the types of dress silhouettes and cuts to consider.

modern prom dresses

Empire Waist

Features a high waistline that hits just below your breast. The empire waist dress is ideal if you need to appear taller. It is long and often floor length. The skirt falls straight and is rarely form fitting.


Flattering to most body types. A-line dresses feature a form-fitting bodice and a full skirt that flares out from natural waist level. This cut has slimming effect and provides a feminine shape that conceals a smaller bust line or fuller hips.  

types of prom dresses

Sheath, Bandage, and Mermaid

A sheath or bandage dress hugs your curves from head to toe (depending on the cut) while mermaid styles flare near your knees or just above. These designs offer you a variety of necklines that range from v-neck to halter to strapless. Many of the mermaid styles feature ruched fabrics with underskirts of tulle and overlays of organza. The sheath and bandage styles are both very form fitting with a one main difference. A sheath style will trace your curves similar to a bodycon dress while a bandage dress style will hug your curves so tightly that it almost feels like a second skin. These styles are often worn when looking to display your feminine attributes in a tasteful and gracious manner however are also perfect party dresses.  


high low prom dress

An asymmetrical or high-low hemline is a trendy way to revamp the traditional prom dress. It is designed to show off an hour-glass figure and endless legs. The hem is raised in the front to just above the knees and low tracing your midcalf or ankles. 


Designed to show off legs a tea-length dress features a hemline that lands at your shins. As compared to full-length gowns a tea-length prom dress creates an informal and relaxed look.

Bouffant Gown

Think Cinderella with this cut. Characterized by a full tulle skirt that is puffed-out in ballerina-style, the bouffant gown is one of the more traditional prom dress options.

Ball Gown

prom ball gown

Features a full skirt that starts at the natural waist and extends all the way to the floor. This  gown works well for girls who are taller or average height as it visually lengthens the body. 

Must Have Accessories for Prom Dresses

Once you have your prom dress chosen, the next step is to choose the right accessories to go with it. For a night as important as prom, accessories can make or break your dress. Here is an overview of the most important pieces for your prom dress - clutches, jewelry, and corsages.


Choose a clutch not a purse. A purse is too big and will be cumbersome to carry through the night. Prom clutches serve a dual purpose: holding  essentials such as cell phone, lip gloss, extra cash, tickets, breath mints, etc. and polish your look.

Generally clutches are trendy, adorable, and designed to be worn to more formal affairs so finding one really just depends on your taste and your dress. Clutches come in snaps designs, zippers, and flap openings. Keep in mind that they are small in size and can feature a tiny handle or thin strap. Consider one with a thin shoulder strap or wrist strap to keep your hands free.


A corsage is a small bouquet of flowers that is traditionally worn around your wrist or pinned to the dress for occasions like prom. Choose a stylish corsage that is to be worn on your wrist instead of the dress just for simplicity sake. You may also consider wearing it in your hair or attach it to your clutch for a whimsical and unique flare.


You jewelry depends entirely on your sense of personal style and the dress you have chosen but  here are a few tips to keep in mind while accessorizing:

  • Deep necklines are best accessorized with long necklaces while high necklines work better with chokers or other shorter necklaces. If you choose to switch it up do so boldly and without flinching because we are seeing variations more and more.
  • Dangly or chandelier earrings are ideal if you intend to wear your hair up while studs and hoops are more complimentary for free flowing hairstyles.
  • Consider wearing a tiara - just because.
  • Bracelets are a matter of personal preference. Choose a dainty and simple style if your dress features tons of prints or various fabrics and more bold options for solid dresses with minimal lines. 

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About the Author

Sasithon Bella is the kewl in The Kewl Shop. Co-founder, chief buyer, bandage dress guru and a lot more. If you like what you see at The Kewl Shop it is because of Sasithon Bella. You might know her better as Sasi.



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